I am trying Noom, the dieting app. One of the things I read on the app today really spoke to me: "whatever you learn, you can unlearn." In terms of Noom, they were talking about craving salty, fatty and sugary foods. If I can unlearn to crave donuts, it will be a miracle. I'll let you know how it goes.
But unlearning applies to us and white supremacy, too. We have all -- every single one of us -- regardless of what race we were socialized as, grown up in a white supremacist culture and society. What that means is, whether we wanted to or not, we learned some horrible things about race (and also have had information intentionally withheld) which helped to inform our biases and behaviors: conscious and unconscious. Those biases and behaviors then turn into actions and attitudes which perpetuate inequity at all levels of our society. As Ani DiFranco says (in an awesome song about gun control, but I’ll use it here anyway): “It’s true it may take some doing to see this undoing through.” It is going to take years -- work we will have to do our entire collective lives -- for us to unlearn the bad and learn the new, positive things about race. For those with children and grandchildren, it is imperative that you share this knowledge and work with them and encourage curriculum in school to reflect accurate and complete lenses of history -- not just the colonial perspective we all grew up with. But, with continued education and effort and continued action to make changes, change will come. We have to be constant and consistent and vigilant, no matter who is in office; no matter if we live in a red state or a blue state, or whether we are conservative or progressive. We all have work to do.
Sometimes this work is hard and sometimes it’s easier, but it is always necessary. It may seem overwhelming, but it is just and it is right and it is necessary. (Did I mention it is necessary?) As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends toward justice.” It will bend a whole lot sooner if we all get to work!
It may also seem like it is work other people have to do. You might think, “What is she even talking about? I have a lot of black friends, so how can I be racist?” Or “I don’t treat my friends and neighbors and coworkers of color differently from my white friends.” Or “I have dated people of color” or “My grandson is Black and I love him, how dare you think I’m racist!” Those may all be accurate statements and sentiments, but it does not mean that you have not been raised in a white supremacist society and don’t help to perpetuate it. You may not be part of a white supremacist organization or use horrible slurs, but just because you don’t directly and intentionally discriminate against someone to their face does not mean that systemic racism doesn’t exist or that you don’t perpetuate it (and yes, I am absolutely including myself here. I am not to just talking to you. I am with you in this, even if I wish I weren’t.)
One thing that helps perpetuate a white supremacist (and often more specifically, an anti-Black) culture is an archaic, almost caricature-like definition of what or who is “a racist”. For so many white people, the only way you can be “a racist” is if you carry a Nazi flag or use “the ‘n’ word”, and the way to overcome racism and hate, is to learn to not use racist words and to be “nice” to people of color. As long as “we” include “them” in spaces “they” were previously barred from and “we” act civilly, then racism is cured, and “we” are not racist. We see this a LOT in our movies and television (Green Book, anyone?) What this does is water down the complicated historical and societal aspects of oppression into simple, individual behaviors that we can (and often already have) change(d). Then it’s up to “them” to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, and magic! Racism is solved. This idea is a tool of white supremacy to keep systemic racism intact. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to change your language or that you shouldn’t be nice to people of color! It just means that those two things are literally the least you can do, and that there is a lot more to do to end oppression, racism and white supremacy.
So what actually is racism? What are oppression and white supremacy? Here are some great definitions by some of my favorite anti-racist writers (this can also serve as a beginning of your own resource list).
Note: This list is hardly exhaustive and doesn’t get into things like microaggressions or implicit bias or interlocking oppressions or intersectionality. This is just a beginning provided to have a common language and understanding to start from:
Racism from So you want to talk about race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Chapter 2, not sure about pages, as I have the audiobook – sorry!
“Probably one of the most telling signs that we have problems talking about race in America is the fact that we can't even agree on what the definition of racism actually is. Look at almost any discussion of race and racism online, and you'll see an argument pop up over who is racist, who isn't, and who has the right to claim they're suffering from racism. The most common definitions of racism, in my own summation, are as follows: 1. Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race. Or 2. Racism is any prejudice against someone because of their race when those views are reinforced by systems of power. While these two definitions are very close to each other in many ways, the differences between these two definitions of racism drastically change how you look at and address racism in America. For the purposes of this book, I'm going to use the second definition of racism: a prejudice against someone based on race when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power. And this is the definition I recommend you use in your day-to-day life if your goal is to reduce the systemic harm done to people of color by racism in America.”
White Supremacy from Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor, by Layla Saad. Part 1; Section 3; Pages 12 and 13.
“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. White supremacy is not just an attitude or a way of thinking. It also extends to how systems and institutions are structured to uphold this white dominance.”
“In white-centered societies and communities, it is the dominant paradigm that forms the foundation from which norms, rules, and laws are created.”
“White supremacy is an ideology , a paradigm, an institutional system, and a worldview that you have been born into by virtue of your white privilege.”
Prejudice from What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy (Revised Edition), by Robin DiAngelo. Chapter 4, Page 46.
“Prejudice is pre-judgement about another person based on the social groups to which that person belongs. Prejudice is based upon characteristics we assume others have due to their group memberships.”
“Prejudice is made up in large part by stereotypes that create bias or value judgments. This bias can be toward a group as well as against it; whether you view someone as better or as less than someone else based on a group to which they belong , you are still attributing relative value based on the group.”
“Prejudice: Learned prejudgment based on stereotypes about a social group that someone belongs to. Prejudice occurs at the individual level; all humans have learned prejudices.”
Discrimination from What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy (Revised Edition), by Robin DiAngelo. Chapter 4, Page 52.
“Discrimination is action based upon prejudice. All of the messages we have absorbed in the society at large “leak out” and manifest in our actions. If we think of prejudice as the internal filters through which we view social others -- how we perceive them and the values attached to those perceptions -- then discrimination is the action that results from those filters .”
“Discrimination: Unfair action toward a social group and its members that is based upon prejudice about that group. Discrimination occurs at the individual level; all humans discriminate."
Oppression from What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy (Revised Edition), by Robin DiAngelo. Chapter 4, Pages 61 and 62.
“To oppress is to hold down -- to press -- and deny a social group full access to resources in a given society. Oppression describes a set of policies, practices, traditions, norms, definitions, cultural stories, and explanations that function to systematically hold down one social group to benefit to the benefit of another social group. The group that benefits from oppression is called the dominant (or agent) group, and the group that is oppressed is called the minoritized (or target) group. Scholars use the term minoritized (rather than minority) to indicate that the group's lower position in a function of socially constructed dynamics, rather than its numbers in society. In order to oppress, a group must hold institutional power in society. Holding institutional power enables a group to control resources and to impose its worldview throughout the society in ways that are difficult to avoid. Oppression is historical (long term an ongoing) and thus becomes automatic and normalized. Thus, we are all socialized to see this group's position as normal, natural, and even necessary for the good of society.”
“Oppression: Group prejudice and discrimination backed by institutional power. The term “oppression” indicates that one group is in the position to enforce their prejudice and discrimination against another group throughout the society; the prejudice and discrimination have moved from the individual to the societal level and have long-term and far-reaching impacts. Prejudice + Discrimination + Power = Oppression.”
Here is a link to black-owned bookstores where you might be able to purchase the above titles, if you don't want to get them from Amazon:
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.