I believe I can speak authoritatively on the topics of white privilege and white supremacy. I have had quite a bit of interaction with both. I spent nearly 40 years in civil rights compliance. In that capacity, I worked with universities, state agencies and private nonprofit organizations. Also, of import to this discussion I am a Black woman who is lesbian, and I have, as my doctor puts it, a broad constellation of maladies that make me technically disabled. I emphasize technically. So as someone once indelicately put it, in their attempt to fill their delusional quota, I check all the boxes. I am now 71 years old, putting me in another marginalized group.
As I hear all the conversations, debates and denials that swarm around the increasingly visible displays of white supremacy and white privilege, I just shake my head. Commentators across the spectrum opine on the existence or nonexistence of these two distinct yet interdependent concepts. There really needs to be no analysis. It pretty much simply boils down to the conversation I had with my father when I was about 7 years old in 1956.
“Daddy, why don’t white people want to just let us be equal?”
“Well, baby girl, you got to figure (that is my father’s favorite opening assertion), if a man has had his foot on your back for 400 years, he’s bound to be afraid to take it off.”
What that acknowledges is that white people recognize how atrociously, violently and unjustly they have treated Blacks and other so-called minorities over the centuries and fear they will be subjected to equally abhorrent treatment should they relinquish power. That must be incredibly terrifying for white people to visualize. That, I believe, is the origin of their anger, hostility and, ultimately, their disavowal of the well-documented disproportionate nature of American justice. When I speak here of American justice, I am not speaking exclusively about the “Just-US” system in America which oppresses, that is simply the end result of centuries of white privilege.
I am speaking of white people’s internal struggle with what they have done over the decades, the centuries. Demographics do not lie; there will shortly be more nonwhite people in America than there are white people. Add to that the growing assertiveness of other marginalized groups, and the recognition of the potential of being subjected to what they have dealt out must be terrifying for whites.
However, what white people fail to understand is that we are not like them. The disenfranchised in American society are not looking for retribution; there is no real zeal for payback. To confirm this, we only need to look at the response of survivors of white violence to recognize the legitimacy of that statement. For example, families of victims in the Mother Emmanuel massacre offering forgiveness to the murderer Dylann Roof, even as he asserted, “I do not regret what I did.” Or, there was Botham Jean’s brother hugging former Officer Amber Guyger after she was convicted of murdering Jean; even the Black trial judge comforted the white murderer. The list of forgiveness goes on.
Some may suggest that we are not forgiving by pointing to unrest that occurs every time a subjugated person is assaulted on the streets or is murdered by police or vigilantes. Apologists seek to legitimize their fear of retribution by likening those outbursts of legitimate rage to the initial violence that precipitated the outburst. Those assertions simply will not fly — the white violence and the reaction are not the same thing. Subjugated communities, whatever the demographic, have finally had enough.
Take off the blinders, folks. Nobody is really out to get you. Taking down statues, renaming public buildings, withdrawing cartoons and all the other puffery that has abounded, particularly since the murder of George Floyd, is no answer to, “Daddy, why don’t white people want to just let us be equal?” That is all anybody wants, plain old equality.