Wednesday, July 5, 2017

No, I Won’t Stop Saying “White Supremacy”

This is an excellent, well articulated, deeply needed, and illuminating article that I hope will be read and shared widely! I am profoundly grateful for any resource and step forward which helps any of us to recognize and be more mindful of our implicit biases, blind spots, harmful and limiting belief systems, and cultural influences and indoctrination that has served to limit our capacity to fully engage in the healing and transformation of ourselves and this beautiful world we share. Another world is possible. And it begins with the deepening of the responsibility we assume for the wellbeing of all of life. May we all increasingly engage in the Great Awakening that is unfolding. Our children and all children everywhere of all the species are counting on us to stand in protection of them now, today, and in the days to come. - Molly

White people like me should use the term because it shifts the race problem to us, where it belongs.

I am white. When I give talks on what it means to be white in a society deeply separate and unequal by race, I explain that white people who are born and raised in the U.S. grow up in a white supremacist culture. I include myself in this claim, as I enumerate all of the ways in which I was socialized to be complicit in racism. I am not talking about hate groups, of which I am obviously not a member. And no, I don’t hate white people. I am addressing most of the audience to whom I am speaking, white progressives like me.
If it surprises and unsettles my audience that I use this term to refer to us and not them, even after I have explained how I am using it, then they have not been listening. That recognition should trigger some sense of urgency that continuing education is needed.
Yet invariably, a white person raises the objection: I really don’t like that term! I associate it with the KKK and other white nationalist groups. Why can’t you use a different term? As a classic example of white fragility, rather than stretching into a new framework, I am asked by a white participant to use language that is more comfortable and maintains their current worldview.
Many people, especially older white people, associate the term white supremacy with extreme and explicit hate groups. However, for sociologists, white supremacy is a highly descriptive term for the culture we live in; a culture which positions white people and all that is associated with them (whiteness) as ideal.
White supremacy captures the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white, and the practices based upon that assumption. White supremacy is not simply the idea that whites are superior to people of color (although it certainly is that), but a deeper premise that supports this idea—the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as an inherent deviation from that norm.
Thus, when race scholars use the term white supremacy, we do not use it the same way as mainstream culture does. Nor, do we use it to indicate majority-versus-minority relations. Power is not dependent on numbers but on position. We use the term to refer to a socio-political economic system of domination based on racial categories that benefit those defined and perceived as white. This system rests on the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group. If, for example, we look at the racial breakdown of the people who control our institutions, we see that in 2016-2017:
Congress: 90% white
Governors: 96% white
Top military advisers: 100% white
President and vice president: 100% white
Current POTUS cabinet: 91% white
People who decide which TV shows we see: 93% white
People who decide which books we read: 90% white
People who decide which news is covered: 85% white
People who decide which music is produced: 95% white
Teachers: 83% white
Full-time college professors: 84% white
Owners of men’s pro-football teams: 97% white
These numbers are not a matter of “good people” versus “bad people.” They are a matter of power, control, and dominance by a racial group with a particular self-image, worldview, and set of interests in the position to disseminate that image and worldview and protect those interests across the entire society.
For a clear example of what it means to have institutional control and use it to the advantage of your group, we can look to women’s suffrage in the U.S. Only white men could grant women suffrage because white men controlled the government (and all of the other institutions that allowed them to disseminate and enforce patriarchy across society). They still do. While women could be prejudiced against men and discriminate against individual men in isolated cases, women as a group could not deny all men their civil rights. Yet men as a group could deny all women their civil rights. Once white men finally granted women the right to vote, only white men could then deny access to that right for women (and men) of color. White people also write the history that tells us that “women” were granted the right to vote, and erases the reality that that access was not granted equally across race. The term white supremacy allows us to capture the all-encompassing and multi-dimensional nature of white control.

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