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”
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Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering Part I: Welcome to the Work and A Little about Me.

You’ve decided to make a difference, to not just be “not racist” but actively anti-racist. You’ve got this book. The introduction didn’t scare you off. It’s a good start!

So now we’re getting to the gritty stuff. Fighting racism means recognizing the fact that we ourselves perpetuate racist systems, that we benefit from a social structure built by white supremacists, and it’s up to us to dismantle it. Thankfully, Layla Saad is going to give us some much needed guidance.

She gives us a good, concise introduction to the social conditions we face, and reminds us that the issues with racist people and institutions that we white folk are only now waking up to have been there all along for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). And then she says something about the work that bears repeating here:

This work is not about those white people ”out there.”

It is about you. Just you.

I’m putting that in bold, because so many of us resist it. “I’m not part of the problem! I’m part of the solution!” We believe that so strongly that we refuse to see where we’re complicit. We let our hurt feels take over when BIPOC folks try to gently call us out on problem behaviors. We get angry, we deny, we disregard, and we hurt the people we thought we were going to help. Sometimes, we even get so upset we stop doing the work.

We need to do better. We need to own the fact that we, by virtue of being white people born and raised in a civilization designed and built by white supremacists, are part of the problem. We have to work on fixing ourselves right here, not “those white people ‘out there.'”

Still with me? Good. Let’s continue.

This is where those of us who thrive on recognition and like to think the best of ourselves get some really bad news:

This work sounds overwhelming, intimidating, and unrewarding. I won’t lie to you: it is. You will become overwhelmed when you begin to discover the depths of your internalized white supremacy. You will become intimidated when you begin to realize how this work will necessitate seismic change in your life. You will feel unrewarded because there will be nobody rushing to thank you for doing this work. But if you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equity for all people, then you know that this work is nonnegotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.

Yeah, it really is.

Layla takes a moment to introduce herself. She’s a Black British Muslim woman who has only experienced overt racism a handful of times, but has been subjected to daily microaggressions throughout her life:

And those indirect messages—from being treated slightly differently by schoolteachers, to hardly ever seeing fictional characters or media representations that looked like me, to understanding that I would have to work a lot harder than my white peers to be treated the same, to understanding that my needs were always an afterthought (why could I never find a foundation shade that matched me exactly while my white friends always could?)—painted an indelible picture in my mind. A picture that taught me this: Black girls like me did not matter in a white world. I will spend the rest of my life tearing down this picture and painting a new one that reflects the truth: Black girls matter. Everywhere.

This is the kind of stuff we white folks just don’t notice, because we don’t have to. We aren’t treated as “other” because of our skin. We see people who look like usin media, in STEM, in the halls of power. Makeup, skin and hair products that match our traits are everywhere. Heck, even adhesive bandages are made with us in mind!

Those are things we must train ourselves to notice. They are things we can and must help change.

Layla now lives in the Middle East, and she has a paragraph’s worth of privileges she can claim. But white supremacy still impacts her life. That’s why she does the work to help dismantle those systems, and why she’s showing us how to do our part. She’s our inside guide.

And now, we have a lot of work to do.

Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”

Me and White Supremacy: “How Have You Managed Not to Know?”

We’re beginning Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. If you’re a white person watching news of protests, seeing that yes, there’s a serious problem with racism, and wondering what you can do to help, this is a place to begin. This is a book you should read before charging off to change the world.

cover of Me and White Supremacy

It’s also a book you might want to share with well-meaning white people in your life who want things to improve for people of color, but don’t yet understand that they need to remove the white supremacist plank from their own eye first.

White supremacy is a problem white people caused, perpetuate, and now need to fix. But most of us aren’t sure where to begin. Even if we have some idea of what to do, we risk going about it in a counterproductive way if we rush forward without listening to the POC who are telling us what they need from us. And if we haven’t done the work in ourselves first, we might storm off in an angry huff the moment we realize this work is difficult, dangerous, and humbling, and that we’re not going to be hailed as heroes for doing the shit white people should have been doing all along.

The Foreward is written by Robin DiAngelo, one white person talking to her fellow white people. She sugarcoats nothing. She’s seen a lot of shit from well-meaning white folks who would just love to help end racism – as long as it’s easy, people of color tell them exactly what to do, and their feelings aren’t hurt. She tells us exactly where we need to start if we want to avoid flaming out at the first small hurdle:

[quote Building racial….]

That discomfort was a definite stumbling block to me in the past. One of the hardest things to learn has been how to sit with the discomfort instead of runaway from it. It’s massively not fun. But retreating back into a comfy white shell is unconscienable.

Robin talks about how we get when “our self-image as open-minded progressive individuals, free of all racial conditioning” gets challenged. This is something we need to learn to watch for in ourselves: the urge to deny, dismiss, and retreat.

She says that she’s begun asking a counter question when white folks ask her what to do: “How have you managed not to know?” She points out that the information is out there and easy to find, and people of color “have been telling us what they need for a very long time.” So why haven’t we Googled, researched, made the effort to find out? Why haven’t we listened when we’ve been told?

In my case, it was because I was raised to believe most problems with racism had already been solved. We did that Civil Rights thing in the 60’s and then it was all pretty much good. Any problems left was mostly due to old racists who would eventually die off. I was raised to be “color blind.” I couldn’t be racist, because I didn’t like racism and called my grandparents out for saying blatantly racist stuff. My, wasn’t I shocked when I finally unclogged my ears, took off my color blinders, and realized that yeah, my POC friends were highly upset with white folks- including me – for a damned good reason.

But it was desperately uncomfortable getting to that point. Often, it still is. And I’m reading this book now because I know I still have a long way to go before I can be an effective anti-racist. I’m often dispirited by the scale of social change needed, and unsure how to play an effective part in helping to bring about that change.

[quote about book]

I’m so grateful Layla has done this work. I’m looking forward to listening to her and following her recommendations. At the end, I’m hoping it will make me a better listener, and allow me to find an effective role in the fight to end White Supremacy.

This Foreward is something of a litmus test. It should, along with King’s musings on the White Moderate, be required reading for every white person who tuts about how awful things are and says they wish they could do more. If they aren’t willing to at least read Robin’s Foreward without getting offended and defensive and stomping off in a huff, they probably aren’t ready to do anything useful. That’s fine as long as they stay out of the way.

For the rest of us, it’s time to press on and do the work this woman of color is advising us to do.

What did you get out of this section? Was it hard to stomach? If so, were you able to accept your discomfort and push on? What were your answers to the title question?

Me and White Supremacy: “How Have You Managed Not to Know?”

ICE Raids: How to Do Your Part

ICE is going raiding! It’s important that we good US residents help them do a really good job. Here is a list of tips that most of us can use to ensure everything goes smoothly and safely as possible.

1. Don’t open the door! What if they inadvertently enter your home or vehicle illegally and get in trouble? For their safety, speak to them through the window.

2. Ask for their identification, including badge numbers, so that you can be sure they’re not being impersonated (SO embarrassing for a government agency!) and so that you can prove they were there, just following orders, like they’re supposed to.

3. Make sure they have their paperwork in order! Ask to see their warrant, and if they don’t have one, protect them from disciplinary action and/or lawsuits by asking them to get a warrant before searching your car or your house. If they present a warrant, ensure it was issued by a court, signed by a judge, and is for the correct property and/or person.

4. If you’re with someone who isn’t familiar with United States law, let them know how important legal paperwork and procedure is so they don’t inadvertently ruin the career of an ICE agent by letting them bend or break the law. We definitely wouldn’t want that!

5. Look over all documents carefully, and consult a lawyer if you’d like to double check them, just to be sure they’re perfectly accurate. This will help ICE ensure they don’t detain people using the wrong paperwork, which is really embarrassing in court!

6. Document document document! Even if the ICE agents aren’t speaking directly to you, make sure you document them following orders like the good government employees they are. Photos and videos are great for catching them in heroic action, but if your phone might scare them too much, just write everything down as soon as you can.

7. Study photos and other materials they want you to look at carefully. Just because none of us are or know any illegal people doesn’t mean we can’t try our best to help! Take as much time as you need to make sure you don’t overlook something that may be of use to ICE.

8. If the ICE agents seem like they’re about to do something without crossing every possible t and dotting absolutely every i, or if they are making you uncomfortable in any way, insist on speaking with their supervisor. If you’re a US citizen deficient in melanin, this is an especially safe and effective way to ensure that ICE does everything right.

9. When in doubt, reach out! There are many local and national organizations that can help with questions and concerns about immigration raids. See the resources below.

Together, we can all ensure that ICE agents do their very best. Sure, it means they probably won’t be able to separate as many immigrant families as they’re striving for, but don’t you think that quality trumps quantity? Sure it does!

Here are some links to some good resources, and an article showing some of these techniques in action. Most of these are written from the point of view of protecting immigrants, but remember, every time you employ these techniques, you’re protecting an ICE agent from committing a moral atrocity, or at the very least assisting them with staying within the confines of the law, which is sure to help them when they’re facing charges in international criminal courts. Everybody wins!

ACLU Texas: How to Protect Yourself During an Immigration Raid

ACLU: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Immigrants’ Rights, Dreamers (DACA, 100 Mile Border Zone, Enforcement at the Airport

ICE Raid Resources

Washington Post: An activist used a legal argument to stop an ICE arrest. He says others should do the same.

Newsweek: ICE Knocked, But Most Did Not Answer As Nationwide Raids Began

Huffpost: What To Do During ICE Stops

ICE Raids: How to Do Your Part