White Supremacy has lurked in the dark corners of my life. It has tried endlessly to make me believe that it is ok for people to assume I am unintelligent, incapable, and unworthy. Growing up, (white) teachers assumed I was stupid until I proved myself otherwise. I was the only student of color. Clients don’t think I am in charge of my company in the presence of any white, male colleague.
I’m done giving my energy to the damning lie that has murdered my ancestors, stolen generations of Black dreams, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Its existence was designed to keep my people economically and ideologically subjugated. This lie compels people to code switch, chemically straighten their hair, submit to a gender binary and covers myriad truths of personal identity in order to gain acceptance, feign conformity, find employment, and even — attract love. This must stop.
Words have power. Because of this power, I propose we continue the work of dismantling (the delusion of) white supremacy by revoking the power of the nomenclature itself. By lifting up the illusory nature of the construct, we extract some of its potency with each utterance. To put this more simply, I will not talk about white supremacy without the word “delusion” preceding it. The delusion of white supremacy has plagued our planet and provided the foundation for global systemic oppression. The lie that white people were ever inherently better than anyone else was the justification for eras long nightmares and intergenerational terror and slaughter — followed, of course, by its contemporary legacy of insidious and pervasive racism. I choose the past tense because the very act of acknowledging the delusion of white supremacy at any point in history without prefacing the term with “delusion”, names the construct as if it were true. Say it with me: the delusion of white supremacy. Claim the power and own it. Take the power back from the idea that a superior race exists. There is no racial superiority. Everyone has been bamboozled.
“But slavery was hundreds of years ago.” Yes, friends, it was. Unfortunately, the delusion of white supremacy instigated the most successful marketing campaign in the history of the world. The campaign to divide the human race into many hierarchical races. People believed, and some still believe– that race is real. People think that the black / white paradigm is something based in science that can be measured, tested, and proven. For the folks who don’t know, race is a social construct (versus a biological construct) that was invented to justify the horrific institution of slavery and the exploitation of black and brown bodies, along with the appropriation and colonization of continents from indigenous peoples of the world.
The racism of our time has taken a new shape, many shapes in fact. It doesn’t always look like the terrorist, Dylann Roof, who premeditatively attacked the African American Mother Emanuel Church, murdering 9 people and injuring two more. Racism isn’t relegated to the individual acts of bad actors. The racism of the 21st century is supported by a complex web of interconnected structures and systems designed to support those who have historically considered themselves superior and worthy, while actively denying the humanity, agency, and sanctity of non-white people all over the world.
The delusion of white supremacy is not just a problem in the United States. It is a global construct. It is a problem of what humanity does to itself with power and externalized self-hatred.
Part of the evil genius of the most successful PR campaign ever (the campaign to convince the world that race is real and whiteness somehow superior) is that much of its power currently rests in its relative invisibility–especially to white people. The effects are visible and measurable, but the phenomenon itself remains veiled in the shadows–– dwelling in the midst of parasitic racist ideas hosted the minds of even the best intentioned people. Those who benefit from it most, those who actively support its structures with the intent of subjugating people of color, would very much like it to remain hidden in plain sight. In a world that studies, measures, dissects, and evaluates everything down to the sub-atomic and up to the outer cosmos — why aren’t we studying and teaching this dangerous construct of falsities that has wreaked havoc on peace, justice, and equality? Most of us are quietly pretending we don’t see what is right in front of us. Those of us who see it often feel powerless and unable to affect change. Or worse, scared to dismantle racism. And yet we know full well that standing up in the face of evil and tyranny is exactly what we should be doing.
Consider the question, “What would you have done had you been alive when African people were being enslaved? What would you have done during the Jewish Holocaust?”. People who work in social justice are inclined to point out that you would be maintaining your current status quo–either advocating for equal rights or just sitting by. The human equity nightmares of our day are no less significant, they just have better PR. The vast abuse and neglect of our fellow humans around the world is obscene. Black and brown people in particular are suffering the most cruel and inhuman plights. But we have our own stuff to worry about, our own families to provide for, and the next cool gadget to buy. It can’t really be THAT bad…can it?
We’ve become experts at not looking. We have become desensitized and are turning a blind eye to the conditions that people around us are experiencing. We curate our news, our neighborhoods, our extracurricular activities, and our friends to help us maintain a sense of equilibrium. We don’t WANT to see how bad it is. And the more privileged and often whiter you are, the easier it is to avoid the heartache and agony associated with being truly present to the pain of communities of color. Even the best-intentioned white people both willingly and unwittingly support the delusion of white supremacy because it serves them to do so. Here is an excerpt from my fourth manuscript, Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions due for publication in the Spring of 2020 and available for preorder:
“The delusion of white supremacy is the foundation upon which a great many Subtle Acts of Exclusion are built. When heteronormative, cisgender, able-bodied, whiteness is defined as safe, normal, acceptable, belonging, visible, and powerful — the implication is that queer, trans, brown, black, people with disabilities and ‘others’ are somehow the inverse. These are lies. Generationally pervasive lies. Hence the delusion of white supremacy. Silence on this matter only serves to support the fallacy of the hierarchy of human value. No one is inherently better, more normal, more safe, or more valuable than anyone else.
I intentionally omitted masculinity from my hegemonial list because of black men. In the case of black men, masculinity is not nearly enough to protect their bodies from the constant threat of harm. Black men, and to a lesser degree, black women — especially in the United States, do not have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as other members of society — again, because of the delusion our society has fallen for.
White women, while not treated as equally as white men, derive such a substantial benefit from their perceived whiteness, that the delusion of white supremacy serves to keep too many of them silent on the social justice issues of this era and eras past. I hope that this, my fourth call to action book, motivates people to call out the delusions of our time. We need to dismantle the remnants of a long discredited and disgraced era and restore ourselves as one loving human family.”
It is time to start owning responsibility for our words, thoughts, and actions. You owe yourself and society the opportunity to move through the world with intention and inflicting less harm. Our collective ignorance and blindspots are potentially injurious failures that can be corrected. Don’t lament your lack of perspective, correct it. Learn the history that got us here. Follow contemporary thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi’s first book, Stamped from the Beginning: A Complete History of Racist Ideas is a tomb that will lay it all out for you in chronological order. His most recent book How to Be an Antiracist is also a must-read. If you are hungry for more after you’ve read those, White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin D’Angelo is another solid resource.
Dr. Tiffany Jana (they/them) is the author of four books published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers: Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences , Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion, the second edition of The B Corp Handbook, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions due for publication in March 2020.
Dr. Jana is an international public speaker, and the founder of the TMI Portfolio of Companies — a collection of socially responsible and interconnected companies working to advance more culturally inclusive and equitable workforces. TMI Consulting, a portfolio company, is a Benefit Corporation as well as a certified B Corporation and earned the 2016, 2018, and 2019 Best for the World honor from the nonprofit B Lab that certifies B Corps worldwide.
They have been featured in Psychology Today, Fast Company, SXSW, and Forbes. Dr. Jana gave a TEDx talk in December 2012 as part of TEDxRVAWomen. They earned the 2017 Enterprising Women of the Year Award from Enterprising Women Magazine. And they were named one of the 2018 Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc.com.