op-ed: feel the fire: white supremacy is not about your white friends’ fragility

June 1, 2016

When we talk about white supremacy, sometimes we talk about white people. We talk about the ones we went to college with, that stood up for us in that racist town or checked their privileged parents at the dinner table. We talk about the exceptions: our white friends, our white neighbors, our white bandmates. The ones who are “not like that.” The good white people. Once we start talking about individual white people, we are no longer talking about white supremacy. White supremacy is not about how nice your white friends are.

Why do we feel the need to protect the white people in our lives when we talk about white supremacy? Why do we need to “other” them as if unlearning racism isn’t a life-long effort? We protect our white friends’ character because we think they are fragile.

One may automatically assume, and then feel the need to protect, white people that cannot handle critique about their racial group because of “white fragility.” In the essay, “White Fragility”, Robin Dianglo describes White Fragility as:
a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.

I believe one of the defensive moves is rebuilding white character. The desire to build a white person’s individual image when talking about white supremacy is a function of white supremacy. Why does one feel the need to uphold the white image even when it is necessary that it is challenged?

By Fire Angelou*, AFROPUNK contributor

White fragility make challenges about white supremacy a personal character flaw. White supremacy is an international system that can be seen across the world: the apartheid system to maintain white dominance in South Africa, the light-skin beauty standards in China, or the Immigration Restoration Act of 1901 in Australia that offered money and jobs to immigrants with European ethnicity to whiten the population.

White supremacy is about the white people you cannot name. It is about the ones that don’t come to your house or invite you to baseball games. It is about the ones you don’t see, but who control the media, the wealth and social consciousness of the world. White supremacy is a group effort spread across science, education, banking, housing, policing, etc. No matter how cool a white person is at a party, that will not change how the Federal Housing Administration explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even other people who lived near black people. This is much bigger than a person’s social circle. It is much bigger than your white friends.

I live in a predominately black neighborhood in Baltimore City called Harwood. I often have my white friends over my house. We share stories, food and laughs. That does not change the fact that due to housing segregation and discrimination, the property value of my house is $100k lower than a house in the white neighborhood, Charles Village, that is only one block away. There is not enough spaghetti or red wine we can enjoy together to change that.

It is imperative that in our learning and re-learning, we stop equating our white friends/white people to white supremacy. White supremacy is not just people, it is the idea that white people are superior and the power to enforce that idea. As bell hooks said in her final public lecture: “patriarchy has no gender.” The same is true here. Anti-blackness can be enabled through all races. White supremacy has no race. It has no favorite food or genre of music. It doesn’t have a good smile, warm hugs or the best route to the bar. If we measure global black liberation by how many good white friends we have, our analysis of our pain will be narrow and insulated. People are manifestations of systems, not the systems themselves.

*Fire Angelou is a truth-teller who flips fear into strength. She celebrates blackness, uses the personal as political and ain’t got time for enablers of white supremacy. She enjoys drumming, twerking and making black people smile. Follow her daily slaying @fireangelou or visit her blog at www.fireangelou.com