Unit 2: Defining White Supremacy/Privilege
Last session we started this unit going over some basic definitions. Understanding how terms are defined; what they mean and what they don’t mean, is essential for the educational process. Two the most commonly misunderstood terms are white privilege and white supremacy. It can be hard, especially for people to understand how they are relevant to us as intelligent, good people.
White Supremacy — affects all our lives (our spiritual Life included). White supremacy, white supremacy culture and white supremacist are distinct terms with different meanings.
- White supremacy is the belief, even if unconscious, that white people are superior to those of all other races, and they and their culture should therefore dominate society.
- White supremacy culture is the institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.
- A white supremacist is an individual often associated with white nationalist groups, that espouse and often act on white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, (at times acting or condoning violence) often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites.
While they might not be populated by white supremacists, every predominantly white organization, even the most liberal, has a well-established system or culture that protects their white supremacy. This can be an overt and/or covert process, procedures, actions and attitudes. The Society of Friends in the US is no exception as we are almost entirely white with few if any people of color in leadership. The mechanism that keeps this in place is for the most part invisible and subtle. Therefore the more we learn about it the better. Not only is it important to learn to recognize the signs and understand our place in it, but its also important to understand the history of white supremacy because learning who we were, tells us the unconscious aspect of who we are.
White Privilege — also affects all our lives (our spiritual Life included). If we are of European descent, we benefit from advantages from very large to very small and everything in between. Privilege is defined as an advantage, right, or benefit that is not available to everyone. It is often the flip side of bias. One example would be a statement such as “Since you and I don’t have red hair we are more suited to jobs where having an even temperament is important.” i.e. implying that red haired people are more hot headed or impetuous. Largely this is invisible to most members and is often kept in place by “that’s just the way things are” type attitudes. One of the most blatant privileges that white people have is to not have to see or consider how race impacts people and society.
One thing many people don’t comprehend is that in many ways understanding and working on white privilege within ourselves and society isn’t about giving up anything. Rather it is understanding and acting in ways that reinforce that the privilege should be something granted to every human being. Racial profiling is one clear aspect of this behavior. What can be done? Some ideas are doing something like if you see a person of colors’ bags being searched at a store’s check out line, ask why its happening. You will probably get lame answer, so then suggest they check your bag and another unrelated, random white person also. Note that the idea that people of color are more apt to steal or commit a crime is part of the White Supremacy mindset and is often codified in the White supremacy culture of an organization or institution. Regardless of our skin color we all have challenges. Many have disabilities, some mild and some extreme. Many have been or are poor, sometimes living in deep poverty. White privilege does not mean your life has been easy just that your race was not an added component making it every more difficult. This article “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person” is very useful. (More on this another session but if you want to jump ahead for those who use the internet go to understanding/white-privilege-supremacy/.)
The hope of Tools for Racial Justice is that this section will help white people examine racial barriers and increase the potential of creating deep, honest and meaningful relationships. Beyond guilt, shame, blame, denial, and resistance, we examine how to take responsibility for challenging specific forms of white privilege and supremacy that are built around issues of decision making processes, unmasking hidden issues of hierarchy and self-identity. We also examine ways in which white privilege and supremacy has been woven seamlessly into our personal and community lives so that what some would identify as privilege, others would say is just the way things are. In order to do this work effectively we recommend that you read and deeply consider the other sections of the Healing Racism Toolkit where we examine some of the visible and invisible wounds of oppression that are part of our inner landscape and relationships with other white people, people of color and ultimately Creator.
From the Talmud (Shabbat 7) (a collection of oral traditions that predates, link to and contextualize the Judeo-Christian Bible, providing a running commentary on scripture.)
And if you say: The bits are suitable for the poor. We will explain that the value of an object is determined not by its context, but by its intrinsic value. Wasn’t it taught that there is a difference with regard to the ritual impurity between garments belonging to poor people, which can become ritually impure even if they are very small, and garments belonging to the wealthy, which are not considered significant unless they contain a larger amount of fabric? Apparently, the significance of an object is determined by its context and its owner.
At the stained clothes
At the old toys half broken
At the bits of unused spice
And the bruised fruit
Maybe to you they are nothing
just the debris of life
But there are those
For whom they are significant
Who don’t have spice or fruit
Who’s children have sticks for toys
And have no “nice” clothes
Look again at what you discard
See the value in each
Significance is determined by need
Not by privilege [or supremacy].
Poem by anonymous from Talmud Shabbat 47
Thank-you for being part of this journey,
PS: as I was getting ready to mail this Wampanoag clan mother, Mother Bear came over and we had a chat. One of the things she shared was a clear example that recently took place that demonstrates how white privilege and supremacy culture works. The Sandwich Heritage Museum and Gardens is of course on Wampanoag land so it would be reasonable to assume that tribal members would be able to visit without charge. Not only is that not the case but recently they had an Indigenous Peoples Day when … tribal members were still expected to pay to get in. Few were able to attend.
comment from a reader:
“Thank you, Rachel! These examples of white privilege from one of the links really hit me, especially the last one:
- “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”
- “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”
- “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”
- “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”