'Everything is racist these days' because white supremacy is as American as apple pie
I see so many people complain about how "everything is racist these days" and "people just blame white supremacy for everything."
Yeah. You know why? Because racism and white supremacy actually are infused and embedded into almost everything in our country. We're just finally starting to acknowledge it.
And by "we," I mean white folks.
(To be clear, when I talk about white supremacy, I'm not just talking about the extremist/Neo-Nazi/KKK hate groups. I'm referring to the notion, conscious or unconscious, that white people are preferable, better, more deserving, or otherwise superior to non-white people—a notion that was widely accepted among white people throughout American history.)
The vast majority of people of color in America already know this to be true and have always known it to be true. White Americans, by and large, have been ignorant, oblivious, or in denial about how America's legacy of white supremacy impacts us.
There's a reason for this:
We cannot separate our most celebrated history from white supremacy in any sort of honest way. And that's really uncomfortable for a lot of us.
We can't get away from the fact that white supremacy built this country. Our founders wrote racism into the Constitution. Our economy relied on the violent oppression of people of color for centuries. That is our history.
The fact is that those great men—and yes, they were great in many ways—who established our republic were mostly overt or passive white supremacists. Even beloved Abraham Lincoln, opposer of slavery and father of the Emancipation Proclamation, thought the white race was superior and didn't believe in equal rights for black people.
That sucks. We like the feeling of pride and patriotism that comes with what we were taught in school. We love hearing about the brave souls who fled tyranny and founded a new nation built on liberty, freedom, and the idea that "all men are created equal." We like that simple story.
The fact that slavery directly flew in the face of liberty and freedom, and the fact that what they really meant was "all white men are created equal," feels gross now. Icky. Yuck. So we ignore it. We downplay our foundation of white supremacy. We say "that was in the past, it doesn't matter now."
But here's the thing: it does matter now. Because practically every socioeconomic disparity between whites and minorities in this country can be traced back to white supremacist policies and practices.
We could talk about the psychological and economic effects of hundreds of years of slavery, and we definitely should. But we don't even have to go back that far. Modern history offers plenty of examples of white supremacist laws, policies, and practices. I'm talking about stuff that happened during my parents' lifetime. (Both of my parents are still living, and they aren't even that old.)
Segregation, redlining, public housing policies, unjust lending practices, etc. were all based in white supremacy and happened during current Americans' lifetimes. And they still impact non-white communities today. (Some excellent reading on that here.)
And that's just the big stuff that impacts groups of people. We haven't even gotten into the how white supremacy affects us all as individuals.
Think about this: When kids of all races look at a poster of U.S. presidents in their classrooms, they see a sea of white faces with one lone face of color. That means something.
Screenshot via Puzzle Warehouse
It means the power in this country has always been held by white men. That's our reality. But it didn't just naturally happen that way. White men purposely and systematically maintained that power and withheld it from others. (That is is not an attack on white men, by the way, just well-documented history.)
The message Americans get from an early age, simply by looking at a poster of our presidents, is that white = power. (Also male = power, but that's a whole other discussion.) Throughout our education, we are presented with this visual representation of historical white supremacy, which also serves to reinforce the notion of white supremacy. Weird, right?
We don't directly teach white supremacy; it is learned subconsciously. And we obviously can't change history, but we can certainly change how it's taught. If we don't purposefully address the racism woven into America's fabric—if we don't bring it up and talk about it and directly counter it—the notion that white = power just keeps being reinforced by the dominant narrative of history.
Some say we're talking about race and racism too much these days. They point to our single non-white president as evidence that racism is over. But all his lone face did was bring the racism that white folks imagined had disappeared after the Civil Rights Movement back into the light. It forced us to look at it. It forced us to talk about it.
The constant racist attacks on that president should have made it obvious that racism wasn't dead. The rise in blatant white supremacist activity as a reaction to his election should have been a clue that we're not past it.
Racism lives, not because we talk about it too much, but because we still haven't talked about it enough.
But it's uncomfortable. And it's hard. White folks largely don't like to look at or talk about how much white supremacy has impacted us because it means that we have a role and responsibility in dismantling it. It's far easier to pretend it doesn't exist. It's far easier to say, "That's just white guilt," or "I don't see color" or "The law says we're all equal now," and ignore the fact that there are people alive who used whites-only drinking fountains. It's easier to pretend that the Civil Rights Act changed everyone's hearts, despite the fact that a good portion of the country (and lawmakers) opposed it.
The roots of white supremacy are still enmeshed in our society, in our politics, and in our daily lived experiences as Americans. We may have cut the weed off at the surface by enacting laws against discrimination, but we have never dug deep enough to actually uproot the racism and white supremacy that has dominated our culture for centuries. To pretend that isn't true is simply dishonest.
So yeah, the reason "everything is racist these days" is because we're finally having the conversations we always should have had—about how racism manifests in both overt and subtle ways, how most race-related issues in America actually do go back to white supremacy, and how we can go about mending what was broken over centuries.
You can rant about everything being about race. You can keep trying to deny that white supremacy is a much more abiding influence on our society than is generally acknowledged.
But these needed conversations are going to keep on chugging along. Hop on the train or move off the tracks.