Our Society's Deadly Insistence on Maintaining It Must End
Dear Fellow White Folks,
We need to have a serious talk about white supremacy, y’all.
I don’t mean that we need to sit down and have dialogues about race with people who don’t look like us. I mean, that’s a good thing to do, and we should keep doing it, but that’s not the conversation we need to have right now.
And when I say right now, I mean yesterday.
Our desperate need to hold on to our white supremacy is killing people. It’s killing people who don’t look like us and it’s killing some who do look like us, too. It’s incredibly deadly.
I know you’re saying to yourself in your head that you’re not racist. You might not be, and that’s great! And you might be, but not know it. Really, I don’t know if you’re racist, but I do know that we’re all part of a society that values whiteness far more than non-whiteness, and unless we’re actively working to dismantle that system of supremacy, we’re complicit in it.
It manifests itself in some very frightening ways — like this 2011 study that says white folks believe they face racism in higher numbers than black folks do (they don’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.
The idea that we’re entitled to something simply because we’re white — or that we didn’t get something simply because we’re white — is what lies at the very heart of white supremacy. White people have lived for thousands of years getting everything we’ve ever wanted. The resentment we feel when we don’t get something we want simply because we think we deserve it? It’s absurd, frankly.
When we wanted to see the world, we didn’t just explore, we conquered it and colonized it. 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. We’ve dedicated centuries of action to keeping black people oppressed.
Modern-day white supremacy looks different than the past, but it’s just as prevalent. It’s the "war on drugs," which affects people of color far more than white people. It’s the fact that “the most dangerous thing out here” for transgender people is the police and that black people face disporportional poverty and risk of incarceration.
You might be asking what you have to do with any of this, and why you should care. That’s the thing — you don’t need to care. You can go through your daily life ignoring all of this and there’s a very good chance you’ll never encounter it. But that, right there? That’s our privilege, plain as day. If we don’t want to think about any of these issues because they don’t affect you, we don’t have to. We can walk way if we want to.
And if you’re saying, “Well, it’s too hard for me to get involved” or “I’ve got to worry about my own problems first” or “if I get involved, I might get in trouble,” that's white supremacy. It’s not enough to simply acknowledge that there’s a problem. We’ve done that.
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 — and live our lives according to the idea — that Black lives really do matter.
We have to say, without any doubts and with full intention, “I am committed to the social, political, and economic liberation of Black people,” and we have to mean it. And we have to act on it.
It’s hard to to stand up and challenge the status quo when you’re comfortable. It’s hard to put ourselves in harm’s way to make the world safer for someone else. It takes a lot of conviction to fight, but I swear, it’s worth it.
I want to live in a world where everyone is valued and worthy and safe — not just the folks who look like me. As I said last week, I believe it’s a moral imperative. I don’t believe we really have a choice in the matter. People will die if we don’t. People are already dying.
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based LGBTQ activist and educator. His column appears here weekly. Follow him on Twitter: @rjmedwed