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All White People Are Racist, A History Lesson
White Supremacy is the lifeblood to whiteness
A couple of years ago, during my organization’s annual conference, I facilitated a workshop on political and social worldviews. The goal of this workshop is as simple as it is difficult. We want the participants to understand that the opposition (supporters of capitalism, sexism, racism, and patriarchy, aka Republicans, all white people, and most Democrats) have literally built an ideology that we have all grown up in, one that forces us to see the world through a very narrow and limited point of view.
That point of view suggests that the government is bad, corporations and the free market will always correct themselves, that rich people find success with zero help — and through sheer force of will, as a result, if you are poor, homeless, been through the criminal legal system, or struggling at all, it’s all your fault. The basic premise is simple enough, the hard part is challenging a worldview that we have all grown up with. It’s seeped into every conversation we have, shown in every commercial, depicted in every movie, book, and political ad. It’s everywhere, and nowhere — all at the same time. It’s so natural, that you don’t even think about it. And if it’s this embedded into our being, how the hell do you start to think outside of everything you have ever known? Well, the workshop was attempting to do that, and for a moment, I thought it was working.
We had just wrapped up the final section of the agenda, and I was transitioning to close the discussion when an older white man raised his hand to speak. As soon as I called on him, he expressed frustration with what he felt was an unfair and targeted attack on “white men.” According to him, and a few other white men in the room who also commented, they had never owned a slave, were not colonizers, and white people and men aren’t completely responsible for racism, there were “other bad actors.” His comments lead to a discussion that started off with the potential to be a learning moment but divulged into chaos. We lost any opportunity for productivity when the white men in the room decided to share their hurt but not listen to anyone else.
A few white allies in the room did speak up. They tried to soothe the coalition of disgruntled colonizers, while also pushing back on the narrative that there was an “attack on white men.” It didn’t work. I tried to relate to some of them by discussing how I have experienced similar feelings in relation to patriarchy, but then tried to underscore that the feelings were subjective and did not address the real system of oppression. Before I could conclude my point, one of the men in the room began to shout at me, insisting that “I talked too much,” and “wasn’t respecting the room.” Despite feeling disrespected and embarrassed, I tried to continue the conversation in a way that could be productive but respectful.
That didn’t happen; instead, women of color were laughed at and ridiculed for expressing frustration with how some of the white people in the room were speaking. There were several people in the room who were visibly upset and even crying. It didn’t matter, those white men felt accosted and couldn’t get past their own fragility. I was finally forced to end the conversation when one of the men started shouting at me; the moment was deeply frustrating and surreal.
I walked away from that workshop wondering why there was such a disconnect between the black and brown people in the room and the disgruntled white men.
At first, it was hard to understand: how could they be in this space with people who claim to support progressive politics but be so hot and bothered over a political worldview that included a clear racial analysis? And then it hit me. They, and honestly, most white people, can agree that racism is bad, but they don’t think that they are personally racist. Additionally, they feel like they’re just innocent bystanders in “a thing that happened hundreds of years ago.” Most white people don’t understand that the idea of whiteness in and of itself, is nothing but a construct created to establish a “worthy power holder,” and by embracing it, they are actually erasing their entire identity. Racism isn’t a personal issue for them — so they see it as just “a thing that black people keep talking about, and so it won’t go away even though it’s ended.”
They’re absolutely wrong for thinking this way. The fact of the matter is this: racism is everywhere, and every single white person is a racist who benefits from the subjugation and prejudice of all people. Is there a spectrum of that racism? Absolutely, not every white person is on the Neo-Nazi spectrum; some fall into Donald Trump’s level of racism, and others don’t personally have any issues with black and brown people at all. That last group is also racist because while they are not openly prejudiced, they were raised in a world that knows no other language than that of white supremacy. A language that was created and perfected by their ancestors, hundreds of years ago.
And that’s the thing I don’t think white people understand. Racism isn’t just confined to the years that the trans-Atlantic slave trade existed in America; it wasn’t something that was solidified during the Jim Crow era; its formulation and molding was taking place well before that. We can go all the way back to the days of Aristotle. While alive, he created the “climate theory” to justify that Greeks were superior to other races. The basic premise of this argument was that “extreme hot or cold climates produced intellectually, physically, and morally inferior people who were ugly and lacked the capacity for freedom and self-government.” Additionally, he labeled Africans, “Burnt faces” in reference to Ethiopian people, (Stamped From the Beginning 17). Romans eventually began to use this theory to justify their use of slaves.
Since then, there have been hundreds of books, and stories published with the sole purpose of dehumanizing African slaves, justifying slavery, or building out the universe for white supremacy to thrive in. They have all taken from Aristotle’s original premise but evolved to work for the time that they’re in. We then used this idea to build out our governments, establish social norms, and perpetuate a system that extracted labor from an entire group of people.
When slavery ended, these ideas didn’t just go away, they evolved. If you could no longer outright enslave black people and use that as a means for profit, the next best thing was to criminalize them. But in order to justify the over-policing of black bodies, a new ideology would need to be created, one that fits comfortably into the white supremacist infrastructure — and that’s what happened. When it was no longer appropriate to use the N-word, racist language didn’t just end, those who benefit from, and uphold white supremacy found smarter, more subtle ways to express their disgust of black people. Those leaders were white men because white men made all of the decisions. They were also in the mainstream, so their language and ideas became the language and ideas of everyone. Most of us received it with no context, but the idea behind that language didn’t go anywhere — they just became more subtle.
Today’s white people are growing up in this world. Honestly, we all are, but as black and brown people suffer from a system that was literally perfected over hundreds, possibly thousands of years, we can sense that something is off. Unfortunately, the current worldview seems like the right one to most white folks. They see no problem with this current system; there’s no uneasiness for them, so they soak up every lesson and idea with no pushback. The world is the way it’s supposed to be, and their behavior is a reflection of the world they have always existed in. They’re not actually trying to be racist; they’re just doing the things they have grown to know as the norm; they’re following the rules of their world. That world is racist, that world thinks that black and brown people, but especially black people, are inhumane; that world puts the needs, feelings, and livelihood of white people first, but they (white people) can’t see that part, and why would they want to? It would be the equivalent of seeing yourself for the first time and realizing that everything you have been taught, everything you believed was not only wrong, but it was also destructive.
This can’t possibly be the case, because if it is, what does it say about them? The final, and ugly truth is white people, in order to keep their humanity, must uphold the current worldview.
They fight to uphold it from across the spectrum of white supremacy. Some becoming hardcore Klan and Neo- Nazi’s, some fighting to hold on to the system through their support of Donald Trump and the Republican party, and some living every day with no outright hatred of black and brown people but with the ability and tendency to uphold the principles of white supremacy without even knowing it. And how can they not? It’s literally been programmed into all of us, but for them, it’s a truth that sticks closer to the ribs than the story of Adam and Eve. It is their ultimate truth, their origin story, their lifeblood. I think on some level they know. That the walls of this manufactured universe is starting to fall apart, and they’re secretly scared to death at what life will look like when they’re no longer the ones in power.