White supremacy won’t end until white people take ownership of fixing it and stop seeing it as a Black issue to empathize with
I’m staring at this infographic and thinking about the quote. 70 million people, the vast, vast majority of them white, voted for Trump and his ideology. I won’t spend time here making the case that Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist. There are plenty of articles and think pieces that make that clear.
Instead, I want to talk about how after the summer of racial reckoning and the increased interest in anti-racism we can see results like these.
I want to be clear I don’t think that the energy and effort that millions of people put in over the last several months to increase their racial literacy skills and develop their racial identity was a waste or should stop. On the contrary, I think that needs to continue. I also don’t think we need to just ratchet up those efforts and do more and more of them.
No, I think we need to be more nuanced than that. And, in what at first seems illogical given the number of white folks who are “new” to thinking about anti-racism and racial justice, I believe we need to complicate the discourse. We need to be more intersectional. Specifically, we need to always bring class into the conversation. We need to talk about racial capitalism.
There isn’t a single person doing any meaningful racial justice work that doesn’t identify the origin of “white people” and whiteness to colonial Virginia and Maryland. Specifically to the reaction of the landowning elite in those colonies to a series of multi-ethnic and what we would now call multi-racial rebellions most significantly Bacon’s Rebellion. Without getting to into the historical weeds, the elites in the colonies needed something to divide the colonists who were increasingly becoming a threat to the powers that be.
The idea of race as we know it today would do the trick. It has been doing the trick ever since. I bring this up to point out the intimate connection between class and the creation of whiteness (race). Those colonists who were newly coined white were also given privileges by law. They could testify in court. They could carry a gun. And they could own land.
Those who were the opposite of white, because white only has meaning when compared to what it isn’t, Black folks were systematically denied these things. This meant it literally paid to be considered white and as time passed Euro-ethnics did everything they could to gain access to the economic promise(s) of America, most fundamentally they assimilated into whiteness via hating what it wasn’t— Black folks.
What does that have to do with those maps? Good question. Let me tell you.
Often the introduction to the world of anti-racism and racial justice is the idea of white privilege. This privilege discourse correctly points out that it is beneficial to be white in this country and explicitly names that as unfair. This is often hard to hear and many will simply shut down.
Others will consider it, accept it and continue down the path of anti-racism searching for a way to “use their privilege for good.” Often these folks consider themselves liberals and good people. I don’t want to get into here the plethora of challenges that come up on that path nor do I mean to dismiss those as insignificant. They are not and overcoming them is real growth.
Instead, I want to focus on a shortcoming of this frame. It is a shortcoming that has been called out before–specifically by Adolph Reed and other Marxist and socialist thinkers. What privilege discourse fails to offer is a fundamental restructuring of society. It fails to offer a vision of a future. This is where the maps come in. Without a vision for the future, without a positive destination that inspires investment, white people will never “take ownership” of dismantling white supremacy the way a truly multiracial democracy requires.
The hope here is that capitalism isn’t serving the majority of white folks well either. The economic bargain our ancestors made for inclusion into whiteness has taken its toll on our souls and besides being broke we are tired. This is where we need to start indicting racialized capitalism. By problematizing both white supremacy and capitalism the space opens for the very same types of multi-racial rebellions that necessitated the creation of whiteness in the first place to once again form.
When we can offer more than the “psychological wages of whiteness” that have poisoned us white folks for too long then, I believe, we will see progress. When we can name universal health care as both a racial and economic justice issue. When we can frame the Green New Deal and climate justice as race and class issues. When we can flatly refuse the idea that we can have one without the other–then the maps will look different. There is no one or the other. To have racial justice is to have economic justice and vice versa.
Yes, we will need to do mindset work to unlearn the socialization of centuries of whiteness but we have to quit acting like mindset work in and of itself is anti-racism. It is not. Free college education and the abolishing of every penny of student debt is racial justice. Likewise, just as we need to reflect on and own the way we have internalized whiteness, we need to understand the corrosive and harmful ways we have internalized the logic of capitalism. Not enough of us understand its mechanisms in the same way that we understand white supremacy. And, that mindset work isn’t complete if it doesn’t incorporate a racially conscious and anti-racism frame
These steps are already being taken. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Talib, and Ayanna Pressley have been framing these issues with this critical frame. Every day more and more people are seeing the importance of rejecting racialized capitalism. My hopes for tomorrow and beyond is that this discourse becomes the norm for discussing issues of justice and that we, at last, have a map for a world free from white supremacy and capitalism.