The first time I heard the phrase “white supremacy” directed at me it was not yelled across a protest line or flung in a hateful way. I was taking a class on sex and gender from the local community college. I had just been trained as a sexulaity educator for young people and figured I needed to get some deeper understanding of things like intersex, fragile x and how gender and sex work in people and in our culture.
This course was offered by the psychology department, and I think it was probably one of those courses that was required for all students to graduate. The head of the department taught the course, and it was clear that she felt like she had one shot to reach these privileged young people from a wealthy Seattle suburb with some big concepts.
There was a lot of reading for the course, and if I remember correctly, it was so many years back that we still had to go buy a printed packet of readings from the bookstore. It was while sitting at a picnic table on campus in the bright spring sun that I read something that implicated middle class white women as upholding white supremacy.
Me? Really, me? I am married to a person of color, my kids are mixed race. I grew up in the inner city of Minneapolis, well, I went home at night but my mom’s daycare center was full of kids who were not white. But, me? Surely not. I was not a hood-wearing, Aryan-brotherhood-supporting white person. No. I was one of the good ones without a racist bone in my body.
I dismissed the implication that I was part of the problem. I was part of the SOLUTION. I was aware of racism and working to remove it from our culture.
I didn’t get it.
It took a lot more reading and some painful mistakes on my part. But after some time, I think I might be getting it.
I was part of the problem. I AM part of the problem. Yes, that doesn’t mean I can’t be part of the solution, I can. I SHOULD. I am working every day to learn how to unlearn this. But the truth is that the culture that I grew up in and that I live in every day centers whiteness. The culture of my country views white as the default. Think about it, in most places at most times it takes another step to add “person of color” to the description of….whatever. Casting comes to mind. I know that across the country theaters use “color blind” casting but most of the time unless specified, the character is assumed to be white. Think of fiction….do you read a description of skin color if the person is white? Not usually. White is the assumed baseline. White is “normal.”
And if we’re honest. Our culture teaches not only that white is “normal” but that white is “better.”
THAT is white supremacy. Not only hoods and brotherhood, but holding “white” as the default and better. This is something we all learn without ever being taught. I’m upholding it, my Asian husband is upholding it, although he’s also ripping holes in it every single day. We can’t point at that person over there as the problem without also looking with steely eyes to our own hearts.
Today I am taking some time to read and study my own white supremacy. All these years after my firm rejection of my own white supremacy while reading on that community college campus, I am still fighting it. I will keep fighting it, starting in the only place that I control. Me.
For my UU siblings there is a call to action for a teach-in about white supremacy which began with a group of religious educators, doing what we do best, teaching. I hope you will join me.