Our Society's Deadly Insistence on Maintaining It Must End
Dear Fellow White Folks,Â
We need to have a serious talk about white supremacy, yâ€™all.
I donâ€™t mean that we need to sit down and have dialogues about race with people who donâ€™t look like us. I mean, thatâ€™s a good thing to do, and we should keep doing it, but thatâ€™s not the conversation we need to have right now.
And when I say right now, I mean yesterday.Â
Our desperate need to hold on to our white supremacy is killing people. Itâ€™s killing people who donâ€™t look like us Â and itâ€™s killing some who do look like us, too. Itâ€™s incredibly deadly.Â
I know youâ€™re saying to yourself in your head that youâ€™re not racist. You might not be, and thatâ€™s great! And you might be, but not know it. Really, I donâ€™t know if youâ€™re racist, but I do know that weâ€™re all part of a society that values whiteness far more than non-whiteness, and unless weâ€™re actively working to dismantle that system of supremacy, weâ€™re complicit in it.Â
It manifests itself in some very frightening ways â€” like this 2011 study that says white folks believe they face racism in higher numbers than black folks do (they donâ€™t), and it shows up in some incredibly absurd ways, as Becky with the Bad Grades showed us at the U.S. Supreme Court just a few weeks ago.Â
The idea that weâ€™re entitled to something simply because weâ€™re white â€” or that we didnâ€™t get something simply because weâ€™re white â€” is what lies at the very heart of white supremacy. White people have lived for thousands of years getting everything weâ€™ve ever wanted. The resentment we feel when we donâ€™t get something we want simply because we think we deserve it? Itâ€™s absurd, frankly.
When we wanted to see the world, we didnâ€™t just explore, we conquered it and colonized it.Â When we came to America, one of the first things we did was import slaves. When our ability to own slaves was threatened, we literally started a war to keep them. We tore the country apart becuase of our entitlement. And once we lost the war? We instituted a system of laws designed to ensure white supremacy.Â Weâ€™ve dedicated centuries of action to keeping black people oppressed.Â
Modern-day white supremacy looks different than the past, but itâ€™s just as prevalent. Itâ€™s the "war on drugs," which affects people of color far more than white people. Itâ€™s the fact that â€œthe most dangerous thing out hereâ€ for transgender people is the police and that black people face disporportional poverty and risk of incarceration.Â
You might be asking what you have to do with any of this, and why you should care. Thatâ€™s the thing â€” you donâ€™t need to care. You can go through your daily life ignoring all of this and thereâ€™s a very good chance youâ€™ll never encounter it. But that, right there? Thatâ€™s our privilege, plain as day. If we donâ€™t want to think about any of these issues because they donâ€™t affect you, we donâ€™t have to. We can walk way if we want to.Â
And if youâ€™re saying, â€œWell, itâ€™s too hard for me to get involvedâ€ or â€œIâ€™ve got to worry about my own problems firstâ€ or â€œif I get involved, I might get in trouble,â€ that's white supremacy. Itâ€™s not enough to simply acknowledge that thereâ€™s a problem. Weâ€™ve done that.Â
If we want to end white supremacy for real, we have to dismantle the system that prioritizes our lives over others simply because of who we are and where we were born. We have to use our privilege to give other people opportunities, even when that means taking a back seat. We have to prioritize their lives. It doesn't make us "less than" to prioritize Black lives. It helps make us equal.
We have to believe â€” and live our lives according to the idea â€” that Black lives really do matter.
We have to say, without any doubts and with full intention, â€œI am committed to the social, political, and economic liberation of Black people,â€ and we have to mean it. And we have to act on it.
Itâ€™s hard to to stand up and challenge the status quo when youâ€™re comfortable. Itâ€™s hard to put ourselves in harmâ€™s way to make the world safer for someone else. It takes a lot of conviction to fight, but I swear, itâ€™s worth it.Â
I want to live in a world where everyone is valued and worthy and safe â€” not just the folks who look like me. As I said last week, I believe itâ€™s a moral imperative. I donâ€™t believe we really have a choice in the matter. People will die if we donâ€™t. People are already dying. Â Â
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based LGBTQ activist and educator. His column appears here weekly. Follow him on Twitter: @rjmedwed