Liberal White Supremacy

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

What is a Liberal?

When people use liberal or conservative as identifiers, they are often using the term to describe sensibilities rather than politics. They drive a Prius, they go to Starbucks, they vote Democrat… they have a liberal sensibility.

Liberals are largely defined by what they consume. They drive a certain kind of car, live in a certain kind of neighborhood, drink a certain kind of drink.

Politically, liberals vote Democrat, whatever that means. Blue, no matter who.

Are you a liberal?

What is White Supremacy?

White supremacy is, most fundamentally, a system of power designed to channel material resources to people socially defined as white”

Crystal Fleming

White supremacy is exactly what it sounds like: a system, or a set of laws and practices, that favors white people over non-white people.

This definition of white supremacy argues that white supremacy is systemic, like racism.

Neo Nazis, klansmen, and white nationalists are people on the extreme edge of white supremacy. On the other end, I’m sorry to report, are people like you and me – folks with the best of intentions who constantly do things to uphold and reinforce the systems that advance and maintain our advantage over people who are not white.

For example, when Trump tweets that “people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream” would “no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood,” many of us hear the implicit, coded racism, but when we euphemistically refer to neighborhoods as “rough” or “gang infested” simply because they have a majority of Black or Latinx people, we’re using coded language to do exactly the same thing.

Am I Practicing White Supremacy?

“Most whites in America, including many of goodwill, proceed from the premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap — essentially, it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects retain it.”

Martin Luther King, 1967

Here’s a convenient (and by no means complete) little checklist to see if you are practicing white supremacy. Remember that your intention means nothing.

  1. Have you ever been afraid to go into a certain neighborhood because it is majority Black or Latino?
  2. Have you ever used euphemistic language in place of racial language? Have you ever referred to a majority Black neighborhood as “rough” or “gang infested?
  3. Have you ever bitten your tongue and stopped yourself from saying something that might be racist? You thought it, but thought better of saying it?
  4. Do you ask yourself “Why can’t we all just get along?” as though attitude were the only problem here, rather than allocation of resources like money, education, healthcare, employment, housing? Do you think the solution is only attitudinal and not material? Are you willing to give up anything materially to help those less fortunate, or do you think a smile is sufficient?
  5. Do you have any Black and/or Latinx friends? Real friends, not acquaintances or people you work with. If you don’t, does it occur to you that you lead a segregated life, or do you consider white to be the default, and while a Black neighborhood is segregated, a white one is not?
  6. If you do have Black or Latinx friends, do they confide in you their experiences with racism? Rest assured that they have these experiences. If they do not confide in you, what does that say about their trust in you as a friend?
  7. When listening to a Black or Latinx person talking about racial injustice, especially a Black or Latinx woman, have you ever thought to yourself that they are a bit too angry, and that their anger makes you uncomfortable? Have you ever thought “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” while listening to a person of color speak of their experiences with racism? If so, this is called tone policing.1
  8. Do you support school integration and diversity, but you also want your children to have the best education possible, so you send them to a mostly white private school?
  9. Do you believe that racism is a problem between Black and Latinx people on one side, and poor, ignorant Southerners, neo-nazis, and extremists on the other, and you are just a sympathetic colorblind bystander?
  10. Does it seem unnecessary for people to refer to you as white, even while you refer to Black people as Black or African American, or Latinx people as Hispanic or Latino or Mexican American, or Asian people as Asian? If yes, is this because you feel that white is the default race in the United States?
  11. Do you ever argue with Black or Latinx people (or have you ever thought when reading about an incident of racism) “that wasn’t racism” and try instead to find a different reason for it? Do you think that Black and Latinx people are “over sensitive” when it comes to racial matters? Do you think you know as much about racism as Black or Latinx people do?
  12. Do you believe that because your parents had a Black or Mexican housekeeper or gardener this means you were raised in a multicultural environment that taught you how to appreciate people of different cultures, without ever considering the disparity in social position?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, it means you are or have participated in white supremacy. Does this make you a bad or evils person? No. Does this make you a neo-nazi? No. It just means that you, as a white person, have participated in the upholding of white supremacy, even if it was done unwittingly.

If you identify as liberal and can answer yes to any of these questions, you have participated in liberal white supremacy.

Back to School

What Can I Do?

There are things you can do. Yes, it means taking action. No, yoga is not one of those actions.

Mexican American author and activist Myriam Gurba has three suggestions:

  1. Building on the suggestion of Afrozapotec writer, artist and activist Alan Pelaez Lopez, I encourage everyone to betray systems of supremacy. If you are white, betray white supremacy. If you are male, betray patriarchy. Identity what systems of supremacy benefit you. Then, betray them.”
  2. I encourage everyone to study the history of social movements in the United States. Through this study, you will find that the lives of the oppressed people within US borders have been most significantly improved through sustained participation in social movements and not electoral politics. Electoral politics are but one way to effect a small amount of change. Learn who is organizing in your community. Then, join them.
  3. Lastly, I encourage everyone to engage in criticism, including self-criticism. Criticism is how we approach the truth. Criticism reveals to us who we are and can disabuse us of misconceptions we hold about ourselves and others. Criticism is a gift. Let’s continue to offer one another generous critique. 

  1. Tone Policing Definition

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