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Getting Uncomfortable about White Supremacy

By Andrea Carey

White Supremacy. I will say it again. White Supremacy. I think that we need to say it and we need to learn about it. White supremacy evokes a strong response. It evokes fear, anxiety, shame, and discomfort. I have been working through all of these responses. I benefit from white supremacy every day as a white, cis-gendered, non-disabled settler, and I benefit in ways that I understand and in ways that I am still learning about.

We are starting to take clients deeper into their journeys of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and in doing so, we are bringing forward some uncomfortable topics. This is where I am so grateful to our team and the experience they bring to this work – as we surface these topics, we navigate them internally – how are we talking about it? What do we mean by what we are saying? How are we having this conversation with each other? How do support our clients to have the conversation?

I am so struck by how entrenched white supremacy is in all that we do – and the ways that we do it, and many of us have never had to think about it or navigate it because it benefits us, it feeds our privilege. Surfacing it and digging into it is difficult and elicits shame and defensiveness. I am in my 40s and I have never had to wrestle with what white supremacy has meant for me and the advantages it has provided for me. This is the work. This is exactly why we need to start talking about – because if we want to move towards equity, if we want to create inclusion, and if we want to move forward differently, then the heart and soul of that work is to unearth the systems and structures that are holding us back.

If you ask racialized people about their experiences with white supremacy, I am fairly confident that every racialized person you ask would be able to describe times when they have been navigating white supremacy – although they may not use those words. It is nearly impossible to avoid white supremacy – it is the foundation of the systems that allow white people to continue to have advantages and rights individually and collectively. What is it? Have a read:

Here is the definition of white supremacy “The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever-present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.”[1]

When we are working with organizations this is the tricky bit – first to surface how white supremacy is showing up in their organization. This is not “if” it is showing up because as we referenced earlier, it is entrenched in how everything is built – so the question is how it is showing up, and what does that mean for racialized members of that team. As Chad Sanders, author of Black Magic articulated “These are incredibly complex environments that we’re talking about, but there’s a very simple truth underneath most of them, which is that the operating system, the language that everyone is speaking, is determined by a group of white guys at the top. If you’re a Black person and you have even gotten into a seat at the bottom of that type of organization, you have done so navigating an already super-duper complex environment, whatever that might be.”[2]

As we talk about white supremacy at INclusion INcorporated and recognizing how crucial this was going to be to bring forward with clients, I admit that I had that same guttural reaction that our clients are having. I thought “We can’t tell them that there is white supremacy in their organization. They will fire us.” And they might fire us. But this is the work that we HAVE to do. This is why we exist, to surface what is happening in organizations and to help them learn about where they are at on their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey, and to give them a path forward. A path of change. If we don’t talk about the root causes within their organization, then we can never get to a place of creating change – and we will be complicit in maintaining the systems and structures that are harming people of color, and arguably peoples from any diverse lived experiences.

As you begin your journey in exploring white supremacy, I invite you to think about how white supremacy shows up in organizations which are shared in the document “Dismantling Racism Works adapted by The Centre for Community Organizations”[3]:

  • · Perfectionism
  • · Concentration of Power
  • · Right to Comfort
  • · Individualism
  • · Progress is Bigger/More

I continue to navigate my own white fragility as we do this work. It is vulnerable, it is hard, and it is uncomfortable. It should be all of these things – if we are doing it right then this work should be so hard.

Some steps to leave you with –

  • · Dig into learning about white supremacy
  • · Consider what systems and structures are serving you and who they are not serving
  • · Think about and observe who is code-switching[4] to try and fit in
  • · Get uncomfortable and surface conversations about how white supremacy is showing up in your organization

[1]  https://www.dismantlingracism.org/racism-defined.html

[2] Brown, B. (Host). (2021, February 1). Brené with Chad Sanders on What Black Leaders Learned from Trauma and Triumph. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-chad-sanders-on-what-black-leaders-learned-from-trauma-and-triumph/

[3] https://coco-net.org/tag/anti-racism/

[4] https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-costs-of-codeswitching