White Privilege vs White Supremacy

The upshot of COVID-19 is that it’s provided enough disruption that I’ve had plenty of time to think about “white privilege”, read more about it, and listen to others about it.  My conclusion is that my friend Dr. Dave Kessler, professor of justice studies at Kent State University, is right.  He says, that as a white man, he is treated differently (better) than people of color, but how he is treated isn’t a privilege, it is a right; a human right that should be afforded all people equally.  Consequently, I have come to understand that using the term white privilege lets us off the hook,  By that I mean that it is a term of implied privilege by birth that gives us an excuse to rest on our laurels if  you will.   

The truth is, this country was built on the idea of white supremacy, and in reality we were born into this idea of white supremacy, and not white privilege.  We need to face that stark reality in order to get it right this time!  Consequently, I will no longer be using the term white privilege, but instead I will use the term white supremacy, because I have now come to understand that as long as white people are treated with deference and are sent to the head of the class because of our skin color, and we do nothing, we are participating in white supremacy ideal, whether or not we consciously believe in it.  We have to name our truth in this in order to change the inheritance of our children and our children’s children.  If we don’t we will continue to be complicit in a racist society.

This knowledge terrifies me, because how I identify my place in this world is one of a justice activist, not one of a white supremacy activist.  I’d like to think that white supremacy is professed by “other” white people who think they are better than any people of color, but especially black people, and that’s not me.  White supremacy is a culture, perhaps born into or perhaps sought out, and it is an artificial construct devised to bind together white-controlled systems that insure white controlled institutions.  Although I resist this idea at my very core, I also realize that I am complicit.  How many times have I read a Facebook post with racist language or even call to action from friends & family, yet I decided not to weigh in because I didn’t want to get into a confrontation?  How many missed opportunities to explain why a joke or cartoon is racist have there been?  Too many times, but the ones I most regret are the ones that keep rerunning in my mind ending in “why didn’t I say something”.  

Cherry Steinwender says, in her Dialogue: Racism workshops at The Center for the Healing of Racism, “In this course we do not call anyone racist, because doing so is not healing.”  I believe she is right, and I wonder if I will widen the divide when I cease to use the term white privilege.  At a time when finally we are talking about racism openly, and it is now socially acceptable to acknowledge white privilege, why does upping the ante to claim our birth into white supremacy receive backlash from my white brothers and sisters and distort the call to action?  It isn’t my intent by any means, but I will begin to insist that we white folk must understand that we have to let go of our idea of white privilege in order to come to terms with the white supremacy it masks.  Benign recognition of something we were born into is something we can no longer afford.  We can no longer afford to pacify ourselves with the idea that acknowledging our white privilege is enough.  It is not enough, until we find ways to make sure all people have the same privilege that white skin provides.  In fact it may well be the cover we use to keep from accepting our responsibility to our time in history to end this horrid insufferable racism that we created.  Read something, listen to what is being said, think about your place in this, and do something.  Set fear aside, because until all are free, no one is free, and the time to act is now!

                                                            -Constance Gray, Past President, HPJC