Racism is a big problem, but whose problem is it?
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
One of the most perverse facets of racism discourse is that, because it’s so often the oppressed doing the teaching, the perception is that it’s an oppressed people problem that the privileged are morally obligated to empathize with. (See: philanthropy and charity.) Yet, in reality, it’s an oppressor problem that oppressed people happen to be the object of, and we’re often the most appropriate teachers because the oppressing parties are so astonishingly unaware of themselves.
In the case of white supremacy and anti-Black racism, Black people are often the best teachers because we’ve been subject to white supremacist’s anti-Black racism for centuries. We’ve examined it, named it, psychoanalyzed it... we’ve had to develop a deep and intricate understanding of the white supremacist problem so that we could survive it. But conflating our knowledge of the problem with ownership of the problem is a mistake.
Most of Black people’s problems exist as a direct extension of white supremacist’s problems. At a high level, the white supremacist problem can be understood as having needed to invent whiteness as a construct of superiority in intentional and direct contrast to their invention of the inferior nigger, which they then projected onto anyone with Black skin. That projection is where most Black people’s problems can be traced to. In reality, the construct of whiteness is, in many ways, a perverse obsession with and fixation on Blackness, a fixation which white people have yet to acknowledge and own the origin of.
Put another way, Black people’s problems would diminish exponentially if white people addressed their white supremacist problems, beginning with addressing why there was a need to invent a construct of superiority in the first place and why there is a still-present need to perpetuate that construct. And don’t tell me it’s just because of a need to dominate. What is the “why” under the need for domination? White people need to address *that* problem.
It would seem that the delusion of whiteness has so long disabled white folks’ capacity for meaningful self-reflection that they believe they need Black people to serve them yet still in revealing them to themselves. But, again, to be clear... this is not a Black people problem. It’s a white people problem that Black people have no choice but to address for the sake of surviving white people’s violently enacted projections.
So, to questions like “how do I become less complicit,” which I’ve been asked multiple times by white people in recent weeks, I would say:
Begin understanding this as your problem. It is not a Black problem that you need to empathize with, it’s your problem that you need to acknowledge, name, investigate, understand, and disarm. Understand that Black people have been in bondage because your ancestors were in bondage internally and rather than addressing it, they projected it onto people in the most violent and systemic ways imaginable. The extent of white supremacy's material and social manifestation is directly correlated to the extent of self-avoidance white people have engaged in over centuries. The effects of which are pervasive as ever today.
As a white person, that’s your inheritance, your lineage and ancestry to parse through, investigate, and hopefully come to some clarity on. There's no alternative, absolutely no existing substitute for this. Neither reading "Me & White Supremacy" nor taking an anti-racism workshop will do this work for you. They can point you in the right direction, but the introspective, self-confronting work is the only work that will actually approach the core problem.
Admittedly, it’s been bizarre to have so many white people come to me and other Black folks in recent weeks asking us to educate you, effectively, on yourselves—your ancestors and the constructs they devised and manifested, the constructs you inherited and perpetuate, and your history. I wonder, with genuineness, how it’s possible you’ve lived your whole lives never knowing, unless you too, like your ancestors, have long avoided looking at yourself. The truth is, if you’d looked at yourself, fully and truly, you’d see it plain as day because these truths are flagrant and manifested materially, socially, and psychologically all around you.
Now, you can hear Black educators tell you a million times how your delusion works and its innumerable impacts on us and the rest of the world. And perhaps in some way that helps. But as you do this, you are still looking at yourself through us, filtering your self-reflection through us, which is a defense tactic and enables you to remain disassociated. If you refuse to take full ownership of the problem and from where it truly originates, I fear you may never break free of your bondage. And I fear even more deeply that, because it’s been so systemically enacted, neither will Black people.
Go to the source—it’s you. Look at yourself. Look closely at yourself. Stop looking at Black people, because systemic racism is not our problem. It’s yours and your ancestor’s and we’re just trying to survive it. And, while you do that, cede your need for leadership. Understand that, because of the problems you’ve inherited, you are less likely to be the people who can envision humanity’s fullest possible collective liberation and the most direct pathways toward it.
Understand that many, if not most, of the solutions you envision take root in the supremacist constructs you’ve inherited, become accustomed to, and remain attached to. This means that you are incredibly likely to subconsciously work toward retaining the power those supremacist constructs afford you—yes, even in your best-intentioned solutions. Support Black radical womxn leaders as we work toward building a world beyond the roots of supremacy and domination.
The truth is that white people's subconscious problems are the biggest obstacle between humanity and its collective liberation. It’s very possible for us to reach a better world, and, from my perspective, taking ownership of those problems and redistributing resources to support Black womxn leaders is the highest possible gift you can give to this movement at this moment.