So You Want To Fight White Supremacy

Credit: Wikimedia
There is no excuse and no negotiation to be had: We all must battle this violent, deadly system.

Hello fellow outraged human being. I am sure that the events of these last few days — the marching of young white supremacists through the UVA campus, and the assault and murder of anti-racist protesters, has left many of you shocked and horrified. Violent white supremacy is a shocking thing to see in action—and all white supremacy is violent.

If you are one of the many who are now saying, “This has gone too far, what can I do?” If you have the strong suspicion that counter-marches aren’t quite enough, but you don’t know where to take it from there, I’m here to help. Here are some things you may need to know first:

White supremacy is not just about the hateful actions of individuals or groups of individuals.

White supremacy is first and foremost a system. A system which puts the belief that white people are superior to other races into practice. It is this system that makes white supremacy as dangerous as it is, and it kills people much more violently and with more frequency than we’ve seen this past weekend in Virginia.

White supremacy is in our workplace, our school system, our government and our prisons. It is in our books and movies and television. White supremacy has been woven into the fabric of our nation from the moment that white settlers decided that their claim to land was more important than the lives of indigenous people. This is not a new problem. This is America.

This is not a new problem. This is America.

The white supremacy we are seeing in the streets right now is not just Nazism, and to label it as such is erasive.

Yes, there are definitely neo-Nazis marching among the ranks of the White Supremacists who have been on the rise since the election of Obama made white people fear for their status in society for the first time in decades. These white supremacists draw a lot of inspiration from Hitler and the monstrous acts that Nazis committed. It is very tempting, then, especially with the general consensus among all decent people that Nazis are indeed a serious threat that must be taken seriously, to label all of these white supremacists Nazis. But Nazism is a distinct political ideology with a distinct history and actions. Further, when we think about the targets of Nazis, we think primarily of only one group: Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism has indeed been on the rise in recent years, and many of these newer white supremacists have used the hatred of Jewish people, and the imagery of Nazism, as a rallying point. The evocation of the historical trauma of the Holocaust is a tactic meant to shock everyone, make white supremacists feel powerful, and terrify Jewish people (although Jewish people certainly were not the only groups targeted by Nazis — Roma, homosexuals, disabled people and many others were murdered — , the targeting of Jewish people has been primarily how many Americans think of the Holocaust). But this hatred we are seeing marching through the UVA campus was not born in Germany. It is a home-grown problem. The United States has a long history of anti-Semitism, and while the imagery and swastikas may be borrowed from Germany’s past, this hatred is all-American. If we want to battle anti-Semitism in America, we must look at it as an American problem in the context of American history.

Further, today’s white supremacy has, as it always has, deep roots in this country’s hatred of non-white people — especially black Americans. It is important to remember that it was the fear of the rise of black Americans after the election of Obama that started the rise of violent white supremacy we are seeing today. Much of the recruitment points into this latest incarnation of white supremacy are the same as they have always been: the fear of the black brute coming for white women, “black-on-black crime,” the fear of white erasure and the devaluation of the white male through miscegenation, the fear of the loss of status, power, and resources to “inferior” blacks.

Our country’s entire social, political, and economic system is built off of the promise that poor and working class whites would always get more than everyone else — that they deserved more than everyone else. When the profits of white supremacy prove to be meager, because capitalism will always send the spoils to the top few, the anger of being cheated out of their just rewards is easily funneled into racist hate.

This hatred we are seeing marching through the UVA campus was not born in Germany. It is a homegrown problem.

Today, that racist hate has plenty of targets: black people, Muslim people (yes, this is racist in its roots), Jewish people (who become not-white when it suits the needs of white supremacists), Latinx people, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans. To just label them Nazis not only erases the impact that these white supremacists have on non-Jews, it also points us to the wrong cause and, likely, the wrong solutions. It allows the majority of Americans to separate themselves from the problem and say, “these people are not us.” But they are “us,” because they are a product of the system that every person in this country with white privilege helps maintain. I know that sounds harsh; it sounds like I’m painting the majority of Americans with a broad brush, but the system of white supremacy does not care about your intentions, it does not care if you do or do not hold hatred for people of color in your heart—it only cares that you participate in the system.

So, now that we’ve established that white supremacy is not as simple as a group of marching, angry white people—that white supremacy is literally the air that we breathe—it seems daunting, hopeless, even, doesn’t it? But in fact, the opposite is true. You can spend the rest of your life fighting to win over the hearts of white supremacists one at a time, and if you won over one a week even, you would, at the end of your life, have not made a measurable dent in white supremacy. But systems, systems we can change. Remember, it was the threat to the system of white supremacy symbolized in the election of Barack Obama that so terrified white Americans. It was the thought that the levers needed to reduce the structural power of white supremacy were within the reach of non-white hands.

Because we all interact with the system of white supremacy, because we all uphold it to some degree — we all have some power to tear it down. And while discussions of white privilege can make many white people want to plug their ears in order to keep the shame of their participation in the oppression of others at bay, acknowledgement of that privilege is also the key to finding the places where you can make the most impact in fighting white supremacy.

The truth is: You’ve been trusted with the keys to the car, people of color haven’t — so, maybe you should take the wheel and make a hard left.

The truth is: You’ve been trusted with the keys to the car, people of color haven’t — so, maybe you should take the wheel and make a hard left.

There are countless opportunities every day to disrupt white supremacy — especially if you are white. If you need inspiration, here are a few ideas:

Schools.

The racist mythology needed to morally justify white supremacy is disseminated first and foremost through schools. Do you know what is in your children’s textbooks? How is slavery being taught? How is the Civil War discussed? What conversations are had in class around Thanksgiving or Columbus Day? At what age are your children learning about the Japanese internment camps — if at all? What black history is being taught outside of black history month? Are any of the explorers, scientists, politicians, or artists lauded in class Latinx, Asian American, or Native American? Is the hatred and violence perpetrated against Muslim Americans and people of South Asian descent since 9/11 discussed?

Outside of texts, what is the racial makeup of your school board and school staff? How many children of color are suspended and expelled from your local schools? How does your school address racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic bullying? Is your district outsourcing its discipline to anti-black police forces?

The system of white supremacy does not care about your intentions, it does not care if you do or do not hold hatred for people of color in your heart—it only cares that you participate in the system.

Work.

What diversity recruitment efforts does your company have? How does HR handle reports of racial discrimination? Are your work social events diverse and inclusive? Who is getting promoted? Who gets to speak in meetings? What racial equity goals are written into your union charter? Ask these questions, and get your coworkers to ask as well. If you are white, do not leave the burden on the few people of color in the office to advocate for themselves in a system that has already shown it values their voices less than yours.

Money.

Are you supporting minority-owned businesses? Are you boycotting businesses that discriminate against people of color — not only through how they treat customers of color, but in the products they choose to carry, the politics they support, and the way they treat their employees of color? Are you donating to progressive political candidates of color? Are you supporting anti-racist activist groups, civil rights organizations, and immigrant advocacy groups? Are you voting for taxes and levies that empower and enrich communities of color? Are you seeing movies with diverse casts and shunning those that prefer to imagine an all-white world? Are you buying art from artists of color and rejecting the appropriation of that art by white artists?

Politics.

Are you voting in local elections, where your vote has the most power? Are you asking your mayor and city council about their police oversight and reform goals? Are you demanding that racial equity be a real and actionable goal of any candidate who gets your vote? Are you asking for city and state funds to go to projects to support communities of color? Are you voting for candidates of color? Are you paying attention to which judges and prosecutors will be granted the authority to decide the fate of the millions of black and brown adolescents and adults trapped in our racist criminal justice system?

Family.

If you are white, and your children are white, are you explaining white privilege to them? Are you introducing your children to cultures other than their own? Are the only people you have over for dinner white? Are all their dolls and action figures white? Are the characters in their story books and favorite movies all white? Are you children being taught to stand up for their friends of color and always speak out against racist bullying? Are you trusting in your children’s ability to handle some truth about racism in America — a truth that children of color never get the chance to avoid? Are you having tough conversation with your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles? Are you letting family members know that their racist speech is a personal affront to you? Are you making anti-racism, anti-Islamophobia, and the fight against anti-Semitism a family value?

Are you trusting in your children’s ability to handle some truth about racism in America — a truth that children of color never get the chance to avoid?

Socially.

White people, are you listening, without ego and defensiveness to people of color? How many of your good friends are not white? Do your friends of color feel comfortable telling you when you are being racist? When with other white people, what jokes are you letting slide in order to not make waves? What racist comment are you cringing at but choosing to ignore? In what ways are you helping to make white supremacists feel comfortable in their bigotry, in order to not make yourself uncomfortable as well? What friendships are you risking in order to help make your racist friends better people and to help make your friends of color more safe? How are you fighting the normalization of racism and bigotry in everyday life?

As you can see from this small example, there are a lot of ways in which you can fight white supremacy every single day. And now that you know that you can, you absolutely must. There is no excuse and no negotiation to be had. The fight against white supremacy is both arduous and urgent, thankless and endlessly rewarding, because people are being crushed by this white supremacist system every single day and every step we take will always be not enough—but still absolutely vital.

In what ways are you helping to make white supremacists feel comfortable in their bigotry, in order to not make yourself uncomfortable as well?

Those of us targeted by white supremacy do not get a moment’s rest — and if you are not targeted by white supremacy, that should keep you up nights as well. Do not give up, do not rest, until the system of white supremacy is reduced to rubble. You may not see it in your lifetime, but your efforts will help ensure that many more of us will live long enough to do our part.

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