The Intimacy of White Supremacy

I’ve had so much going on in my brain for months now and have not been able to get it out of my bones. Everything I’ve written lately has been trash because I have not been “inspired” to write. I keep trying. Writing is an old friend that I call upon to help me process complex things. Writing helps me put language to my well of emotions. Writing has been a constant part of my life for as long as I can remember. I keep a box of my writing, some of it dating back to elementary school. But lately, I haven’t been able to get my thoughts out in any kind of coherent way. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m scared. I’m worried. I’m pensive. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. I’m even mostly happy. I’m mostly comfortable. I’m even mostly at peace.

What I can’t shake is my deep distrust of white people. In fact, my distrust and suspicion of white people is growing. This is a relatively new feeling to me. As I’ve written before about being raised in a white family, living in predominantly white communities, and attending white dominant schools, I’ve lived in and navigated whiteness my whole life. I’ve rarely felt uncomfortable doing so. I’ve never interrogated my family member’s beliefs around race and justice. Outside of conversations with my mom and grandma, I’ve never had conversations about race with any of my family members. I’m coming to think most of them think I’m white or wish I were white or they don’t care enough about me to ask, to try and put themselves in my shoes, to learn of my racialized experiences in our shared spaces – family, school, community. And frankly, at so many points in my life, I would have been unable to have these conversations anyways because of how I was socialized, how we have all been socialized.

What I’m coming to see clearly is that people I have deeply loved and respected, people I have given my full heart to without question, are undeserving of my full and blind love. I see a few of my closest most loved family members freely and openly upholding white supremacy and racism and a general unwillingness to learn, grow, and seek a deeper understanding. I cannot even describe the deep deep pain that I have in coming to realize this. I am starting to come to terms with it and am starting to cut these people out of my digital and real life. It is about my own survival, not theirs. They’re white. They’ll be fine no matter which way this country goes. They’re fine right now even as the full weight of state-sanctioned violence murders Black and brown bodies like mine in every corner of this country.

And yet, some of these people will use me as their “I’m not racist” proclamation. To them, I am nothing more than a prop to be used as evidence about why they aren’t racist. Why they voted for that racist impeached pile of shit POTUS but couldn’t possibly be racist because they have Black family. I’ve asked publicly for them to keep my name out their mouths. We’ll see how that goes. They’ll pull me out as their Black prop to indicate they aren’t racist while propping up a racist system, supporting a racist president and his Nazi loving minions, while spouting tried and true white supremacist talking points. I’m not having it anymore and I am becoming more aggressive with my “not in my name” and call outs.

To say that these revelations hurt is an understatement. It is so much more than pain. It’s like the carpet was pulled from under my feet, like everything in my life shifted and changed. It needed to change if I was going to ever crawl out of the self-loathing that white supremacy demanded of me.

I spent the majority of my teen years and much of my young adulthood playing the white supremacy game. I relaxed my hair and adopted white behaviors, thinking, language. I worked to be the “good” Black person to show white people there is nothing to fear, I’m with them. I took the backhanded compliments that exoticized me, that minimized me, that maligned my Black brothers and sisters. And I told myself they weren’t so bad, it wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t racism. It couldn’t be. I explained away my own unease because I did not know how to mediate that shit. I didn’t know how to process or think about that shit. And I allowed it all to make me smaller. I allowed it all to silence me. I allowed it all to settle within me. And I allowed myself to believe the lies even while I couldn’t reconcile these things with what I thought I knew or understood about the world, about people, about Black people. The truth is, I allowed white people to teach me about Blackness and that shit was almost always racist and firmly rooted in white supremacy.

I’ve always been Black. Never pretended that I wasn’t. In my youth, I didn’t fully understand my own Blackness and definitely didn’t understand how others saw me or why they saw me in the ways they did when it became known to me. In hindsight, I see the white supremacy. I see the ways in which different people tried to claim some part of me or me in totality as their Black person. I see the objectification and exoticization. These micro and macro aggressions were delivered to me by acquaintances, by close friends, by best friends, by distant and close family members. Someday I’ll deal with all of that but suffice it to say, I am very aware of who these people are in my life. Very very aware. Some of those folks are no longer a part of my life but some are still here and I’m figuring out how I want to negotiate these relationships. I’ve brushed this shit aside in the past, explained it away, ignored it, or did whatever I needed to do to survive the psychological distress all of this caused.

Now, I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years slowly unlearning these lessons, learning a more complete history of my people and this country, and learning more about myself. And now, I’m not standing for this shit any longer. I know this makes those who have been the closest to me in my life (family, lifelong friends) uncomfortable. I can’t do anything about that. That is their issue, not mine. But I’m sure to some of them, they feel I’ve gone through some monumental change, that I’ve been radicalized, that I am not the same Xyan I once was. And all of that is both true and also not true. I’ve always been here and always thought this way. From my early childhood through the present, I’ve always been this person. In the past, my thinking was infected by white supremacy and the desire to just live my life as any other white person can – without having to think about or negotiate my racial identity and just go about my business. But alas, that is not my reality.

This week is like any other week in this racist shit hole country. Another instance of state-sanctioned extrajudicial murder by police officers. On Monday we learned of the state-sanctioned murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and about Central Park Polly code-lynching as she called the cops on Christian Cooper in Central Park, feigning fear and lying about a Black man threatening her life because she didn’t like being asked to follow the written AND posted city leash law ordinance. On Wednesday we learned of the state-sanctioned murder of Tony McDade in Tallahassee. These followed on the heals of learning last week about the white terrorist lynching of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Georgia in February; the state-sanctioned execution of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March; and this week we learned of the state-sanctioned murder of Malik Williams in Federal Way, Washington in December. And I’m almost positive this is not all of the Black people or even people of color murdered by cops or white terrorists (which too often is one of the same) this week, let alone this year. Just another day, week, month, year in Amerikkka.

And I have to say, that each killing chills me to my bones. It hits me in my gut and feels like a horse kicked me in the chest. The grief for these beautiful lives needlessly lost is deep. And I’m not going to lie, some of that grief masks fear. A fear rooted in the bloody genocidal racist history of this country.

I remember the moment I realized I was Black and began to understand the weight of that. It was 1977 when 29 million American households tuned in to watch Alex Haley’s Roots. I can’t remember which scene or which episode. I just know it wasn’t the first one. My mom, brother, and I were at a family friend’s house (white people and their children were everywhere, maybe it was a daycare. Just kidding, it was a friend of mom’s house.) There was a violent scene where a Black person was being whipped by the white overseer and I started hysterically and uncontrollably crying. My mom asked what was wrong with me (she might have been more gentle about it, I don’t remember, I just remember her asking). I said (and I remember this clear as though it happened yesterday), “But I don’t want to be a slave!” I couldn’t articulate the pain of watching people who I imagined looked like my Black family, the people who survived so that I could have life, being treated so cruelly, so inhumanely, so violently. I remember my mom consoling me in the moment but I don’t remember if she talked to me after or when we got home.

I can’t explain it and I know that I can never know fully what my people endured in some of the darkest days of this country. I can say, that I feel that history deeply in my heart, in my soul, and in my bones. Which makes me believe that the atrocities and pain of my ancestors is encoded in my DNA in ways I cannot understand. And I am sure this is true for many descendants of slaves. Many of my friends have had living relatives who were the last enslaved people in their families whom they learned from, I may have had that but don’t know (refer to other posts I’ve made about why). These are not the stories I’ve had to educate me, to help me understand how to preserve my own life and soul in the face of unrepentant and virulent white supremacy. So, I’ve filled it in with what I know about the history of this country and my recent DNA test confirmations about my racial makeup.

Perhaps because I am Black or perhaps because I feel things deeply (I think I may be an empath but I have not explored that), when a Black child is murdered (Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin), when a Black person is hunted down and lynched (Ahmaud Arbery), when a cop chokes out a Black person (Eric Garner, George Floyd), when a young Black person is seeking help after a car accident and is murdered (Renisha McBride), I feel that shit deep in the depths of my soul. I imagine myself, my kids, my most cherished friends and family being on the receiving end of these injustices. I cannot understand how anyone can think this is okay or not worthy of wholesale systemic reform. I cannot understand how the mounting evidence is so casually set aside, how Black lives mean so little to white people (to the white people in my life who claim they love me), that we just move on as a nation, to the next tragedy. I do not understand at a cellular level.

However, I do know how people move on and ignore the systemic racism. It’s white fragility – we gotta smooth and soothe as we calmly and politely ask for white people steeped in white supremacy to please remove their boot from our throat so we can breathe and of course, we gotta be quick with the forgiveness so as not to anger our new overseers. It’s white supremacy – the system that gives grace and respect to whiteness without question and erects impenetrable barriers for the rest of us. It’s the politics of respectability – we must be civil and polite in our interactions with white people, not ask for too much because that would be greedy. And at no time should we ever call out the violent systems that chew us up like a wood chipper and spit us out on the filthy ground.

This plays out in my interactions with family and friends. They don’t like how “militant” I am. They don’t like my tone, “maybe you should bring it down a notch”, “people will listen better if you don’t cuss so much”, “people can’t hear you if you’re always screaming”, “people will hear you better if you weren’t so angry.” Oh, and blue lives bullshit. As if we aren’t living in profane and cruel times. As if my tone actually matters. Never mind white terrorism that has guided the policies and laws of this nation since the beginning and the violence of that death march. Never mind the continual violence visited upon Black and brown bodies since time immemorial. Never mind the blood of Black, Indigenous, Mexican, and Chinese people who literally fucking built this godforsaken country. We must be polite when airing egregious injustices. Fuck that. Learn one goddammed new thing, Karen, Becky, Mark, or Tom.

Now, I’m to the point in my family and friend groups trying to figure out who stays in my life and who goes. And so many of these people are people I have loved with my full heart for a long time. I’m sad about that and grieving some relationships that have already ended but I haven’t yet pulled the rip cord. That day is coming. I’ll do it eventually if they don’t get to it before me. I just know that for my own emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical health, I have to cut these folks out of my life.

My heart cannot handle one more white supremacist family member telling me that they love me while voting for white supremacy, justifying one more unjustified homicide of a Black or brown person, or using me as their Black prop. I cannot listen to one more fucking ridiculous family member or friend say stupid shit like, “hate is hate no matter what color” or “reverse racism” or “I was a minority in “x” setting”. I seriously cannot. These are ALL tools of white supremacy and racism and I’m not pretending like I don’t see it anymore.

In all of this, I continue to ask myself where my power lies, how I can effect change in those closest to me. I believe we need to all talk to our people about the systemic racism and how it is a cancer we should all be paying attention to and fighting against. However, I’m also realizing too many people I love and have shared significant space with are committed to white supremacy and reluctant to explore the ways in which they participate in racism. They wish to remain willfully ignorant for I’m sure, various reasons. And I get it, that shit is painful and scary. I’ve had to deal with the ways in which I have contributed to white supremacy and racism. I try to take inventory of my behaviors and thoughts daily on this because I am not perfect, I’m still learning, and growing, and I make mistakes all the time. But if I want a better country, a better world, I have to do this work for myself, my kids, and my future grandkids. And I have to extend that work outside of myself into real action within the world.

I’d plead with these folks to do better, be better if I thought it would matter, if I thought that would open them up to learning and understanding the insidious ways in which white supremacy works. I desperately want every single person in this country to get it, to see it, and to do something about it. I also know that some folks are not worth the emotional energy because they are so immersed, so cloaked in white supremacy that they willfully ignore reality for large swaths of people in order to live in their own little world. And they’re happy doing so with their DO NOT DISTURB sign out. Not much more can be done there. I gotta turn my attention to self-preservation and full liberation of my people and all the people suffering under the yoke of racist oppression.

Because this is where I’m at in my own growth and development, I have to cut these folks out of my life. I don’t trust them. I have deep suspicions about them. I do not feel safe around them. That last one is the one that hurts to realize. I once felt safe around these people and no longer do and I realize I never was safe around them. That shit hurts. And again, these are people that have been in my life for all or most of it, people who I’ve shared some of the most intimate parts of myself with at varying times of my life. And I’m realizing, I was never safe with them, am not safe with them now, do not trust them, and my full love was grossly misplaced. I guess that’s the tragic and heartbreaking reality, I was never safe and my love was misplaced and misused.

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