I sometimes find myself needing to remind those who pursue racial and social justice that when engaging in anti-racism work, wherever we are, we are fighting to dismantle white supremacy, not fighting against white people.
I am confronted with individuals who believe that when doing anti-racism work, be it political engagement, community organizing, or social activism, we cannot and should not engage with individuals who are white. Now, I’m not claiming that the reason we shouldn’t do this is because it is racist, because one cannot be racist against white people, but because this line of thinking is misguided, divisive, and unproductive.
White Supremacy is the system we exist in that values whiteness over everything (and everyone) that isn’t perceived to be white. It is the foundation of colonialism, imperialism, and our contemporary racist social reality. However, lost in translation is the understanding that White supremacy means White people.
White people are the beneficiaries of White supremacy, but that is not the exclusive manifestation of White supremacy. Colorism is pervasive in communities of color or spaces where there are no “white people”, as those who are lighter skinned or have “white” features are deemed more beautiful, smarter, innocent, and so on. White supremacy doesn’t go away when there are no white people around. White supremacy is a logic, a modus operandi. It is how we are trained to think, perceive, and behave.
White people are at the top of the social and racial caste system, and yes, some (arguably many) white people consciously fight to maintain their position in that hierarchy, but there are many white people who have chosen to recognize their white privilege, and try to dismantle white supremacy. These allies aren’t perfect, but they recognize their position and how they have been complicit, since birth, in maintaining and reproducing the racist institutions that are responsible for the violence experienced by people of color on a daily basis. But in saying that the enemy is “White People”, we misunderstand what white supremacy is, and so fall into the trap of ourselves reproducing the system we are trying to destroy.
While it may seem “radical” to create spaces exclusively for people of color, in every aspect, those who declare that these spaces are for the empowerment of a minority or group that is oppressed needs to read some Crenshaw (link here). If the person saying that white people cannot be part of activist spaces or political movements that focus on Black liberation is a man, then should he be excluded because of his male privilege? Or are we ONLY addressing white supremacy and not patriarchy, the system that creates hierarchies based on gender? What if he is also straight? What if he is also wealthy? What if he is also a US citizen? Do other systems of power not matter all of a sudden? I forget that some folk love to play oppression olympics…
When we essentialize anyone, INCLUDING white people, we ignore the intersections of identity. What about white women? What about white gay and lesbian men and women? What about poor white people? Yes, they all benefit from white supremacy in that they possess and have access to whiteness, but they must also navigate spaces where their whiteness does not afford them privileges based on gender, sexuality, class, and nationality.
There are some spaces where white people can, and sometimes should be excluded, but those spaces have very specific purposes. Safe spaces are created that purposefully exclude a particular group because of issues of vulnerability, but this isn’t exclusive to non-white safe spaces. Spaces are created for women, LGTBQ+, undocumented migrants, youth, survivors of sexual violence, people who are addicted to specific substances, and so on. These spaces are created to have people feel comfortable in their own bodies, spark dialogue, and as the name suggests, to feel safe.
But every other space, especially ones that seek to organize, engage in political activism, and community mobilization, should never be exclusive. Just as white people aren’t ONLY white people, black people and people of color aren’t ONLY that, they are much more. Our identities are complicated, but by treating white people like a monolith, we are being recklessly counter-productive in then saying those who exist in opposition to white people are also a monolith, something so many of us are trying to do away with.
Yes, identity does come into play when we navigate through social spaces and negotiate our voice. For example, White people, when in marches that are about civil rights, should take a step back and let voices that are not their own speak. But that does not mean we should not hold their hand and march together in solidarity. They are part of this struggle too.
Now, to wrap up. I get the anger there is against white people. At certain points in my life, I looked at a white person and was enraged, sometimes because they called me spic, wetback, and committed violence against my body, but also because of their whiteness. Now, this isn’t racism, this is prejudice – as racism describes a system of power based on race – but there is value in uttering “white people” over and over again – it highlights whiteness, and recognizing whiteness is central in dismantling white supremacy. “Dear White People” is an example of this, in how talking about whiteness gets at the core of racism. But that is fighting the system, not the individual white person, for in doing so, not only do we reproduce the neoliberal logic that tells us racism is caused by individuals, we make invisible the entrenched racism of social institutions like the Criminal Justice System.
And also, some of my closest homies are White. And I fucking love them. And they too have a role to play in our present day battles, right next to me.
Remember, White Supremacy, not White People.