What is white supremacy? Aren’t white supremacists those vigilante gangs of white men in the white capes and hoods who terrorized and murdered Black people and others who helped them in the ancient past? The simple answer is, “Yes, they are white supremacists, and no, they are not the only ones. In the present, they simply show up differently.”
While most of those who wore Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods in the past may have died, they left behind a legacy. However, white supremacists also wrote our country’s founding documents. They believed that people who were of European heritage were smarter, wiser, more civilized, and more human than the Brown and Black people they enslaved. They believed it was God’s predestination that they should “own” and enslave people who were of African descent. Whether it showed up in laws or hood and robe, white supremacy has always been with us, and still is. Let me explain.
White supremacy did not disappear with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the victory of the North in the Civil War in 1865, nor the dismantling of Jim Crow (segregation) laws which began in 1868 and endured for the next hundred years. White supremacy did not leave us in 1954 as a result of Brown vs. Board of education when the Supreme Court decided that racially segregated schools could not provide “separate but equal” education to Black children. It did not disappear with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or nor with Affirmative Action initiatives of the 1970’s.
We have only begun to right the wrongs embedded in legal, social, educational, political, and economic systems that had always been designed to preserve white (mostly male) rulership, also known as patriarchy. The laws and documents our country was built upon did so by creating a legalized caste system that prevented persons with as much as “one drop” of African blood, enslaved, and formerly enslaved persons of African descent from the same opportunities that white/light skinned Americans and immigrants have almost always enjoyed.
In 2008 the American people elected our first person of African descent to the highest office in the land, President Barak Obama . . . “Surely, with this progress we are in a post racial society” some think.
Admittedly, some progress has been made over the last 50 years to dismantle the laws and systems that were built during our overtly white supremacist origins. White supremacy has begun to be legally dismantled. However, it still reigns in the hearts, religious beliefs, social lives, political preferences, and everyday behaviors of so many of us. I’ll elaborate on what white supremacy looks like in everyday life during “the year of our Lord,” 2021.
Often white supremacist thinking (and decisions) still rule in the board room, and on the deacon board. Words come from thoughts and thoughts lead to actions which have a disparate impact on historically oppressed people in the damage they do with those words and thoughts . . . Here are a few examples of what every day white supremacy looks like:
- Groupthink– Agreeing with a group (as a shortcut to critical analysis and thinking for oneself) that is primarily the majority population or power structure simply because it agrees with the majority or with tradition. Groupthink stands by apathetically when wrong happens, like the officers who refused to intervene when George Floyd was murdered.
- Bandwagon behavior – “Jumping on the bandwagon” with other people who think like the dominant group because it seems like “conventional wisdom” that will gain benefits from staying in favor (and collusion) with the dominant group. Band wagon appeals often use social proof (what most people we know and are doing) to persuade us to believe or behave in a particular way, “everybody is doing it.” Bandwagon behavior joins in the public reprimand when an athlete takes a knee to protest the abuse of Black lives.
- Ethnocentrism – the belief that one’s own ethnic/cultural group is the best, smartest, and most attractive group with the best ways of doing things. Fear of losing power or influence to cultural/ethnic “others” accompanies ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism requires the sole staff member of color to “act white” in order to be perceived as credible.
- Eurocentrism – the belief that European traditions, cultures, politeness rituals, beauty standards, and leadership styles are the best, smartest, and most profitable ways of doing things. Eurocentrism requires people to lose their languages and cultural traditions in order to “fit in” and allows no space for multi-cultural inclusion or education.
Segregation in places of worship, neighborhoods, places of employment, and even career fields is still much more common than are highly diverse environments. Thus, it is likely that when one engages in groupthink or bandwagon behaviors, they are also primarily listening to racially/ethnically similar others who are engaging in ethnocentric and Eurocentric ways. This always leads to white supremacist decisions and policies even when it is not the primary intent.
The lack of inclusive diversity and leadership keeps the voices of spiritually and professionally qualified, educated, and informed spiritually mature people from historically misrepresented groups without having the floor to speak, a seat at the table, or to be heard on equal status as dominant population members.
There are so many more examples and discussions about how our “way of doing things around here” can actually be rooted in white supremacist attitudes, behaviors, and policies. These are just a few of the ones that happen frequently and subtly around us. They may me masked as “critical thinking” or “leadership” when they are in fact having a very real impact of keeping brown and black people completely out and overlooked while others are included and elevated. This is what white supremacy looks like in the “year of our Lord, 2021.”
By Doc Courage