“White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” – Elizabeth Martinez
“When you are 12 years old? You are little, but you learn fast. Be off the street by five o’clock. Move fast if you are little and black. Because the police will get you…” – Bill Russell (Go Up for Glory, 1966)
Samaria Rice is grieving. We should all be grieving with her. We should all be angry. We should all be filled with rage at a system that allows government employees to drive up and shoot a twelve year old boy and face no consequences. We should be filled with anger that a Grand Jury can look at such a case and decide that the actions of the police were justified.
Racism exists because we let it.
Hatred exists because we let it.
Despair exists when we run out of ways to cope.
Anger is a fuel that sets despair on fire.
I’m so angry. Angry at the racism in my own family and in my communities. Angry at the comfort I live in bought by complicity with systems of abuse and destruction. Angry at the brutalization and murder by police of men, women, and gender non-conforming people in my city. Angry at systems that give too much to too few and too little to too many. Angry that in a country as rich as mine, people still live on the streets in the cold. Angry that in a country as rich as mine, children go to school hungry. Angry that in a country as rich as mine, we can’t find a way to share the wealth, but must hold people down, expensive shoes on their necks, until they submit.
Angry that, whether submitting or standing up for themselves, too many people end up dead. Dead at the hands of government employees whom we pay for this service of preying on those considered weaker or less worthy of love and protection.
Community organizer Tur-Ha Ak talks about primary predators and secondary predators. The primary predators are the main beneficiaries of white supremacy: politicians, police, oligarchs and plutocrats, multi-billionaires, and CEOs.
“The PRIMARY PREDATOR is White Power Structures & all agencies & institutions that have actively, knowingly & systematically disenfranchised our communities. Disenfranchisement is achieved through the frequent use of every form of violence & criminal behavior attributed to the alleged “criminal” element and more.
Then there are SECONDARY PREDATORS, or those who have been created under systems of disenfranchisement. They engage life how they’ve been taught; through the experiences of oppression. The former prey, now turned predator, subjugates the community in order to survive, or to mimic the material successes of the primary predatory. When dealing with the SECONDARY PREDATOR, it is important to remember that they exist largely due to our lack of organizing power & capabilities.”
I want to explain a little bit about white supremacy here:
The current working definition of racism is not simple bigotry or chauvinism, but rather bigotry + relative systemic power (seen in the prison industrial complex, stop and frisk, red-lining communities, white nepotism etc). When we speak of white supremacy, our conversation is not about men in white sheets, but about all of the systems that uphold whiteness as the ideal and the norm.
White supremacy is at play every time people complain that there are Black or brown characters messing up their books or movies. White supremacy is at play every time Black or brown people are treated as criminals by default. White supremacy says that the white experience – particularly the white male experience, but even such movements as white feminism – is universal and that other experiences are secondary and less important.
White supremacy is at play when officers can kill Black and brown people and not face consequences. It is even at play if the officers in question are non-white. Why? Because all officers belong to a white supremacist (and patriarchal) system, a system that favors wealthy white men above all others.
As philosopher bell hooks writes: “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.”
White supremacy means that the entire society does all it can to make sure that wealthy white men have good lives and that the rest of us are supposed to aspire to lives that look just like those.
This is to our detriment. White supremacy locks everyone into lives where our Black and brown friends and colleagues live in greater danger of being killed, raped, and harassed. Of having stress-related health problems that often lead to early death. Of being at greater risk for discrimination in housing, schooling, and employment.
All of this diminishes community. All of this makes us less whole. White supremacy also traps those of us who are not the ultra-wealthy minority in cycles of want and greed, causing us to value things that destroy humans, animals, and earth. White supremacy destroys whole cultures via economic and cultural imperialism, missionary activity, exploitation of human thought, culture, and labor, the erosion of the commons, and the insistence that white European countries deserve to consume the bulk of the earth’s resources.
It may seem as though I’m ranging far afield from the topic of the unconscionable murder of Tamir Rice, but in order to comprehend the operation of white supremacy, we must examine its scope.
This isn’t just about out of control police violence and brutality. We can’t try to “solve police violence” because police violence is only one small and deadly symptom of the large and destructive force that is white supremacy.
Tamir Rice is dead because white supremacy pulled the trigger.
Officer Timothy Loehmann, Officer Frank Garmback, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, and the police dispatchers are all agents of white supremacy. They are all part of the primary predatory system written of by Tur-Ha Ak.
I wrote in my “Open Letter to White America” in November 2014:
When the system has not only failed you, but has actively put your well-being and your life, and your families’ lives in danger, how exactly are you supposed to respond? By trusting in that system?
I wrote those words about Black Americans, but really, none of us should trust this system anymore. The systems of white supremacy serve so very few of us in the long term. All of white supremacy’s promises to us are lies, fairy tales told by the .001% who hoard wealth and economic power.
White supremacy is not a dream, it is a nightmare we must all awaken from.
If it weren’t for white supremacy, Samaria Rice would be enjoying the company of her son right now, and Tajai Rice would not be living with the trauma of running to help her brother and being tackled, handcuffed, and locked in a police car while she watched Tamir die.
There is story after story of a white person with a gun who has lived – including white people who have shot at police and white people who have killed multiple other people – and been taken into police custody without being shot, let alone killed.
If it weren’t for white supremacy, Alan Blueford, Sandra Bland, Aiyanna Jones, Kayla Moore, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Idriss Stelley, Yuvette Henderson, Andy Lopez, and thousands of others might still be alive. If it weren’t for white supremacy, Fred Hampton would not have been assassinated. If it weren’t for white supremacy, thirteen women might not have been sexually assaulted by Officer Daniel Holtzclaw. If it weren’t for white supremacy, the Middle East might be a different place, and refugees might not have been created, let alone refused safe harbor.
“When a child dies, the living must not rest until they have purged the poison that dared harm such a one.” – Mumia Abu Jamal
So what do we do? We purge the poison.
We begin by noticing white supremacy around us, and then inside of us. And we ask ourselves, “What can I do to change my relationship to white supremacy and how do I begin to squeeze the oxygen from it, taking away some of its strength?”
We must see how the Primary Predators that Ak speaks of operate. This is particularly important for white people who mainly live and work and read and listen to other white people. The bubble of whiteness can keep us from seeing and hearing the true messages of white supremacy, just like the fish fails to see the water it swims in.
In expanding our scope, we begin to awaken our senses to deeper truths, including the truths about how our non-white brothers, sisters, and siblings live and love under and within these systems of domination and terror.
In expanding our scope, we awaken to the fact that our values and norms are not the norms of everyone and every thing.
Our egos can be useful, resilient things. They help us create, and keep us strong. Our egos can also be weak and filled with fear or hubris, and with the sure knowledge that everything in the world centers around us. That viewpoint enables our fragile egos to cease to see the lives of others as having the same importance our lives do. We dehumanize. We steal. We hold power over. We seek only our own comfort.
We cease to have compassion. We become predators.
The antidotes to the poison of white supremacy lie in scrupulous self-examination, in raising our awareness of the systems at play, in admitting our part in these damaging systems, and listening to those most affected by the damaging systems. And then:
We invoke hope, imagination, and creativity to counter the systems of harm.
What kind of world do you want to live in? What values do you strive to uphold? It is time to ask yourself, every single day, which side am I on, and what am I doing to dismantle white supremacy within my own heart and mind, within my family, within my workplace, within my communities, and within my country?
Diminishing the power of white supremacy begins every time we buy our children books with diverse characters. It begins each time we offer kindness to a stranger. It begins each time we show up in opposition to brutality. It begins each time we listen to someone who’s life experience is different from our own.
Priestess Katrina Messenger asks us “What choices are we making in order to survive?”
What choices will we make today, to help keep a child alive? To keep a parent from grief?
What choices will we make to seek out truths outside our echo chambers and create change in our communities?
How will we do our best to keep every twelve year old’s heart alive, and beating with our own?
Our answers to these questions will play out over the next several decades. Act now to shift the narrative of the future.
December 29th, 2015
An Open Letter to White America.
This is reader-funded writing! Via Patreon, each month, interested readers fund one essay and one piece of short fiction, to be released for free to the public.
I give thanks to Omorka, Unwoman, Shemandoah, Sarah, Rain, Cid, Alley, Mica, Christine, Vyviane, Katie, Emilie, Louise, Victoria, Greg, Ealasaid, Jennifer, Louise, Rose, Starr, Sinead, Lyssa, Aeptha, Cara, Crystal, Angela, Misha, Eridanus, Cheryl, David, Lori, Soli, Peter, Angela, Ambariel, Sonia, Jennifer, Ruth, Miranda, Jeremy, Jonah, Michelle, Jenny, Jen, Mir, Ruth, Emilie, Jonathan, Kate, Roger & Nancy.