What is White Supremacy?

“White Supremacy is Evil | Glendale United Methodist Church – Nashville Sign” by GlendaleUMC is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I know that people are probably hearing the term white supremacy more and more. Maybe you heard it being said yesterday after the events at the Capitol. White people don’t like this term because it makes us cringe. It makes us feel complicit in racism. 

I think for a lot of us, white supremacy conjures up certain images: the KKK, lynchings, genocide of Indigenous peoples. The worst examples of racism, hate and prejudice. 

We think of white supremacy being a thing of the past, but the more I read (thank you Ibram X. Kendi for How to Be an Anti-Racist), the more I understand that white supremacy is the present too. White supremacy looks like segregated cities and school districts, like my own in Dallas. White supremacy looks like black women being four times as likely to die in childbirth. White supremacy looks like black men being a disproportionate part of the prison population. White supremacy looks like a mob storming the capitol and those rioters being corralled by the police in a gentle manner compared to how the police handled Black Lives Matter protesters.

All white supremacy means is putting the concerns and well-being of white people above all others, creating a hierarchy based on color. Now, I think most white people do not intentionally place themselves above others. White Christians especially should not since we are to be like Christ and divest ourselves of power to become servants to all. 

But I think most white people fail to realize that our country has white supremacy baked into it, written into some of our first laws. The founding fathers who we revere were flawed human beings trying to come up with a way of governing people that had never been tried before. These flawed human beings were also steeped in white supremacy because they put their concerns and needs over Black enslaved people. They, in fact, justified enslaving people by trying to scientifically and theologically claim that Black people are less.

The constitution is not the Bible, but we treat it like a sacred document. However, we often read the constitution the way we read the Bible, as something inerrant, holy, unchangeable. Like the Bible, most of these words are inspiring and filled with deep moral ideas. But we also know that Thomas Jefferson did not believe that Black men were included in the famous phrase: “all men are created equal.” It didn’t even include white women. These men believed white people were superior to Black people. That white men were superior to white women. How do we not expect the documents and laws they wrote to be informed by that mindset? We must look back at the past if we have any hope of saving our future. We must admit that our government was built upon the back of slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Yes, we also created a new and laudable form of government, but we are also slavery and genocide.

I don’t like that being the story of America any more than you do. But it’s true. And it has been this way for 400 years. It may unfortunately take that same amount of time to undo the damage.

One of the ways we as white people can say that we are not white supremacists is to admit that America was built on racist ideals. There are many in this country that only want to perpetuate the myth that America has and always will be great. But in truth, a great nation, like a great man, would admit their past sins and repent and ask forgiveness. A great nation would repent in the true sense of the word and make a change, a turn to treating the least of these as the best. 

The term white supremacy is meant to make us uncomfortable and even icky. I don’t want to be in the oppressor class. I don’t want to be Rome to Jesus’s Jewish people. I don’t want to be Babylon to the Israelites. There have been many times that I wished I was Black or Asian or Native. They seem like they are in the right and white people are always in the wrong. It does not feel good to be looked at for your race and thought of as evil or bad. Maybe we should lean into that icky feeling a bit more because I’m pretty sure the depth of what we feel is only a fraction of what Black, Indigenous and other people of color feel being actively oppressed. Feeling icky and uncomfortable is a privilege. 

Unfortunately, I think being white just means we get to feel icky right now. However, I do think it is important to have a healthy racial identity that is not based on hierarchy. I don’t want to constantly feel guilt and shame for what my ancestors did and for the systems in place that I benefit from. I wish “white” meant “ally,” meant “friend.” Words change meaning over time, but they don’t do it on their own. The way to solve the problem of white supremacy is to actively combat the racism in our world, not just by calling out the racist joke your uncle told, but by supporting people in power who support the policies that will help BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), supporting Black-owned business, supporting organizations like Abide Women that try to create equity in women’s healthcare. We have to listen to those who are different from us. 

Really, white supremacy is part of a larger issue: dehumanizing anyone we see as outside our group. We dehumanize others based on much more than race. We dehumanize those who we don’t understand. We dehumanize those who scare us. We dehumanize those who don’t have the same values we hold. We are all guilty of dehumanizing someone for one reason or another. I want us all to just take a step back, breathe, and remember that we are all human. We all have feelings and thoughts, backstories and ancestral history. 

Some of us have the lived experience of being harassed by police. Some of us have only ever encountered the police during a (likely rightfully earned) speeding violation.  Some of us have only ever really had friends, and I mean those deep, true tell-each-other-everything friendships, with those of the same race. 

I think that is why it is so important to listen to each other. And that is why it is so important to listen to people of color whose experience can show us that white supremacy is real. If you don’t have any friends of color, that’s ok. Read their books or tweets or Instagram posts. And not just the ones that agree with you. Dare to listen to someone who opposes your beliefs. I’m trying to do the same. It is not always easy, but always enlightening, and bringing me closer to becoming the human being I want to be.


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