White Supremacy as the Status Quo

Before I learned I was white, I was often confused by the reactions of people of color to various events in the news. I was in college in an African American History class when someone who had been watching TV elsewhere (the internet was just a baby) burst into the class to report that O.J. had been acquitted. The energy in the room became charged with the white students upset and the black students cheering. I have no recollection of the ensuing discussion, likely because I  blocked it out.

Fast forward to 2008. I loved the high school I worked at and I loved the students. I could not remain confused when a beloved student, one of just several black students at the school, told me that a white student asked her if she lived in the ghetto and another white student asked her if she owned a TV.

I was tempted to ‘lone wolf’ those white students: Their parents must have taught them to be racist. They were just being obnoxious teenagers. But when another black student told me that her white U.S. History teacher asked her if he was getting the history of slavery right, I thought: Ok, WAIT there’s something bigger going on here.

Hearing about those painful interactions was the catalyst that fueled my curiosity. I needed to know how racism really works because racism in a white liberal independent school was the last place I thought it would appear.

My naivete was short lived. I quickly learned that white supremacy, the ideological and philosophical root of racism, is embedded in all of our systems and has been since the founding of our country. White supremacy is literally everywhere and my naivete is a perfect example of how insidious it is. I did not know about white supremacy because the system is designed for me to be oblivious to it.

The thing about systems of oppression is that if you aren’t actively working against them, you are working for them. Cecily Walker in her recent keynote “Dismantling Whiteness and Oppression in LIS through Community-Led Collaboration” at the Library Information Technology Association’s Forum asked white librarians: “How are you upholding white supremacy?” She went on to state that, “Silence looks like a ringing endorsement for the status quo. Any time you are supporting the status quo, you are reinforcing whiteness in your library.”

Has Donald Trump’s election activated your curiosity about white supremacy and racism like hearing my students’ experiences did mine? Do you want to push against the status quo of whiteness in your library?

Get inspired by the many librarians who do this work and generously share their processes either explicitly or by example: Cecily Walker, April HathcockDebbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature, Allie Jane Bruce and her colleagues at Reading While White, the critical librarianship librarians who post on #critlib on Twitter, the librarians who write for In the Library with a Lead Pipe, the Progressive Librarians Guild, and the librarians who publish at Library Juice Press.


Appreciations: bell hooks, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Loretta Ross, Tim Wise, and Tema Okun for continuing to help me wrap my brain around white supremacy through their writings. My husband for editing this blog post. The UNtraining for introducing me to the concept of appreciation as a practice to disrupt white supremacy. Cecily Walker in her LITA keynote for reminding me to appreciate.
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2 thoughts on “White Supremacy as the Status Quo

  1. Kyle Greenwood November 27, 2016 / 5:33 am

    Rachel,

    I just read your article and I was quite intrigued by your assertion that whiteness is such an systemic, oppressive machine that has kept people of color from being uplifted and how are we as librarians addressing white supremacy. I have seen the trend in this pointing the finger at white people ever since Ferguson and the Michael Brown shooting. I remember during the Clinton years and on into the GW Bush years that there wasn’t this mindset of how white people are systemically oppressing people of color, even 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed. The fact we have gone backwards is a testament to the nonsensical rhetoric and divisiveness that people like Tim Wise and his propaganda are now being planted into the minds of not only our next generation but into professionals such as us.

    Then, we see Black Lives Matter calling for the death of police officers. To me, that is terrorism. As an educator who has taught in the inner cities, I have seen the eroding of American cities run by Democratic mayors for the last 60 plus years, some even by African-American mayors. Kids aren’t interested in white supremacy, they just want to eat a meal and sleep in a bed and be loved by a mom and a dad….some get none of those things. It is shocking that a library media specialist has been brainwashed by racist propaganda. Is it white guilt? Cause, I teach my kids (of all races) responsibility and accountability not to blame others. This systemic racism is garbage. It breeds anger in young people. They lash out. Tim Wise is a race hustler.

    So I am white and yes….there are white supremacists who run around still spewing that hatred but I don’t prescribe to that vitriol. Plus, I do not need anyone to define who I am as a person and it is a shame that you have. Nobody should have to answer to anyone about this fake racism. This idea of a PTSD from Jim Crow, slavery and segregation is excuse making. I have had students flip me the bird and call me a ‘cracker.’ So, I should give that student a pat on the back and talk about his or hers feelings….and blame it on oppression? No way. There are consequences for that behavior. Our schools need to be tougher on that behavior. This crap has gone too far. We can’t further the conversation because people like yourself insist on being mindful of whiteness. Give me a break. That does nothing.

    It is funny that Republicans were the ones that helped pass the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments to the Constitution, whereas Democrats were the party of Jim Crown, segregation, slavery and the KKK, yet are seen as progressive in nature. All black abolitionists were Republican like Frederick Douglass and Ida B Wells. We need to unite not divide, to which racism defines our lives. We know it exists, lets move on. This acknowledgement of whiteness and white privilege is ridiculous. No solutions are coming. I went to a high school with 40 percent black and I was living in racial harmony because we didnt’ care about race, we just cared about each other.

    I leave you with this study:

    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2870189

    You will see in this study that white officers do not target black men like it is been widely asserted that there is a rampant epidemic of police oppression.

    I just hope that we can have real solutions instead of saying the words “racism” and “white supremacy”

    Sincerely,

    Kyle Greenwood
    Library Media Specialist

    Like

    • Rachel Shaw November 27, 2016 / 7:46 am

      Hi Kyle,

      I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment even though we disagree. It sounds like you deeply care about your students and your black classmates from high school. You are frustrated with the racism conversation and feel personally attacked. I hear you. I was a little skeptical when I first learned about systems of oppression. I wrote about this in my blog post “New to Whiteness?“. But honestly the more I read about the impact of systemic racism and the more I talked to people of color who shared their experiences with me, I was unable to deny that systemic racism exists.

      I believe that understanding whiteness will further the conversation if more white people participate. Systemic racism is real. But it’s hard for white people to see it because the system benefits us; it’s our normal. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Black Lives Matter brought attention to systemic racism on a large scale. They don’t actually advocate killing white police officers. They are bringing attention to “the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.” Human rights are essential!

      It’s easy to get caught up in the intellectual aspects of systemic racism and exchange data and articles to prove each other’s points. What I’m interested in is the impact of systemic racism and white supremacy on real people – white people and people of color. Hearing people’s stories and building empathy helps me continue to understand that impact. Your story matters as much as anyone else’s. And the reality is that white people experience this society differently than people of color. When we are quick to dismiss the experiences of people of color, we lose. We become disconnected from millions of people in our country and that doesn’t feel good.

      So we disagree. If there is no wiggle room in your mind about systemic racism – you wrote that systemic racism is garbage – then I’m not sure if anything I write will change your mind. But if you do have some wiggle room, read some of the resources I’ve linked to on my blog post “Racism and Readers’ Advisory“.

      Like

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