Talking About White Supremacy without Using the Words White Supremacy


Artwork from Amplifier by Yocelyn Riojas

I got a little help with tonight’s blog topic. Lilliann challenged me to write about white supremacy without using the words white supremacy. My other friend Kirk then said, “but why tho.” I see his point, we need to name bad behaviors so we can speak truth to power and label them to disarm and increase white people’s racial literacy and tolerance. To bring both of these thoughts together in one, hopefully cohesive, blog post I’m going to list out ways white supremacy shows up in our everyday work lives that often goes unnamed.

First, let’s do a short primer on what is white supremacy. Many people, especially white people, see images of white supremacist such as the KKK, cross burnings, Confederate flag, and in modern times the white nationalist movement. Yet this one view of white supremacy is incomplete. White supremacy isn’t just a group of people behaving a certain way, it is also a set of beliefs and attitudes that allow white people to feel superior and demand actions that cater to their needs first. White supremacy is almost never named and because of this, it is an underlying way societies and communities organize that favor whiteness.

Back to Lilliann’s challenge to write about white supremacy without naming it, here is a list of ways white supremacy shows up but not always labeled as white supremacy. One of the reasons the challenge came up is many times as soon as we name white supremacy white people shut down and stop listening and processing. When this happens the conversation is stalled and white supremacy continues to reign. Below are examples where white supremacy happens but is rarely named.

  1. White dude complains loudly and vocally about having to go to diversity training. White supremacy shows up because as a white person he feels he is exempt from having to talk about and think about race. This same white dude will become defensive or sullen white dude in the training either saying “prove it to me,” or refusing to participate using his white power to focus on him versus learning about others.
  2. White business in Chicago that trademarked “Aloha Poke” and is enforcing the trademark and telling other Aloha Poke businesses to cease and desist using Aloha Poke. If you know anything about Hawaiian language and culture the word Aloha is ubiquitous as Hawaii itself. How dare a white guy feel he can ‘own’ (colonialism and a form of supremacy) the word Aloha.
  3. Who controls the giving and the resources, white people. There is no accountability to communities of color. Some foundations do better, some are woke, but overall as an industry and practice philanthropy upholds white supremacy yet we rarely ever name foundation’s as practicing white supremacy. Can you imagine telling the head of a large foundation that their foundation was practicing white supremacy, say goodbye to that multiyear general operating grant.
  4. Only talking about race when around people of color. I have a friend who is white passing and can easily navigate white spaces and poc spaces. He said the conversation changes when pocs are in the room, all white they rarely talk about race. Supremacy at play by not having to think or talk about race unless forced to think and talk about race.
  5. Talking about white fragility instead of talking about racism. Why are you focusing on whiteness instead of the real issue of racism? Supremacy at play, ability to control the conversation to what is more comfortable for white people.
  6. Saying All Lives Matter instead of saying Black Lives Matter. Need this one explained? Supremacy shows up by the dismissal and erasure of Black people. This is also how anti-Blackness shows up in liberal “we’re good people with Black friends” spaces.
  7. Talking about Trump but not talking about his racialized views and policies.
  8. This one isn’t work related, but I’ve seen it come up several times in several parent groups. Cosmic Kids Yoga. I cannot stand Cosmic Kids Yoga – cartoon themed yoga isn’t yoga. A perky blue jumpsuit wearing white women has taken an indigenous practice and stripped it to suit her needs and make a profit. Moana, Trolls, and Star Wars themed and narrated storylines with ‘yoga’ moves is stealing yoga from its indigenous Indian roots. Call it stretching, movement, anything but yoga and I’ll stop ranting, I’m not against teaching kids yoga even by video, I am against a white women stripping yoga of its roots for profit. White supremacy taking what you want when you want and not caring who you stole it from.

I didn’t quite rise to the full writing challenge of not naming white supremacy, but I hope you can now spot more easily how white supremacy behaviors show up in our everyday life. Some may argue some of the examples I used should fall under different terms. I won’t argue with them since naming things is an activity that white society makes us do too. In poc spaces I’ve been in we just talk story and share how annoyed we are with the way it but being able to name white supremacy is one of many ways we have to chip away at it.

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