I Am A White Supremacist

I live and grew up in a state that was created specifically for White Americans Only.

In grade school, there were exactly three people of color between the ages on 6-14. One was Mexican, one Pakistani and one was black American. Except for the Mexican boy, Charlie, I thought Tiana and Monica were fascinating and had a monopoly on dancing and coolness. I went to them, unconsciously wanting to understand Something I could not define and we spent hours under the church porch talking about boys and practicing dance moves.

In the midst of these sessions I carried a sense of longing within me. It was a slight tingling that ached in my chest and sent butterflies racing through my stomach. There was something they had that I would never understand, never be a part of no matter how much rap I listened to or how carefully I studied the way they spoke. It was an invisible barrier that I could not name, much less describe.

Occasionally I would wonder why there were not more people of color in our school, but no one ever took the question seriously. In the age of United Colors of Benetton and colorblindness, any talk of race was not appropriate and therefore, ignored.

Every so often my mother and sister and I would venture into North Portland on errands for my father who was a woodworker. Each time we crossed I-84, the car doors would lock and the faces would darken. Another invisible line that I could not speak of. Only know that this was not, "A safe part of town." and that it was best not to look directly at anyone.

And there would be a thrill that ran my body closer to the window, looking but not looking, like I used to squint at the sun when mom would say, "Don't look at the sun, Jaime! It will burn your eyes!"

My story is one of nature overwhelming nurture, of a path between what I knew in my gut and what I experienced happening outside and to me.

Skip ahead many years and I am studying at university in England. I'm in a Race Relations class and am on my way to the lecture when I seen a handsome white man walking hand in hand with a lovely black woman.

And in my mind, like recoiling from a hot pan, my mind screamed, "That will never work!!"
My guts seized around my torso, bending me a bit. "What was THAT??!" I thought, panicking.

That day our lecture was on generational racism and how it, like DNA, passes from parent to child and on down the line until someone stops it. You better believe I was determined to be the one to stop it. I did not relish my knee jerk reactions at seeing bi-racial couples be the recipients of inherited racism.

I tried to get to the root of it. Where did it start in my family? Were they even aware of their inherent tendency to judge and oppress people based on color?

After confrontations, conversations and clever plans to reveal my family's subconscious racism, I gave up. I was getting nowhere except in alienating parents, siblings and extended family.

So I focused on myself. Tried to examine and articulate my racial biases and prejudices. To make peace with my inheritance as a white, middle class, educated, mostly straight woman. I read books like, "Makes Me Wanna Holler" and "Black Like Me" to develop more awareness of the race question, but before I could truly sink my teeth into it, I had a nervous breakdown, and turned my focus to rebuilding my own life and work throughout my 20's.

And then November 2016 happened. While I was not surprised by the outcome, I was overwhelmed by the pain and fear emanating from friends and acquaintances who had been targeted by racial rhetoric in the President Elect's campaign.

I desperately wanted to help. And yet, as sheltered as I have been throughout my life, I realized I had no clue what to do. I didn't feel like safety pins were enough or that I was educated enough to deliver on the promise they made. I turned to a course on Constitutional Law.

And that is when I discovered, to my everlasting shame, that slavery had been written into the very founding documents of The United States of America. In fact, slavery was specifically mentioned in the Constitution because only then would enough states ratify it. Taken one step further, not only was slavery legally allowed to continue for the following 20 years after ratification, it was closer to 70 before it was legally abolished.

Now, I was a History minor in college and the US History course was taught by a woman of color-- but we never specifically addressed the systemic underpinnings and historical continuance of slavery in its different guises such as Reconstruction, chain gangs, Jim Crow and mass incarceration.

All of these discoveries were happening simultaneously with the Women's March on Washington, which was also happening in Portland, OR. I had originally planned on not attending because I wanted to focus on positive actions to take to build a more just and safe world for all--not continue to rail against the election outcomes.

After a conversation with my aunt, I re-examined my reasons and checked out the event details. And that is where my unfinished business revealed itself.

One of the organizers, a woman of color herself, asked for a day where women of color would take the lead in conversations and comments around the Facebook event page. And I thought, "That's interesting. Why do they need a whole day of being front and center? I thought this was about women and inclusiveness." The sensation was rather like the knee jerk reaction back at university. While my mind was being somewhat rational, my body was clenching up again, and I realized, I do not like NOT knowing the bigger picture.

There was obviously a world I had not yet discovered and I had no idea what that secret language was. But I wanted to.

And so I poured over the comments on the Facebook page that day. I took notes. I bought book recommendations. I listened like hell to what women of color were expressing and feeling and walked away humbled.

I had words like "White fragility", "White privilege", "White guilt", and "White Supremacy" racing through my brain.

As the pieces started fitting together, I finally felt like I was starting to see the Magic Eye picture inside the picture of America. What we really have created in this country from the founding documents to our current situation of having elected an openly bigoted man to the Presidency.

And though I did not chose the color of my skin, I am a living legacy of White Supremacy in America. I am inherently racist because I hold the power in this country by virtue of my skin color. This is different than prejudice.

Racism is all about where power is held in society. Who gets to make the big decisions. Who, by and large, gets to reap the benefits of the best opportunities, the best places to live, the best education, the best health care, the best legal representation, the best jobs.

As white folks, we don't ask for these benefits, we simply accept them because they are freely offered to us. This does not mean that we always avail ourselves of the opportunities or that we are all living the fabled American Dream, but the possibility is much closer for us. We believe we deserve to have a chance to reach for it, even if we do not, frustratingly, achieve it.

This is not the case for folks of color. And as I continue to listen and read and educate myself about their parallel shadow society, I see that another huge privilege of being white in America, is that I don't have to look at their misery if I don't want to. Because I don't have to live by it, in it or even have direct contact with people experiencing that nightmare. My survival does not depend on knowing the realities of Americans of Color.

I am 38 this year. It has taken me conceivably over half my lifetime to clarify the nuances of this ongoing American Hypocrisy.

But, like ringing a bell, I can't and won't look away from the sound of suffering in this Land of the Free (for some) and Home of the Brave (imagine living for hundreds of years in slavery and still being willing to fight and die for a country that has always sought your removal and anihilation).

And so, while I am the by-product of cultural white supremacy, I promise my friends and neighbors of color that I will continue to listen. I will continue to learn and amplify your voices because it is my duty to be a part of making amends for the wrongs committed against you by white folks in America. I am so sorry. And now, I have some work to do.

I would love to hear people's responses to this. It's my first piece directly speaking about my understanding of racism and white supremacy and I know I have left out nuances and maybe gotten some things wrong. Call me on them. Let's talk respectfully and learn from each other.

Peace.





Comments

  1. Reading your article puts that same gut wrench into my body. As your cousin, and someone who has taken great interest in our family tree, I am peplexed at the guilt you feel. You come from an incredibly long line of people who were here before this was even a country. History tells you that we were not affluent. We were likely people who were a threat to the Crown, or holders of insurmountable amounts of debt, possibly even criminals. Your people were literally hillbillies and moved through the Appalachian mountains until our ancestor (of your maiden name) left from Ten Mile, Tennessee and went to the Ozarks - Fallsville, Arkansas. These ancestors then moved to Oklahoma. They had nothing, they owned nobody, they lived among the poorest of the poor. In fact, the Scots Irish label they carried was not one of pride as it is today. They were less than human.
    You mention slavery as though it was a unique American experience, yet it was in almost every country on Earth and it still is in many forms. Indentured servitude, which accounted for many who were fortunate enough to board a ship to America meant that you were treated worse than slaves, because they had to eventually let you free.
    Your father has worked harder and smarter than anyone in our family to make a better way for you and your sisters and to change the family tree. That you are ashamed of the fruits of his labor saddens me. He is someone to look up to and model your behavior after. He is proof incarnate that hard work, focus and determination still makes the "American Dream" available to those willing to take it.
    One thing that stands out as I read this is the glaring omission of those who have legally migrated here and have had that same drive and are wildly successful. Those who come here illegally steal from the rights of those who are born here. Our schools, social services, entitlement programs, security and ability to move this country to prosperity again suffer.
    Personally, it is my opinion that it does not matter what color a person is...attitude is everything. I feel no guilt for being white. I am not ashamed of our common lineage. I do not feel I am better or worse than anyone. I do not feel our country is bigoted either - we take more legal immigrants from countries all over the world than any other country on earth.
    You are very well off Jaime and for that you should be incredibly thankful. Maybe the guilt you feel is pitted in the fact that you live a good life while others struggle. My suggestion would be to channel that guilt you feel into something positive like working for a non profit that helps to change the suffering communities from within. Give them you time. Give them your money. Don't try to understand people of color as if they are different, because they have the same dreams that all of the very poor, under served, destitute whites in this country do too. They are even greater in numbers. They are in every single state.
    Every live matters Jaime, but because you are not a person of any color but white, you will not ever be able to understand completely their experience. Find what is common to all people here. We are all American and we all have different backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common. That is opportunity.
    I take away a bit of maligning of your family from your article and a sense that you feel shame for your position in life. As a father of two wonderful girls, I can only tell you that my one mission in life is to provide them the tools to create an even better one for themselves. In fact, it is selfless for me. I can only imagine that after all your parents have done for you, reading this article would cause them hurt and bewilderment.
    You asked for thoughts, these are mine. I hope you take them to heart and incorporate them into your considerations of how to make this country a better place for yourself, other Americans and the future of your child. I wish you peace of mind.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and thoughtfully respond to this piece. Unfortunately, I feel my point has not been made clearly from the content of your comments.If you want to have a live conversation about this, I think it would be more productive than trying to re-articulate my aims here.

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