The white supremacy myth is the notion that white people represent the apex of all that is good, true, beautiful, worthwhile, trustworthy, meritorious, and so on. It’s reflected in myriad practices, images, beliefs, customs, and media. In short, the WSM says it’s better to be “white” than “black.”
However, the privileges light-skinned people of European descent get come with invisible costs. We didn’t consent to any of these. Unless we learn what happened and undo how whiteness lives in our consciousness, we remain steeped in that which we were born into.
1. We got stripped
Whiteness “whitewashes” that which makes us culturally unique. Most white people I know can tell me little or nothing about the land, language, food, songs, or customs of their ancestors just two generations back. Those elements shaped vital attributes of who we are in the world, and yet American whiteness would just as soon melt them into its pot.
I often ask white people, What is your ethnic background? Often they laugh, roll their eyes, and wave me off, as if the question were inconsequential. They say, Oh you know — just file me under Euro-mutt. Subtext: White people don’t really have ethnicities. We’re…you know…white. That’s what’s most important. Let’s just…keep quiet about the…um…other stuff.
Unless you’re Frosty the Snowman, you’re not even white. “Whiteness” got draped over you without your consent, giving you privileges and erasing your uniqueness. Yet you still get treated as “white” whenever you walk out of the house, with or without your consent.
High penalties accrue to those who transgress certain white cultural norms. For example, very few people in high-powered positions in the U.S. ever appear in public wearing anything but highly Anglified clothing. We don’t see dashikis, kimonos, turbans, burkas or keffiyeh at most board meetings.
Who among us agreed to this dress code?
2. We get corralled
Corporations nearly universally give time off for Christian holidays, but not for holidays of other cultures in the U.S., such as Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or Pagan. This isn’t necessary. All employees could be given floating holidays that they could use when their religious or non-religious desires dictate. No non-Christians I know, nor even any Christians, consented to be swept up in the white Christian norms that govern our workplaces.
3. We got muzzled
When I lived in Philadelphia, I noticed that I was always the only white person who would sing out loud in public places. I saw Black people singing all the time. But never another white person. It made me sad. Whiteness asks us to stay within the lines, suck it up, keep a stiff upper lip, and stuff our feelings inside.
If we’re off-white, like Jewish, Italian, or Irish, we may get a bit more leeway. But WASP culture notoriously squelches authentic expression of feelings. It turns out this hurts us not just emotionally, but also physically.
However, this same kind of blanched-out affect is exactly what’s required to enter into positions of power. If we learn the lessons of emotional repression well, we’re better able to cash in on our white skin privilege. But at what cost to our humanity? Did you request this arrangement? I didn’t.
4. We missed out on neighbors and schoolmates
Redlining, bank loan discrimination, and school segregation in the U.S. means most white people grew up without the honor and privilege of getting to know neighbors and schoolmates of African descent. We were unfairly separated. We grew up in artificial vacuums, without the enrichment of diversity that might have been possible otherwise. And we had no say over it.
5. Our friends and lovers got limited
Because of having been steeped in the WSM, those of us who were not fortunate enough to learn how to step out of it (and even those of us who were) still unwittingly reproduce acts, attitudes, and words of white privilege just by speaking English. We don’t mean to. English has insidious threads of white supremacy woven through it.
But self-loving people of African, Asian, Latino/a/x or Indigenous descent may understandably avoid us, because they do not wish to experience yet more unaware white supremacy myth-based harm.
So without any agreement on our part, we got marinated in a substance toxic to entire groups of people, that impacts our ability to make and keep friends and lovers of backgrounds different from our own. We didn’t ask for this, and I for one do not like it.
6. We got marinated in a morass of dysfunction
We’ve been steeped in the WSM since early childhood. We learned that “Manifest Destiny,” an ideology of white supremacy mythology, fueled the spread of Europeans westward in the U.S., and that the slaughter of Indigenous peoples was merely an unfortunate casualty. We grew up with the delusion that the needs of white people alone could, should, and did justify even the kidnaping, enslaving, and torturing of people of African descent, warping our sense of humanity and decency. This could wreak havoc with even the most aware psyche.
The mindf*ck of a culture committing such unthinkable levels of genocide and refusing to acknowledge, let alone make federal-level reparations leaves us in state much like a big dysfunctional family. Some of us acting out the worst of the truths, with others treating those and acting out like pariahs, and still others denying and gaslighting the reality so obvious to yet others. We didn’t consent to being messed with in this way.
Yet all is not lost
These are just a handful of examples. The WSM operates upon white people in ways too numerous to list here. And we hardly touched upon all the harms done to people of African, Asian, Latino/a/x and Indigenous descent.
We didn’t consent to any of this. However, like any delusion, we can choose to learn all we can about how it operates, investigate its effects on us, and do the inner and outer work of eradicating the WSM and its harms from our world. Undoing the damage and stepping into our fully humanity is the work of a lifetime. We can never complete it, but we can choose to begin it.
Once we decide step into that path, we will have a larger perspective on how all this came about. With that larger perspective will come more true choice on how we want to show up in the world, rather than being bound to the knee-jerk, reactionary white supremacy myth-based dysfunctions that predictably result from living with unexamined U.S. culture — and which we never consented to, and probably never would have, given the choice.
Knowing all that, we now have more of a choice.
Want to learn more, or even help lead the way? Join us.