Me and White Supremacy: “We Must Call a Thing a Thing”

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering Part I: What is white supremacy?


If we’re going to combat a thing, we need to know what that thing is. Layla defines it clearly and simply:

White supremacy is a racist ideology that is based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore, white people should be dominant over other races.

Okay, so we know that’s bullshit, right? But we’re swimming in a society that reinforces that idea. Our classics, our companies, our entertainment, our government all are overwhelmingly white. Conscious and unconscious bias upholds systems and institutions built – and too often maintained – by that erroneous belief.

Layla hopes that by “exploring and unpacking what white supremacy looks like at the personal and individual level,” we’ll be able to change those systems and institutions. If enough of us commit to doing this work, chances are good we’ll at least be able to better help bend them toward justice and equity.

Next, we have to confront this truth:

White supremacy is far from fringe. In white-centered societies and communities, it is the dominant paradigm that forms the foundation from which norms, rules, and laws are created.

None of us are exempt. None of us are exceptions. It’s just like men living in misogynist societies hold some misogynistic ideas and participate in misogynistic institutions no matter how egalitarian they wish to be. The sooner we accept that, the more effective we’ll be at changing it.

She points out that yes, the most overt expressions of white supremacy, like chattel slavery and apartheid, aren’t legal now, but unequal treatment hasn’t stopped. “[W]hite supremacy continues to be the dominant paradigm under which white societies operate.” We can’t flinch away from that truth anymore.

Feminists should be able to understand this pretty easily. Coverture is dead, women can vote, marital rape is now a crime, and discrimination on the basis of sex is officially illegal. But none of us pretend women still don’t face serious problems. We don’t declare sexism dead just because the most glaring overreaches of the patriarchy have been ended. We know there’s a lot of work still to do. It’s the same deal with white supremacy.

So listen:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection, and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection, and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger, and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin color to stop receiving these privileges, just like BIPOC cannot change their skin color to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

We can do this. The question is, will we?

Me and White Supremacy: “We Must Call a Thing a Thing”