History is important as it can tell us where we have been, the lessons we don’t have to repeat, and something about the likelihood of where we are heading, especially if we are able to see different perspectives, including the nuance and the shadow. It’s important to understand the history of white supremacy because learning who we were, tells us the unconscious aspect of who we are.
It is important to remember that history is now. When Harriet Tubman was born, Thomas Jefferson was alive and Ronald Reagan was alive when she died.
Every predominantly white organization has a well-established system, often both overt and covert, that protects their white supremacy if it has been in the US for at least a few decades.
If you are on a road trip and you know you left Boston and are driving west, you can reasonably assume it is far more likely you will end your trip somewhere like Albany NY rather than Augusta Maine even if others in the car are telling you that Augusta is the destination. However, if you suddenly wake up in a car having no idea how you got there or where you started, you would be far more likely to trust the people you are traveling with to tell you the ultimate destination.
The above analogy is relevant for how even well-intentioned people can be oblivious to the roads their predecessors have traveled and the destination where this institutionalized white supremacy leads.
One such history involves the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in New England. This group prides itself, and rightly so, on being on the forefront of the abolition movement with people like John Woolman and Lucretia Mott as well as, less documented claims about involvement with the civil rights movement but there is another side as well. This often smug pride is in a past that wasn’t nearly as righteous as many would like to believe (see Vanessa Julye’s “Fit for Freedom not for Friendship”). This has a purpose as it operates today as simply a security blanket that keeps Friends comfortable in white supremacy culture. While a few individual members of this group did work tirelessly and courageously for the liberation of people of color, using this to justify maintaining a status quo and over emphasizing these actions today, has little meaningful impact on people’s lives here and now.
However, this group as a whole remains predominately white because of entrenched individual and structural racism. In order to feel good about themselves, they held up as heroes dead people who were shunned and ridiculed while they lived, they approved many minutes and statements proclaiming their good intentions (see them all here). However that didn’t change the white supremacy culture. (Let us know if you wish us to include information about your particular organization).
In the More Resources section (located toward the bottom of the front page) under Racial Terrorism/History you can read some historical aspects of the middle passage, slavery, Jim Crow, race riots, etc. Some most of us probably know about, some probably not.
The Partition of Africa or the Conquest of Africa, (from wikipedia) was the invasion, occupation, division, and colonisation of African territory by European powers during a short period known to historians as the New Imperialism (between 1881 and 1914). The 10 percent of Africa that was under formal European control in 1870 increased to almost 90 percent by 1914, with only Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Liberia remaining independent. European motives included the desire to control valuable natural resources, rivalry and the quest for national prestige, and religious missionary zeal, although internal African politics also played a role. The Berlin Conference of 1884 regulated European colonisation and trade in Africa. There were considerable political and economic rivalries among the European empires and partitioning Africa was effected largely without Europeans going to war.
Another thing that dramatically affects this history is intersectionality. Intersectionality, (the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group) is defined not to make the various oppressions even but to explain the dynamic when they are stacked up one on top of the other. Bayard Rustin as an out gay man of color is one prime example. (see some of his story here) A different dynamic exists when oppressions collide. In the early days of men of color getting the right to vote there were a large number of white women working toward that goal as well as the goal of getting the vote for themselves. The first post speaks a bit to this struggle. Subsequent posts document how white supremacy has been embedded in our society from the start and still operates today.
Like nearly all wealthy landowners in Virginia, George Washington owned enslaved people who worked his land. He received the first enslaved workers of his own when his father died in 1743. Washington, just 11 years old at the time, was willed 10 enslaved people, and by the time he married Martha Custis in 1759, he had purchased at least eight more.
fearing the rise of the abolition movement in the North, slaveholders throughout the South strengthened laws governing slaves and free people of color, known as “black codes.” The black codes governed enslaved people as well as four categories of free people. By putting both into one legal category, whites divided the population along racial lines, not along categories of free and unfree.
Much has been written about how white women perpetuate and/or support racism and include behaviors such as using our white fragility and tears as as weapons of oppression or calling the police on POC for ordinary things like having a picnic. Historic reasons include, and go beyond, white privilege and supremacy.
Plessy is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history and has never been explicitly overruled. This ruling stated that although the 14th Amendment established the legal equality of white and black Americans, it did not require the elimination of all social or other “distinctions based upon color.”
White supremacy is hard wired into every American. Like fish swimming in an ocean who can’t identify themselves as wet, its impossible for most of white America to understand how deeply white supremacy is a part of us and how it has been woven into the very fabric of the United States existence from the first beginning.
This list documents white supremist and colonizing behavior in the US. As we start to see the extent and insidious nature of this behavior we can begin to realize the importance of doing things differently. This awareness will help us move toward decentering the negative white behavior and instead center the resilience, survival and strength of people of color.
In the background are an American Indian holding a book upside down, a Chinese boy at the door and a black boy cleaning a window. Originally published on p. 8-9 of the January 25, 1899 issue of Puck magazine.
Caption: “School Begins. Uncle Sam (to his new class in Civilization)”. “Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!”
Poster: “The Confederated States refused their consent to be governed; But the Union was preserved without their consent.”
Book: U.S. — “First Lessons in Self Government”
Blackboard: The consent of the governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact. — England has governed her colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent she has greatly advanced the world’s civilization. — The U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.
A VISUAL Guide to The History of Racism in the United States
Click image to view/download “A VISUAL Guide to The History of Racism in the United States”.
“The White Man’s Burden” — “The Black Man’s Burden” — “The Brown Man’s Burden”
British poet Rudyard Kipling in 1899 wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations.
Many people, especially African Americans, were very offended by the idea of a “white man’s burden.” Parodies soon followed. Among the many responses to Kipling’s poem was even the “Black Man’s Burden Association” with the goal of demonstrating that mistreatment of brown people in the Philippines was an extension of the mistreatment of black Americans at home.
“…The brown man’s loss must ever imply the white man’s gain.
Pile on the brown man’s burden,
compel him to be free;
Let all your manifestoes
Reek with philanthropy.
And if with heathen folly
He dares your will dispute,
Then, in the name of freedom,
Don’t hesitate to shoot.”
“Take off the black man’s burden,
This boon we humbly crave.
Have we not served ye long enough?
Been long enough your slave?
Cut loose the bands that bind us,
Bid us like men be strong.
Think of the brave deeds we have done;
Look not for all the wrong…”
“Pile on the Black Man’s Burden.
’Tis nearest at your door;
Why heed long bleeding Cuba, or
dark Hawaii’s shore?
Hail ye your fearless armies,
Which menace feeble folks
Who fight with clubs and arrows
and brook your rifle’s smoke.
Pile on the Black Man’s Burden
His wail with laughter drown…”