What is ‘White Supremacy’?
By Cameron Friend
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia were tragic as a domestic terrorist group sought to incite violence and instill fear into the hearts of all non-whites on August 12th, 2017. If 2017 has taught us anything, it is that many members of the white majority have displayed a learning deficiency in regards to the actual black experience, the actual historical degradation and the actual suppressive ideology of white supremacy (beyond the factions of 'white supremacists' who appear on our television screens). The reason I have labeled white ignorance as a 'learning deficiency' is because I have found that many whites are simply unable to empathize with the black experience and much of this is ignorance is because their realm of existence is so distinctively different than that of black Americans.
When someone is diagnosed as having a learning deficiency it is sometimes due the inability of the brain to receive or process information. Many blacks have found that when expecting empathy, from a majority of whites—about for instance, the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Terrance Crutcher, Alton Sterling and Jordan Edwards—our cries for help are often met by disdain and plausible deniability. For example, in response to the grief that many blacks felt after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, many whites responded with comments such as, "He shouldn't have been in that neighborhood." "He shouldn't have tried to attack, Zimmerman." "He should have just complied and stopped." Or my personal favorite, "He was a thug, anyway." Rather than chalking this ignorance up to personal choice, I believe that this emotional negligence was birthed and cultivated in the harmful racial ideology of white supremacy. True, the ideology of white supremacy has ruptured the human experience for black and brown folk in America. But it has also decimated the ability for many whites to experience the necessary brokenness to express racial empathy. Hence, this is one of the more compelling forces that led me to distinguish the difference between 'notion' and 'reality' in regards to white supremacy.
Allow me the time to alleviate some misconceptions and/or doubts one might have about white supremacy:
The ideology of white supremacy, in and of itself, is the fundamental ideology that enforces systems and practices built on the premise that whites are inherently more valuable than black and brown-skinned people.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that all whites are 'consciously', thus actively, racist or engaging in racist practices or rhetoric.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that all white people 'intentionally' benefit from the degradation of black and brown folk in America.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that each white person views him or herself as inherently more human than black and brown-skinned people.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that each and every European, Dutch, Irish or German person that originally settled in America did so to intentionally benefit from the African slave-trade, that became common practice in America in 1619.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that every individual white person is responsible for the historical and active oppression against black and brown people (mostly black) that has led to the death, enslavement, rape, torture, capture and loss of humanity for millions of black and brown folk since the founding of America.
The ideology of white supremacy is not the notion that every individual white person seeks to do 'intentional' violence and harm to the black and brown person through choosing to be silent in the face of racial persecution.
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that the systems and practices in place at the national, state and local level, by and large, are designed to benefit whites (preferably 'elite' white males) which then marginalizes (intentionally or unintentionally) and oppresses black and brown folk.
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that all white people have, do, and will continue to benefit from the degradation of black and brown folk in America so long as the same historical systems and practices stay in place.
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that each white person is considered to be inherently more human than black and brown folks according to major Supreme Court legislation and the American criminal (justice) system.
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that each and every European, Dutch, or German (or any nationality under the umbrella of 'white') that settled in America benefited (granted, some more than others) from the American slave trade (1919-1865*) and Jim Crow laws (1865-1965*).
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that the degradation of millions of black folks continues into the 21st century as shown by essentially every available metric (policing, economic, housing, arrest, job quality, educational opportunities, etc) and must be strategically met with decisive action if this country truly wants to repent of America's original sin: racism at the hands of white supremacy.
The ideology of white supremacy has led to the reality that allows for moderate whites to remain silent in the face of racial oppression against black and brown folk because the American system is built to soothe and protect them from loss or harm.
Once again, the ideology of white supremacy, in and of itself, is the fundamental ideology that enforces systems and practices built on the premise that whites are inherently more valuable than black and brown-skinned people.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for whites to break the deafening historical silence that has allowed white supremacy to proliferate throughout American history. Even if you do not feel personally responsible for the plague of racism in this country, the onus still falls on whites to speak out against the evils of racism. Why? Because the silence of whites works for the benefit of whites, while continuing to cause systemic and personal harm to black and brown folk. I pray that my words would offer clarity and incite you to show care and compassion. I leave you with the prophetic words of America's great pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.
*These iterations of racism legally ended during these years but many practices continued at the state level.
Cameron Friend graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and another in Philosophy, with a minor in Legal Studies. He graduated from Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in 2016. This blog originally appeared on his website, which you can find here. You can also follow him on Twitter.