Did you know that white supremacy reigned even before
dooms day November 8th, 2016? Yes, even with a (half) Black man in the White House, our country continued its legacy of white supremacy — one of many things that remain constant no matter the political party or race (or gender) of the sitting president. The election of a known racist, sexual predator, xenophobe with the same level of political experience as a newborn baby was, in many ways, the inevitable conclusion of a supposed threat to the white supremacist order delivered by the election and re-election of Barack Hussein Obama. My gut told me that Clinton should have waited another election cycle because this one might get ugly; and, it was so much uglier than I could anticipate. Jesus herself, if she were to run as a Democrat, could not have won up against a candidate who promised to leave white supremacy intact (or, perhaps, advance its return — “Make American Great Again”).
I have Black feminist women in my life to thank for my relative calm about what a Trump presidency will mean. While I’ve witnessed white liberals openly weeping over the election outcome, I’m surrounded by many more Black women who have all but asked, “why would you expect otherwise?” Certainly not pessimism or resignation, as these women, like nearly every Black woman who voted, had hopes for a Clinton win (albeit with a more subdued, “child, I guess I’m with her…”); their slight lack of enthusiasm does not reflect a lack of commitment to gender equality or feminism, as research overwhelmingly suggests that Black women are more committed to it than are white women. Rather, a(nother) Clinton presidency would be Diet White Supremacy (sweetened with stuff you know might kill you ultimately); but, her often centrist platform (and the inevitability of working within the deeply racist system) left no illusion that she would be much of a white savior for us folks of color.
But, some white liberals are afraid now. Have y’all been sleeping as Black cis and trans women have been murdered at historic rates — while Obama has been president??? White women jumped to plan a Million Woman March, staying true to a history of co-opting the work of Black people while excluding them. (Where were y’all in 1997?) Others are are wearing safety pins to publicly (albeit subtly) signal their solidarity for various oppressed groups. I’m afraid I won’t notice because I’m looking to see which white folks (cops included) may be armed. (Will your safety pin stop a bullet?) Stop weeping and start organizing with people of color.
Did you know that real change requires sacrifice, risk, maybe even pain and getting a little dirty? The residual pinhole in your shirt from a safety pin pales in comparison to the bullet holes that too frequently pierce Black and Brown bodies. Taking a day off of work for a march is cute, assuming you have a job that allows time off for a political cause. But, these initial efforts to return America to the pre-Nov. 8th days (you know, the ones in which white supremacy still ruled, just under a Black president) are not enough to bring down systemic, institionalized racism. Real change needs to be more than a warm smile, a good intention, or a minor inconvenience.
White supremacy isn’t just the spike in racist hate crimes the week since election day, or graffiti displaying racist messages on public buildings, or putting known racists into powerful political positions. It is also the mundane, everyday-ness of whiteness, the treatment of white as the default. You are complicit in white supremacy to the extent that you are complacent about whiteness operating as the default, that you are too lazy or afraid to go against the grain, and that you are too ignorant to realize other possibilities exist. Efforts to “see past color” or treat everyone equally help to maintain the racial hierarchy, whereas ignoring the ongoing legacy of racism does anything but create a level playing field. (Why do you think most whites oppose Affirmative Action?)
My suggestion to counter whiteness-as-default is to make Blackness and Brownness the default starting now. To the extent that you have a choice or power to shape something, prioritize the inclusion of people of color, our voices and contributions, and our herstory. I’ll use academic examples, as that is my own profession. If you are selecting scholars for a panel, speaker series, or edited volume, start by looking for scholars of color (especially cis and trans women and trans men). Prioritize the hiring of candidates of color for job searches. Nominate students and scholars of color for awards. Assign readings in your classes by writers of color. Cite researchers of color in your own research, and consider collaborating with colleagues of color. Tenure and promote faculty of color. Develop and generously support racial and ethnic studies programs. If you use images of people in your Powerpoint presentations, take the time to find images of people of color. Yes, much of this takes some extra time, but consistently going the easy route (who do you already know? who is recognized as the “best” in your field?) will consistently yield white face after white face, white voice after white voice, white idea after white idea. Concern about your time and energy are innocent enough, but they contribute to the treatment of whiteness as the default; and, to the extent that most white academics do this, it’s a systemic problem. Who ever said racial justice was convenient? It’s not.
I believe the easiest way to make racial justice, rather than whiteness, the default is make self-reflection about it a standard act. I consistently draw from a racial justice frame from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project:
How does this decision/action/policy humanize, liberate, and intentionally include Black people?
This is something you can use in your own life, but also ask that others with whom you live and work make this a standard reflexive act. Imagine, if you will, that American voters asked themselves this question last Tuesday; I wonder if fewer would have voted for the racist-rapist.
I know some may take issue with the language of Black supremacy or Brown supremacy — implying that people of color are superior to whites isn’t helpful either. (How would we know since we’ve never been given a fair shot?) I use such strong language to emphasize just how intense your efforts will need to be to make any sort of real impact. We need something infinitely more powerful than safety pins and a one-day march to overcome white supremacy. Think of the possible impact of even just a year of treating people of color as the default — only nominating and electing people of color (the reverse of what happens now), only featuring actors of color on film and TV (reverse of today), only hiring talented and qualified people of color (the reverse, still), only teaching Black/American Indian/Latinx/Asian American/Muslim history (not [white] US history). What about regularly taking the time to seek out and amplify the voices of people of color rather than other whites (you might be surprised that we have important things to say!). Getting involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and/or other racial justice movements. If you give to charities, donating exclusively to those that promote racial justice (especially those with inclusive leadership — meaning cis and trans women of color and trans men). Consistently and generously compensating people of color for their labor and contributions to the community.
In 2017, the year of Black and Brown supremacy, children of color would see themselves, the employment rate for people of color would go up, perhaps the racial wage gap would shrink (or at least stop growing); maybe skeptical whites would finally see the potential of people of color and begin investing in us and partnering with us. Of course, on year won’t be enough to counter centuries of white supremacy and whites’ efforts to exterminate and decimate communities of color; but, we’ve got to do something grander than safety pins.
Here’s a tissue. Wipe up your white liberal tears and get to work. You’ll know you’re actually making a difference when you need that tissue to wipe sweat from your brow, dirt off of your hands, and blood from injuries you’ve sustained. Your people elected Trump — what are you going to do about it?