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(An earlier version of this essay was originally posted on Y.C.'s blog, on the 7th of November 2006. Thank you to Y.C. for all your editorial work in sharpening up the original piece.)
White Male Supremacy: What It Is and What It Does
by Julian Real, copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved.
An open letter to all white men.
I am a white man, which means I can be (and have been), at any time, in any place, a white male supremacist. This is not a revelation about my genetic code, or an indictment of my own soul. This is a statement about structural political reality.
Every time I side with a white person who is being racist, against a person of color who is challenging that racism, I become a white male supremacist. Every time I do not see how my actions, as a white man, silence, disrespect, invade, or threaten a woman of color, I am being a white male supremacist. Every time I project a racist-sexist meme onto a woman of color, and treat her as if she were my (our) projection, I am a white male supremacist.
White Male Liberalism would have us believe that white men are only white male supremacists when we wear white hoods and burn crosses on the yards of African-Americans. White Conservatism would have us believe that the time of white supremacy has passed, and now the real threat to all humanity (which, as defined by white male supremacists, means any threat specifically to white men as a group, or to our political status, privileges, and interests) is people of color: including poor Black people, poor Mexican immigrants, and other non-European U.S. Latina/os, angry or non-deferential Central and South Americans of color, angry or non-submissive Middle Eastern people, angry or non-obedient Asians.
White Conservatism has never acknowledged the unethical existence of male supremacy. White Liberalism doesn’t either: on a good day it says there is something called “racism” and “sexism” but immediately adds that those suddenly apolitical realities can “work both ways”. It claims a level playing field—an as yet fully illusory land of equality—whenever a white man speaks or acts in ways that are harmful and dangerous to women, especially to women of color. It claims to be brutally honest, bravely politically incorrect, necessarily truthful, and boldly noble as it does this. It is either ignorant or arrogant in these claims, except the part about being brutal.
There is no space, cyber or not, where white male supremacy isn’t lurking or acting in its own interests. There is no time in which white male supremacy is asleep. If there were, we should suffocate it with a pillow or inject into it something that will make it never wake up.
White male supremacy’s self-serving stories go like this: a handsome white man, usually accompanied by a white horse, can bring somber, sleeping young white women back to a happy waking life. It is in a white male supremacist's company that a white woman is most content and complete, especially when she bears and rears his children. Contentment and completion involves the treatment of her as a possession or thing. Any woman of color, especially, exists only for the use and abuse of any man or group of men; there is less mythological pretense to a man of any color making her happy or fulfilled; women of color are considered as animal chattel. Women of all ethnicities exist for white men, in any way white men expect—that is to say, interpersonally or institutionally coerce and force—women to be for them.
Because white male supremacy is institutionalized, it does not need to behave badly all the time on an embodied interpersonal front. It just needs to maintain its institutional power and privileges. It shows off its deadly interpersonal self, it rears its ugly individualized head, when it is exposed as such, named as such, treated as such, by human people who white men systematically seek to silence and destroy for allegedly being blasphemers, heretics, and madwomen.
Men of Northern, Western, and Southern European descent have, for centuries, claimed the power to name reality, to decide what it true and what is false, to construct the meaning of intelligence and the parameters of insanity, to make laws and gods which most serve white men and oppress everyone else, to distinguish what is respectable religion from what is delusional cult or irrational myth, to declare, with white male state authority, the qualities and standards of what it means to be human, which somehow, not accidentally, leaves out the humanity of those who are not white, wealthy, or male.
It claims to value peace when it is warring, to love when it is hating, and, especially if liberal, to value free speech while it swiftly silences those who speak directly about the atrocities white male supremacists commit deliberatley or unconsciously, or, in either case, unconscionably.
A voice—any voice—may, if brazen enough, speak in such a manner that white male supremacy is (potentially) revealed to itself, through social human activity, as an ideology-based merciless system of tyrannical power. Those who need it to live on unnamed must silence that voice ASAP. Those unprivileged “others” who must know it and name it, viscerally or verbally, in order to have a chance to survive with any degree of dignity or esteem, will be defamed or destroyed for doing so, if they are seen as human at all, which is not a given in white male supremacist societies. This means white male supremacy usually ignores all voices that don’t speak in its domination-driven dialect, with a Euro-American accent.
When the politics of reality are spoken by a woman of color, her voice will be distorted in the ears of white male supremacists. They will not acknowledge this voice as humanitarian. They will call it all manner of sexist-racist names, and treat it according to how enemies of whitemen’s supposedly sacred (self-centered) reality are to be treated. White male supremacy cannot acknowledge the full humanity of the woman who owns that voice, because she is being so corruptly and systematically denied human status by those with the unjust authority to give it.
Much of what we know as reality is a construction of white male supremacy. It has arranged this forcibly, over many centuries, across many lands, so that when it speaks, people listen as if someone important were talking. Never mind that the white male supremacist voice speaks most eloquently of death. White male supremacy is death to humanity and non-human life forms: suicidal, genocidal, and ecocidal. When it is radically and successfully challenged and transformed, humanity can rise again, sustainably, including the humanity of those who are pale and male. Until that time, women of color will live lives of humanitarian rage or desperate despondency, or a combination thereof. Until that time, women of any color will be stigmatized and oppressed. Until that time, men of color and all “other” marginalized men may seek one of two things: to successfully become humane by forming a trustworthy and accountable allegiance with radical women of color, or to achieve the status of a white male supremacist white man, unrelentingly if unsuccessfully.
White women and men of color sometimes support but do not control white male supremacy. Only white men control it. Not all white men need to enforce it for it to thrive, but if all white men spoke our truths—against the interests of white male supremacy—about what we have done to women of color, to white women, to men of color, the other Life, and to ourselves in order to be white male supremacists, then at least and at last the white elephant in the room would be named by those with the privilege and power to name it. That would be a radically humanitarian occurrence, or, more accurately, would open the possibility for radical humanitarianism to wipe the Earth clean of white male supremacy.
Radical Black Feminism, also known by other names, is a powerful source of information about white male supremacy. Some of the spokespeople of this movement include Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan. Other contemporaries include Alice Walker (who has also used the term Womanism), bell hooks, Patricia J. Williams, and Patricia Hill Collins. But most radical Black women are unknown to us, whether they are living in Africa or are part of the Diaspora.
Also unknown to white men are the unmediated voices of women living in Greater Asia, including India and the Middle East, as well as women from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. White men need to learn to listen to all women of color, including the Aboriginal women of Australia and New Zealand. White men need to learn to listen to the women of Indigenous civilizations worldwide, who struggle to uncolonize their land, people, and bodies from the savage ravages of white male supremacy.
Pop quiz: name two radical Black women not already named above. Now name two allegedly radical white/European/U.S. men.
White men know our history well (we wrote the books, after all, from our perspective). We banish anyone else’s history, calling it invalid, biased, or unscientific. We, white men, do not take the time to seek out the knowledge and truths that threaten to decenter and destabilize us, let alone wrest unjust power from our blood-stained fists. Listen carefully to what any Radical Feminist has to say about reality. Listen especially attentively and with unusual humility to Radical Black Feminists. They know far more than any white man ever will (or will publicly admit to knowing), about how white male supremacy works, and who suffers under it.
White men, please, in the meantime, tell the truth about what we have done and are doing to maintain white male supremacy. Do not leave it to women of color to do that work for us too. They have their own humanitarian work to do, and it is called surviving our understanding of reality, which has become the social world they must negotiate, or else.
Break the bonds of the white supremacist brotherhood. Politically, and radically, betray every white man you know who values the well-being of his white brothers over his Black sisters and other sisters of color. Understand: this betrayal is a tremendous act of love. Stop apologizing for and excusing white men’s oppressive behavior. Nurture a conscience and a heart that sees all people as people. Actively support and be accountable to those we oppress who are working to sustain dignity and to institutionalize justice infused with empathy for humans raped, sold, enslaved, starved, and silenced. In these acts of compassionate rebellion, we will be nurturing, with the rest of humanity, societies free of organized, systematic harm, as communities of color self-direct their liberation from white male supremacy.
Copyright 2006, 2008, by Julian Real. All Rights Reserved.