I see so many people whining about how “everything is racist these days” and “people blame white supremacy for everything.”
Yeah. That’s because racism and white supremacy are infused into everything in our country—we’re just starting to acknowledge it.
And by “we,” I mean white folks. The vast majority of people of color in America already know this to be true and have always known it to be true. White Americans, by and large, have been ignorant, oblivious, or in denial about how America’s legacy of white supremacy impacts us.
There’s a reason for this.
We cannot separate our most celebrated history from white supremacy in any sort of honest way. And that’s really uncomfortable.
White supremacy built this country. Our founders wrote racism into the Constitution. Our economy relied on the violent oppression of people of color.
This is our history. The great men—and yes, they were great in many ways—who established our republic were mostly overt or passive white supremacists. Even our beloved Lincoln, who opposed slavery, was a white supremacist who didn’t believe in equal rights for black people.
That sucks. We like the feeling of pride and patriotism that comes with what we were taught in school. We love hearing about the brave souls who fled tyranny and founded a new nation built on freedom and the idea that “all men are created equal.” We like that simple story.
The fact that slavery directly flew in the face of those freedoms, and the fact that they really meant “all white men are created equal,” feels gross. Icky. Yuck. So we ignore it. We downplay our foundation of white supremacy. We say “that was in the past, it doesn’t matter now.”
But practically every socioeconomic disparity between whites and minorities can be traced back to white supremacist policies and practices.
We could talk about the psychological and economic effects of hundreds of years of slavery, and we should. But we don’t even have to go back that far. Modern history offers plenty of examples of white supremacist laws, policies, and practices. This is stuff that happened during my parents’ lifetime.
Both of my parents are still living, and they aren’t even that old.
Segregation, redlining, public housing policies, unjust lending practices, etc. were all based in white supremacy and happened during current Americans’ lifetimes. And they still impact non-white communities today. (Some good reading on that here: (link: https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/46/racism-didnt-stop-at-jim-crow/) democracyjournal.org/magazine/46/ra…)
And that’s just the big stuff that impacts groups of people. We haven’t even gotten into the individual effects of white supremacy.
When kids of all races look at a poster of U.S. presidents, they see a sea of white faces with one lone face of color. That means something.
It means the power in this country has always been held by white men. That’s reality. But it didn’t just happen that way—that power was purposely and systematically maintained by white men and withheld from others. Again, this is simple reality. There’s no disputing this fact.
So, the message we get simply by looking at a poster of our presidents is that white = power. (Also male = power, but that’s another discussion.) It’s a visual representation of historical white supremacy that also reinforces the notion of white supremacy. Weird, right?
People point to our one non-white president as evidence that racism is over, but what his lone face did was bring the racism that white folks imagined had disappeared after the Civil Rights Movement back into the light. It forced us to look at it. It forced us to talk about it.
The constant racist attacks on that president should have made it obvious that racism wasn’t dead. The rise in blatant white supremacist activity as a reaction to his election should have been a clue that we’re not past it.
Racism lives, not because we talk about it too much, but because we still haven’t talked about it enough.
White folks largely don’t like to look at or talk about how much white supremacy has impacted us because it means that we have a role and responsibility in dismantling it. It’s far easier to pretend it doesn’t exist.
It’s far easier to say, “That’s just white guilt,” or “I don’t see color” or “The law says we’re all equal now,” and ignore the fact that there are people alive who used whites-only drinking fountains.
It’s easier to pretend that Civil Rights laws changed everyone’s hearts, despite the fact that a good portion of the country (and lawmakers) opposed the Civil Rights Act.
The roots of white supremacy are still enmeshed in our society, in our politics, and in our daily lived experiences as Americans. To pretend that isn’t true is dishonest.
So yeah, the reason “everything is racist these days” is because we’re finally having the conversations we always should have had. About how racism manifests in both overt and subtle ways. About how most race-related issues in America actually do go back to white supremacy.
You can rant about everything being about race. You can keep trying to deny that white supremacy is a much more abiding influence on our society than is generally acknowledged.
But these needed conversations are going to keep on coming. Hop on the train or move off the tracks.