“…“white supremacy” is a much more useful term for understanding the complicity of people of color in upholding and maintaining racial hierarchies that do not involve force (i.e slavery, apartheid) than the term “internalized racism”- a term most often used to suggest that black people have absorbed negative feelings and attitudes about blackness. The term “white supremacy” enables us to recognize not only that black people are socialized to embody the values and attitudes of white supremacy, but we can exercise “white supremacist control” over other black people.” ― Bell Hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
I was sickened to hear the sentiments of Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling over and over again on the television and internet these past few days. The hatred implicit in those statements is nauseating to me. Not because they are isolated feelings, but because they are so often not spoken. They are thought, but not expressed. But that doesn’t mean that if they are not spoken, they aren’t real. They are very, very real whether or not individuals are willing to admit having those feelings.
Racism is real, and it most often rears its ugly head as white supremacy in interpersonal relations. Not that racist attitudes are the sum total of our racism — there are lots of institutions that view the world with these same hierarchies (both explicitly and implicitly) — but that this is the way that we most often are confronted with racism in our society. Whites are often treated as though our lives are more important and more valuable by our societal institutions — higher education, criminal justice, public schools, police, and many more.
And no, the fact that the US has twice elected a President who is not white does not mean that there is no longer racism in the US — any more than saying that if you are white and have a friend who is not white, then you are not racist. We live in a racist society, and therefore unless we are actively engaged in anti-racist thinking and dismantling racism in our society, we are racist. And even if we are doing the aforementioned things, the best we (white folks) can hope to be are recovering racists (myself included). It’s a part of our DNA as Americans — it’s a legacy that we can’t just wish away.
I, for one, am glad that the NBA owners took the step to ban Donald Sterling from the NBA for life. He shouldn’t be able to earn money on the backs of folks who he so openly disdains. But don’t make the mistake of believing that you are not racist because you would never ever say those things, or contribute to those feelings. If you live in the US, you live in a country where those things are said everyday. And a lot of “good” folks are unwilling to call out ignorance and hatred when they hear it, so it goes unchecked.
But racism is more than just verbalized racial prejudice. It’s structural as well. We need to acknowledge that our prisons are full of black and brown men and women — not because they are somehow morally bereft, but because they are more likely to be caught and serve prison sentences for their crimes than their white counterparts. That’s racism. That’s white supremacy. That’s the privilege that white folks have over brown and black folks in this country.
I hope you will join me in welcoming this conversation. We need to have it. Where do you see racism in your midst? How do you feel about the NBA’s actions and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Michigan lower courts striking down of affirmative action for being unconstitutional? What troubles you about this aspect of our life together? I look forward to your reactions.