It’s Not My Burden: On Ending White Supremacy in the United States
On Sunday Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal penned an editorial, suggesting that we can end racism in the United States by minorities ceasing to focus on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc.” Now I generally shake my head at comments made by Republican politicians on race, but Jindal’s comments truly grated my nerves. His humble -and unrealistic if you ask me-suggestion intersects with a refrain that has become common in my discussions on race relations in the US. The responsibility for ending white supremacy has been dropped onto the shoulders of minorities- Black Americans in particular. The cable news pundits frequently lecture Black Americans in particular on what we ‘need’ to do to end inequality. As I review what I’ve often heard and read in the media, it becomes apparent that a paradigm shift is needed.
The entire way that we frame the issue of race relations as it pertains to Black Americans and White Americans is just…ugh, my vocabulary fails me in describing it! There are distressing similarities in the treatment of race relations and rape culture in this country. “If women wouldn’t dress that way” sounds an awful lot like “if Blacks would just do better”. The mentality underneath both sentiments absolves those in power from any accountability and places the burden on the victims. Instead of teaching that rape is always wrong and expecting whites to aggressively fight white supremacy, we tell victims that it’s all on them. I vociferously object to such reasoning. I am tired of the being told that the onus is on my people, who are only 12% of the population, to fix it. I am tired of the descendants of chattel slaves being told it is our job to change this country. To tell me that racism would end if we would stop emphasizing our differences ignores two facts:
- Black Americans have already been forcibly assimilated(to a degree). Cut off from our natal land against our will, barred from speaking our native tongues and observing our own religions on pain of torture and death, the ethnic differences among our enslaved ancestors dissolved by the brutality of chattel slavery dissolved, our pre-Maafa identity was taken away from us by this nation. In the wake of chattel slavery and Jim Crow a new people emerged-predominately Christian and English-speaking, just as we were trained to. We took on the names of our owners, prayed to their gods, and tried to mimic their ways. But even when we did, that was never enough to make us equal..The grass ring of equality and full citizenship was-and continues to be-held put of reach of all who are not WASPs.
- The treatment of President Barack Obama show the disdain that many of Jindal’s buddies-the lily-white GOP-have for even the most assimilated, respectable and upper-class Black Americans. Indeed, we need look no further than the ridiculous Birther fiasco and repeated claims that President Obama doesn’t have the values of a “real American” to see how racial minorities are treated as the Other.
But most of all the idea that Blacks are responsible for ending inequality and racism in the United States ignores a huge elephant in the room: my people did not create white supremacy and institutionalized racism in the US; nor are we chiefly responsible for it being perpetuated. While I have and will continue to engage in anti-racism work as a matter of self-preservation, I emphatically reject the idea that the majority of the burden lies with my community. We did not create the mess that the United States is in. The United States started out as a White Supremacist-Settler state. Though we have made progress, that system has yet to be entirely dismantled(for more on the stranglehold that whites still have on power in the US please read this blog by Chauncey DeVega). White Supremacy will not be defeated by minorities assimilating. America will only break free from its racial troubles when more White Americans recognize their complacency in perpetuating racism and actively resist it.