For many people, the phrase "white supremacy" conjures up thoughts of men in white hoods burning crosses along with hate groups who take to the streets and social media to proclaim messages of racial prejudice and violence. But the phrase doesn't only refer to a group of people obsessed with promoting a hateful worldview (i.e. white supremacists) - it identifies a way of thinking that has an impact on society at the systemic and cultural level.
According to Dictionary.com, white supremacy is "the belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial groups, especially black people, and are therefore rightfully the dominant group in any society." This implies that white supremacy is a not a mindset limited to hate groups, but a broad way of thinking about all people who are white.
FGC uses a definition¹ that goes even deeper into what white supremacy is, who participates in it, and who benefits from it most. In the Understanding and Healing White Supremacy eRetreat from the Spiritual Deepening program, facilitators define white supremacy as:
The assumption or theory that whites are superior to all other races and should be in power or control. White supremacy as a term captures the pervasive magnitude, and normalcy of white privilege², dominance, and assumed superiority. It is embedded within systems as well as an attitude or culture of individual White people. The term white supremacy has often been associated only with extreme hate groups. However, this terminology captures the magnitude of a larger system and way of being.
When we use the term "white supremacy" to name an obstacle that prevents FGC Friends, Meetings, and all who unite in this work from becoming an actively anti-racist faith community, we are referring to a systemic and cultural mindset that existed long before the Klu Klux Klan and modern hate groups embodied it. We are describing a way of living that is in conflict with our testimony of equality, because it implies through beliefs and customs that one group of people is superior to all others. When we choose not to live into equality because we're offended by a phrase that accurately diagnoses what ails our spiritual community, we are missing out on an essential part of what it means to be Quaker.
The next time a Friend reacts negatively when they hear the phrase "white supremacy," acknowledge their feelings and invite them to become comfortable with their discomfort. The discomfort of individuals with privilege³ is a temporary and minor inconvenience when compared to what has been the lived experience of Friends of Color for so long.
¹ Many thanks to Paula Rhodes of AFSC and Mountain View Friends Meeting for this definition
² White Privilege: A social construct which benefits and gives preferences for whiteness that saturates societies around the world and that creates rights, advantages, and protections enjoyed at the expense of and beyond those available to people of color. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it. (Source: The White Privilege Conference)
³ Dr. Peggy McIntosh, author of "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", said that "Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of FGC's Vital Friends eNewsletter.