Becoming an Agent of Whiteness
This essay was published on The Establishment on December 5, 2016.
Do you know what white supremacy is? It’s the doubt you have about your safety in predominantly Black neighborhoods. It’s that skepticism you feel when your doctor isn’t white. It’s the hesitation you have when you question a Black person’s abilities. It’s the surprise you have that a Black person is good at something . . . anything. It’s the devaluing you do when someone like me accomplishes something a white person cannot. It’s the excuses you make to explain why and how I outperformed white people.
If you are a person of color (POC) in this white supremacist society, you are taught to hate yourself before you know what hate is. You are trained to prioritize white people at all costs. Self-destructive behaviors, like silencing yourself, are normalized, while protective behaviors, like self-respect, are weaponized against you.
You spend your life being conditioned into thinking you are less than white people—less intelligent, less capable, less trustworthy. You learn that no matter what you do, you are a problem. You find ways to survive, muting and hiding yourself as much as possible. Accepting verbal abuse and ridicule for things out of your control. You suppress, suppress, suppress, and prove, prove, prove, until that is all you know. Or you lash out and find your completely understandable and protective behavior deemed illegal and regulated at the potential cost of your life.
You learn that approval is gained from self-deprecating behaviors. That diminishing yourself and those who look like you can provide growing returns. You learn that your proximity to whiteness, while painful, allows you access to things you’ve been taught to desire. Money. Status. Power. You learn that little pieces of your dignity, pride, and self-respect hold value on the white open market.
The thing that you don’t learn is that this is a form of self-abuse.
It is complicated navigating white spaces as a person of color. Your appearance plays a huge role in how much or little you will be accepted. The less you resemble a POC, the easier time you will have navigating whiteness. Provided you ritually sacrifice aspects of your identity for white acceptance, you will be allowed on the fringe of these groups. You learn to hear, see, and say no to Otherness, to embrace whiteness in all its false glory. You are told that if you are Black, you should renounce your Blackness. Remove all its trappings from your life. Embrace the light that is white Jesus, white pride, white supremacy, and know your true worth—as a footstool upon which whiteness rests. Learn your place and you shall be held high, a lord among peasants—the price being all that makes you…you.
So, you eat the apple, gain the access, and allow the insidious, sleeping protector of whiteness into your body, because survival requires it, success dictates it, and you, on some level, want it. It is, superficially, an easier path to walk. That protector, be it large or small, is poison to you, incompatible with who and what you are, ingesting you from the inside out. White supremacy is poison to all who touch it, and is currently engineering the global destruction of humanity through methods like global warming, continued consumption of fossil fuels, and unending genocide.
“Consume, consume, consume,” it chants, normalizing the cannibalization of others. Normalizing the cannibalization of self. Nestled inside you, aware, awake, guiding your every decision. Shadowing your every move. It is the echo chamber in your head, confusing your need to survive with the need to absorb and ingest the otherness of yourself and the otherness of others. Repackage yourself, your friends, your lovers. Soften your edges to appeal to more palates. Strip yourself of your history, individuality, nuance just enough to intrigue without overwhelming. Hide, dissect, and serve yourself to whiteness in small, manageable pieces. Exotify your experiences. Be that delicious tidbit that whiteness loves to devour. Let it absorb, reshape, and regurgitate an empty version of yourself to continue the work of white consumption in its stead.
You become, in part, the poison of whiteness, wolf in sheep’s clothing, infecting everyone you touch until they also become ever-consuming agents of destruction.
This is what whiteness is. This is what whiteness does. And when you defend those who promote it, when you rationalize their intentions, empathize with their motives, sympathize with their actions, defend their rhetoric, and support being open and understanding, you are its agent, corrupting from the inside out.
For white supremacy doesn’t embrace the humanity of all. It embraces the humanity of whiteness. All others are sustenance for its insatiable hunger for domination and control.