It's hard to fix a problem when everyone is too afraid to identify it out loud. Consider white supremacy.
The mere mention usually causes knee jerk reactions rather than mature discussion. Instead of addressing the ideology, people focus on images of Klan members and Tiki torch-wielding Nazis. They assume you're accusing them or their loved ones of being terrorists. Even many who do understand the complexities and nuances of white supremacy often choose not to address it by name because of the prospect of being derailed by the visceral, angry reactions. Call me crazy, but I think we can do better. In fact, I believe that if we really want to, we are not just mature enough to have a substantive discussion on white supremacy, but also resourceful enough to organize and execute actions to combat it.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, white supremacy is "the belief that the white race is superior to all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society." Sometimes it's obvious, such as the aforementioned Klan members and Nazis or the current presidential administration's policy of terrorizing immigrants. Other times, it's more subtle. Consider workspaces that subject employees of color to constant microaggressions, yet give more support to the perpetrators than the victims because being called out makes the perpetrators feel uncomfortable.
The common denominator is power dynamics. Whether through rhetoric, actions, policies, or systems, white supremacist power dynamics are defined by prioritizing the collective wellbeing of white people over that of other racial groups.
This problem is especially pernicious because it's baked into all aspects of our society. Anyone can perpetuate white supremacy. Considering that we live in an American system founded on genocide and slavery, not internalizing white supremacist ideals is nearly impossible.
Nonetheless, there are ways we can push back. Here are a few suggestions:
Be honest, hold yourself accountable and model that process for others: Be intentional about asking yourself whether your rhetoric, actions, or policies are reinforcing white supremacist power dynamics. If the answer is yes, hold yourself accountable and adjust. This process can be difficult but it gets more comfortable over time. Furthermore, since the rest of society is also on this journey, modeling this behavior only serves to empower others to do the same.
Forcefully challenge white supremacist talking points, systems and policies: Calling out these issues comes with a lot of pushback, not just from perpetrators, but also allies who will inevitably insist you be more "polite." Resist these pressures and tackle white supremacy with the ferocity it deserves. Call it out by name, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Challenge the idea, impacts, and power dynamics at play, and reject derailment tactics such as hyper focusing on intentions or engaging in personal attacks.
Identify the accomplices of white supremacy: Xenophobia. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. All of these ideologies often work in concert with white supremacy to divide and conquer marginalized groups. If we don't hold ourselves accountable for addressing them, we're only doing part of the work and more than likely, unwittingly making the issue worse.
Elect and hire more people of color and hold all leaders accountable, regardless of race: Putting people in positions of power and influence who bring the perspectives of marginalized communities is a major, positive change on its own. That said, these are still human beings who grew up in this society and work in systems heavily influenced by white supremacy. As such, we must work with all leaders, regardless of background, and hold them accountable. Stay vigilant and when necessary, apply pressure to make sure marginalized communities' civil rights are protected. Demand all local institutions practice anti-racism in their policies and operations. Advocate and provide funding, resources and space for addressing culturally specific needs. Only with intentionality can we create real change.
At the end of the day, breaking down these systems and internalized ideologies is hard work. However, if we are serious about combating white supremacy, that work is non-negotiable. Once again, it's not a matter of ability. It's simply whether or not we care enough.
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