The Difference Between Racism and White Supremacy
Racism is seeing people as “the other,” and assigning them attributes based on how they look. White Supremacy is a lot more insidious.
I just watched a clip from South Pacific.
I got to thinking about the nuances of racism. In the case of Joe Cable and Nellie Forbush, their racism was just xenophobia — fear and rejection of “the other.”
In America, there’s something else at play. This is the type of racism that Ijeoma Oluo talks about in “So You Want To Talk About Race.”
I think this is something else, something deeper than racism.
This is white supremacy.
When she talks about a system of power, she’s talking about white supremacy.
I’m inviting all of you to consider in what ways you’ve internalized white supremacy.
For me, growing up in Argentina, white supremacy was internalized by the fact that all the intellectuals I knew where white, and all the servants I knew were brown. All the people on TV were white, all the people living in “villas miseria” (Argentina’s word for ‘favelas,’ shanty towns) were brown.
In Argentina, African-Americans are not viewed as inferior — nearby Brazil has a large black population, and is economically more buoyant than Argentina. The black Brazilian people we see are soccer players and business people. We saw them as “the other,” but we saw them as equals. Same with black South Africans and American black people.
In Argentina, white supremacy (very much present in the culture) is about indigenous people. When I was growing up, they were patronizingly called “cabecitas negras” “little black heads” (NOT a reference to skin color, but to their jet-black hair). They were spoken of dismissively, in any middle-class environment I witnessed as a child.
This bias was so pervasive and so socially acceptable, that it never occurred to me to question it. As a child, I just completely understood there are two types of people, and one of them — the one I’m in — is somehow ‘better’ than the other. For many years of my childhood, it never occurred to me to question that.
Unsurprisingly though, if you ask the average Argentine, they’ll happily tell you Argentina is a country devoid of racism.
Am I telling you this because I’m proud of any of it? No, of course not. I’m mortified. I’m embarrassed for my country of origin, for my family — for never even discussing this, and for myself, for internalizing this.
I’m telling you this to get you to examine your own internalized notions of white supremacy. Yes, those. The ones you would never discuss openly.
Face them. Dissect them. Dismantle them.
A positive moment race in South America was the ascendancy of Evo Morales in Bolivia. Seeing an indigenous president was just as strong a visual as seeing Obama in the Whitehouse. (Sadly, just like in the U.S., this progressive administration has been replaced by a reactionary, right-wing cadre.)
Argentina’s culture is changing. Young people are more aware about diversity and social justice. The way they speak is changing. But still, the understanding that Europeans are somehow inherently superior to people of indigenous heritage is still woven into the fabric.
And the atrocities committed by the colonizing Spaniards are never taught in school, never spoken about.
And the names of the genocidal white leaders are still stamped on everything. The opera house is “Teatro Colon” (Columbus Theater). My high school was named Julio Argentino Roca — a president who led genocidal Indian raids to wipe out the indigenous population.
This lack of conscience, this lack of accountability, is a blatant mark of white supremacy.
Renaming all of these to names of indigenous leaders starts a process of deprecating colonization as a virtue, and de-erasing indigenous people from our history. Slowly, it’s starting.
What about America? How are we doing, over here?
Any names of genocidal colonizers on places, schools?
Any symbols of white dominance in the culture?
Any expressions in your language that might be rooted in racism?
How much of your daily life has little droplets of white supremacy? Little tacit messages that your race is the supreme, dominant one?
White supremacy can be as obscene and overt as white people mocking the murder of George Floyd.
Or it can be as subtle as not ever talking about redlining, about school segregation or about systemic racism with your kids.
It’s time for white people to show some accountability in dismantling a system that OUR people built — a system WE benefit from. A system so glaringly inhumane it pains us to even look at it.