I grew up in a family that moved north from Mississippi to Chicago during the Great Migration — the relocation from 1916 to 1970 of African Americans from the rural South to cities of the North, Midwest and West. My family was one of the more than 6 million who moved away from blatant racism and the night rides of the Ku Klux Klan. A tool of white supremacy is violence.
White supremacy continues today in the shooting of unarmed citizens. A very long list of Black and Brown women, men, boys, girls and non-binary people have been killed in the custody of law enforcement. The connecting thread being that officers stated they feared for their lives as a defense for using deadly force.
Where does that fear come from? Even when police officers in Minneapolis were approached by a white woman in pajamas they were startled. White supremacy operates in the bodies of black and brown people, too. It is anchored in a system that mandates fear and deadly force against the unknown darkness.
The Las Vegas shooting in October 2017 has been described with the “lone wolf” theory. The idea is that this person worked completely alone and his actions were unconnected to others who perpetrated a similar crime. However, this should not be the case — we must connect the dots. The lone wolf theory excuses the collective body of white men who perpetrate mass shootings.
Each of these incidents must include the history of mass killings in the United States. There has been a long line of state-sanctioned violence that pushes the agenda of white supremacy.
The massacre of indigenous people at Wounded Knee happened on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1890. An estimated 300 men, women and children were killed. The massacre was the response to an uprising of the indigenous people who asked that the U.S. government honor the treaties and stop continued encroachment on Indian land. When Native people refused to give up their land, and the U.S. refused to hold up the treaty, the solution was to extinguish the indigenous community.
In Oklahoma, the Tulsa race riot began Memorial Day weekend in 1921. A young black man was accused of raping a young white female. A white mob formed and attacked residents and businesses of the African American Community, then known as the Black Wall Street, which was left in ruins. Close to 300 people died.
Unfortunately, these are not incidents that are merely in our past. The rally violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past August is a stark reminder that white supremacy is with us still and violence will continue to be used to assert power.
It is tempting to blame specific individuals for white supremacy. Yet white supremacy is not about individuals per se — it is the lens through which decisions are made.
White supremacy is a system. It is a set of circumstances that is oppressive against anyone that seeks to resist it. You do not have to be black to experience white supremacy. Whether it is due to fear or anger or isolation, white supremacy is the weapon of choice that has taught us to take life.
The only solution I see is for white progressive liberals to commit to the ending of all forms of oppression, starting with learning all they can about how to unlearn white supremacy.