What We Inherit: White Supremacy

For several years people have mentioned how much I look like my mother. I never thought I looked like my mother. She had brown eyes, I have blue. I have freckles, she had none. I certainly hear my mother’s voice in my own … in the phrases I use, my tendency to mumble incomplete thoughts, and an occasional exclamation to the person driving (my husband), “You don’t want to go that way!” (An inside family joke – a story for another time.) But, since I got my hair cut short a couple of months ago, every time I look in the mirror, there’s my mother. Can’t get away from what we inherit in looks, and difficult to run from the mannerisms, phrases, and other characteristics we are either born with or pick up from those who birthed us and/or raised us.

We inherit many things that are invisible to us, until and unless we intentionally seek to see the invisible. White supremacy is like this. Everyone of us living in the United States of America inherited the systems of white supremacy that are in the DNA of our founding. Whether one is actually a White Supremacist, actively engaged in promoting the idea that people who believe they are white (of western European descent) are better than people of other ethnicities, or one is actively working to build an equitable, just, multicultural country, we are swimming and functioning in the waters of white supremacy.

I’m currently reading “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg. For anyone still living under the illusion that the U.S. was intended as a class-free society, that illusion will quickly melt away. America offered an opportunity for England to rid itself of the poor, the criminal, the homeless, and the “unworthy.” Our founders were not saints who saw all humans as equal. Most of those who protested slavery did so because of the belief that having a slave system made white people lazy, not because it was wrong to enslave people, or because they saw people who were not white as equals. And this is what we in the United States have all inherited: a system that was based on the premise that some people are better than others, some white people (descendants of wealthy, educated Englishmen) are better than other white people, and all white people are better than people who are not white.

Just like the face I see in the mirror will always remind me of my mother, it will also reminds me of the system of white supremacy in which I swim. This is important for all white folks to see … and especially liberal white folks. We can often fall in to the trap of thinking that because we envision an equitable society where we see no race, or because we aren’t overt racists, that we aren’t part of the system of white supremacy. This is how we become complicit and perpetuating systems of white supremacy. I recommend this spiritual practice for people who pass as white: In order to increase your awareness, each day wake up and ask, “How will my life be easier today because I am white?” Then, at the end of the day reflect on all the encounters in the day in which you were aware that you are white, and the advantages that provided. Awareness is just the beginning. The next step is to challenge yourself to step away from those advantages, decline the offer (or don’t apply in the first place), hand the microphone to a person of color, listen more than talking, actively challenge your white privilege.

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