As a white woman living in this country, it needs to be fucking said to every other other white person in the room: None of us are immune to the immense privilege we live with. We’ve all been raised in a society that’s grossly obsessed with whiteness, and it’s the same exact society that invalidates and endangers the existence of Black Americans at every turn. Colonization and slavery ripped away any chance they had to prosper equally up until now, and we’re lying to ourselves if we think we aren’t still a part of this grave problem. The damaging and lasting effects of white supremacy are still present in our country’s narrative, and we need to look right into the eye of this systemic hurricane if we want true change to happen.
If you’re a white person looking for a profoundly simple breakdown of how to directly respond to racism, look no further than Sonya Renee Taylor. The award-winning Black poet, activist, author, and leader has one of the most groundbreaking social media platforms around. She’s also managed to give me the necessary wake up call I needed to get to the core of how to dismantle white supremacy in myself and others.
In an overwhelmingly poignant Instagram post last month, Taylor speaks directly to white folks who struggle with affirming our overwhelming privilege and the unmerited modern-day perks of living in a white body.
“I am not fighting white people,” the activist says. “I am not in a battle against the unmelanated masses that are descendants of European ancestry. I am in a battle against the systems and structures of white supremacist delusion and whiteness, and I’m in a battle for the ways in which they manifest internally inside the lives of unmelanated people of European descent.”
For those Taylor says are “assigned whiteness” at birth, the true liberation of all can be achieved by joining in the battle. “I invite them to be in a battle as well against the construct of whiteness and the construct of white supremacist delusion,” she says.
In case you need more clarification, white supremacy is deftly summed up by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times this month. “It is time for us to simply call a thing a thing: White supremacy is the biggest racial problem this country faces, and has faced,” Blow writes. “It is almost always the cause of unrest around race. It has been used to slaughter and destroy, to oppress and imprison. It manifests in every segment of American life.”
If you’re ready to help dismantle systemic racism and are on board with Taylor’s concepts, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. She recommends treating the construct of whiteness within you as if it were the odorous trash in your house, a compelling image that has stuck with me ever since I watched her video.
“What one would do is say, ‘Something is rotting in here. Let me get to investigating, so that I can remove that. So that I can remove that, because it’s stinking up my space,’” the author explains. “And that is what whiteness is. Whiteness is not you as a human being. There is no ‘other.’ So my battle, the work that I do, is not about white people as the ‘other.’ It is about whiteness, the construct that is rotting the material and spiritual and economic and political realities of Black and Brown people around the world — while also at the same time, rotting the internal, spiritual, emotional, and mental lives of those assigned whiteness at birth.”
There’s no doubt that many of us can see the crystal-fucking-clear proof that Black people are being disproportionately violated, imprisoned, and killed due to racial bias, police brutality, health disparities, mass incarcerations, and financial inequities that aggressively bombard their livelihood. But for Taylor, the construct of whiteness damages white people who also exist in this abusive dynamic. “You are struggling in this system as well. It is killing you too,” she says.
For those who are still perpetuating the toxic narrative of “not seeing color” or feigning non-complicity when it comes to racism, Taylor effectively offers a counter for why you are so damn wrong.
“You are white in so much as the construct of whiteness exists, and if you really desired to live in a world without labels, then what you would do is work your ass off every single day to completely dismantle all the fixtures, systems, structures, and designs that have made the label of whiteness real,” she shares.
This captivating statement is something that white people need to really fucking sit with right now. We must put our egos aside and stop selfishly assuming that white supremacist delusion is an overall attack on who we are. It’s a dangerous idea that hinders us from taking solid action, because when we’re too damn busy denying the insidious nature of existing in whiteness, we’re also avoiding the recognition of existing in it at all.
“Start experiencing it as something that you were assigned that is not serving you, that you wish to remove elements of from your life on a regular basis,” Taylor explains. “That way you can get out of your guilt and your shame.”
While it’s certainly true that white folks react with complicated emotions when confronted with how we directly or indirectly benefit from this abusive societal system, Taylor believes the act of dismantling white supremacy can be as simple as when we remove rotting food from our fridge. Again, her metaphor is so easily digestible that you can’t not apply it to your own life.
“You don’t have to be guilty and ashamed because there are stinky tomatoes in the back of your fridge,” she says. “You just have to find the stinky tomatoes and throw them out. And every time a new stinky tomato shows up in the back of your fridge, you have to find it, and then you have to figure out why you keep letting tomatoes rot in the back of your fridge. All of that is the work. And that work is how you reconcile yourself to humanity.”
I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready to dig into all of this. The indisputable truth is that Black people have been waiting far too long for us to finally fucking care. While we may never fully understand the depths of their painful past and current struggles, we can stand beside them in dedicated support, authentic allyship, and a willingness to no longer center our narratives in their story. Sonya Renee Taylor did not need to spend time breaking all of this down for us, but I’m so fucking grateful that she did. We have no excuse now not to listen, folks. We have got to finally start being the change we wish to see in this world.
This article was originally published on