It’s like clockwork. In public spaces and online spaces alike, someone somewhere will defensively declare they are “not racist” and they haven’t seen racism, and racism, therefore, must not exist. Forget talking about the pervasiveness of white supremacy with such folks — they don’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear it. The idea that white supremacy is anything other than angry white men carrying torches, screaming racial epithets, and marching through the streets wearing white robes and hoods looking to kill anyone not white is a non-starter in conversations. We have come so far in talking about race and racism yet are still so far away from calling things what they are.
We live in a white supremacist society, and racism is alive and well. People tend to look at their neighbors, friends, and family members with suspicion instead of looking inward because nice people can’t be racist, right? Wrong. You can volunteer at the animal shelter every week and then vote and support racist policies and politicians. That makes you racist, and, if you ask those of us directly affected by racist policies, it makes you even more dangerous than the kind of racist who hurls the n-word. It’s the powerful brand of racism that waters the plants and helps a white supremacist society grow.
White supremacy is a white power system that oppresses and exploits Black and brown people. White supremacy is the belief that white people are naturally superior to other racial groups. It’s the decisions, practices, and behaviors that occur based on that belief. White supremacist culture, therefore, places whiteness as the norm, the default. Everything else is centered around this norm, regardless of who’s negatively affected. This is America — where, whether someone says it out loud or not, history and current events and policies show that this country sees white people as more deserving of wealth, power, and basic human rights.
This country was literally built on white supremacy. In order to justify enslaving African people and enforcing racist Jim Crow laws, America needed to perpetuate the idea that white people were superior and Black people were nothing more than property needing controlling. Black people were kept from voting and buying homes, out of the education system and hospitals, and denied access to economic opportunities. There’s been a lot of thought and work put into maintaining these structural inequities over the past hundreds of years.
In order to accomplish this, white supremacy is woven into the fabric of our country’s institutions. It’s evident in the racial health disparities of Black and Native American people. The proof is in the generational wealth and black-white upward mobility gap that makes the American dream three times harder for Black people. In the schools, where terms like achievement gap are used to describe racial academic disparities to avoid facing and repairing the country’s legacy of separate but unequal education, the implications of having a white supremacist culture are clear.
Even if everyone in America declares right now that people of color and white people are all equal, bleed the same blood, and are all one race, it would not change the fact that we have a white supremacist society. Individual racists don’t have to exist to prove America is a white supremacist society. At the same time, benefitting from white supremacist systems and failing to actively fight against those systems in fact makes you complicit in racism. There is no such thing as “not racist.” You are either actively anti-racist or you are racist. There is no being neutral.
That goes against what you might have been taught, of course. You’ve been taught that racist people hate people who aren’t white. What you haven’t been taught is that your nice neighbor who brings you a pie and looks out for your white children is the same neighbor with her finger ready to dial 911 when she sees Black children linger too long around her front yard. You’ve learned that the teachers who work with a diverse group of students must be far from racist — saints even. Nevermind the fact that those teachers might more harshly punish their Black students than their white students for the same behaviors.
This misunderstanding of what racism and white supremacy looks like keeps us from getting to the real roots of the problem and unearthing it. The truth is, when it comes to racism, individual intentions are never more important than impact. So if you’re perfectly fine benefitting from white supremacy, you are complicit in racism. You’re racist. It’s that simple. This is a white supremacist society. You don’t don a white robe and pointy hat, and you don’t throw around racial insults with ease, but that’s not necessary. Individual racism is not what makes American culture a white supremacist one. It’s been one from its inception. It’s up to you to decide what your role in it is.
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