White Supremacy and Violence Beyond the Bullets
In the last few weeks, we have seen continued violence against Black bodies at the hands of the police, even in the wake of a guilty verdict for George Floyd’s murderer. In so many ways, these tragedies have been debilitating. As a Black woman, I sit with the constant inner turmoil and despair of living in a nation that literally hunts and kills my people with impunity. As though we are animals. It is completely and utterly disgusting.
And while these recent weeks have been particularly egregious, it’s important that white folks recognize that this violence- white violence- does not just exist as bullets from police guns. It happens daily.
If we are to achieve racial justice and work toward telling the full truth, it is critical that all forms of white supremacy be viewed as violent, given that they break spirits, terrorize psyches, and shorten life expectancies. Bullets are just the tip of the iceberg.
Below are a few ways that the violence of whiteness shows up on a regular basis.
White people are violent when they believe that their knowledge is greater than our knowing.
Knowledge and knowing are not the same things. While white folks may have the knowledge that systemic racism exists, they do not have the knowing that comes from experiencing it on a daily basis. There's no book, course, or lecture that can teach you that. Knowing is something that you feel in your body- not an intellectual exercise. As such, it is a form of reduction of Black folk’s humanity to suggest that one knows better about issues that impact the Black community than actual Black people. This shows up in justifying police brutality in the same ways it shows up in writing Black people off as aggressive or hysterical when they name harm being caused. This is about a power dynamic. White folks are permitted to cause harm and deny the truths of those living the experience of the harm being caused- and then claim that they aren't doing so because they've read all about systemic racism.
White people are violent when they think of anti-racism as an individual choice as opposed to a fundamental human rights issue.
Anti-racism is not about what you agree or disagree with. It’s about the fact that we are literally human, the same as you, and you don’t get to make up a system of power based on race that exploits us just because you want to. And then decide whether or not you have to stop, or if you have the responsibility of correcting what your ancestors did. That is a wanton abuse of power and a form of racial gaslighting. All of this is stolen land, with a country built on the labor of stolen people. The sheer idea that anti-racism work and accountability is a choice is rooted in the white supremacist belief that white folks should have the right to continue their oppression of BIPOC if they’d like to do so. And if that’s not violence, I don’t know what is.
White people are violent when they work in organizations that provide services for BIPOC without assessing their own white saviorism.
Indeed, if white-led companies spent their time learning about white supremacy, deeply understanding it, and committing to dismantling it, America would not be in this place. Instead, the belief is often that the issue lies in BIPOC folks, not in the way systems are set up to benefit White people. As such, there are so many organizations that are deeply rooted in their own belief of white people's inherent goodness and Black people’s inherent deficiency. This, too, is violence. It is a violent belief in the inferiority of Blackness, and promotes the belief that white ingenuity, as opposed to justice for BIPOC, is the solution to systemic oppression.
White people are violent when they date BIPOC and/or adopt BIPOC children without critically assessing self and dismantling white supremacy.
BIPOC folks have a uniquely different lived experience. One cannot associate themselves with antiracism through proximity. It is possible to love BIPOC folks and still be causing great harm if one is not intentional about unlearning the years of conditioning that comes along with white supremacy. Having a spouse/child of color does not make one woke. Dismantling white supremacy, both in oneself and society, does.
White people are violent when their representations of us are rooted in our pain, and not or joy.
Being Black is beautiful. White supremacy is heinous. If you are well versed in our trauma, you must too be well-versed in our joy and resiliency. And if you are not, you should recognize that reducing a group of people’s story to only that of the pain you’ve caused them is a form of manipulative violence. And that’s... you guessed it... white supremacy.
White people are violent when they send out letters of solidarity without recognizing that they, too, are part of the problem.
This is delusional. No solidarity without accountability. Every letter of solidarity after another occurrence of racial violence should come with a list of how the organization is perpetuating white supremacy itself, as informed by the experiences of BIPOC, as well as ways in which they are actively working to correct these issues. Otherwise, these are performative acts that are about how the organization looks, not about justice. And making oneself look good while continuing to cause harm is just another form of violent white supremacy.
And so, white folks, as you continue to strive for a more just society, I invite you to consider the following questions:
In what ways am I being held accountable by BIPOC folks, of an array of experiences and perspectives? Do I actually want to be held accountable, or do I just not want to be called racist?*
Note: This does not mean relying on the emotional labor of Black people. It means not calling yourself an anti-racist if BIPOC wouldn’t say the same thing.
What am I willing to give up to see racial equity and justice achieved?
Do I understand that individual acts of kindness (or being a “good white person” through daily actions) while not actively working to dismantle systemic white supremacy is what actually allows it to flourish?
Am I willing to make other white people uncomfortable? If not, why not?
Am I willing to recognize that no amount of reading will result in my understanding of what BIPOC folks experience, on a daily basis? And that my advocacy must continue, anyway?
Am I willing to cut ties with people who uphold racist ideologies and show no commitment to changing?
Am I willing to fail at this work, be called out, and continue to learn in a way that puts as little strain as possible on BIPOC folks?
Am I willing to be in community with other white folks, on a regular basis, to be accountable to my journey of dismantling white supremacy in myself?
Am I willing to commit to reparations for BIPOC, with the understanding, still, that they are owed more than could ever be repaid?
How am I decentering myself as much as possible in this work, in order to uplift the voices of BIPOC?
Have I committed to the understanding that as long as BIPOC are being judged by white standards, they will consistently fall short? Or hurt themselves while trying to emulate whiteness?
Note: This is why abolition is the only way forward.
May you use these questions for regular reflection on the perpetual nature of white violence.
Because, as a reminder, until Black folks are free, no one is free.
And that’s on Mary had a little lamb (Durell Smylie).
*Shout out to Kalea Selmon, a fellow TWC boo, who consistently says "These white folks do not want to change, they just do not want to be called racist." Because phew. A word.