White supremacy acculturation: owning it

This post is intended as a glimpse into dismantling white supremacy acculturation, and the discomfort that process requires.

If the term white supremacy is reserved for those individuals and groups who display repulsive racist views, what term is used to identify the effects of white supremacy acculturation on the rest of us? Why do we think that it’s possible to be raised in a white supremacist society, and not be influenced by that culture? The practice of denying vocabulary to define our white supremacy acculturation conceals its pervasive existence, as well as its effects.

The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Robert Persig

Denial of my own white supremacy acculturation did more than entrench and protect it, it made me complicit. The blind acceptance of my white privilege wasn’t canceled out through the public practice of indignation at overtly white supremacist acts I had witnessed, over there. Instead, my singular focus on overt white supremacist’s acts and speech served as a diversionary tactic, providing distance from my own awful truth.

We always condemn most in others …that which we most fear in ourselves. Robert Persig

Racist acts and speech are despicable. Some people hold so much hate in their hearts that it spills out everywhere they go. Solely positioning my focus on the hardened hearts of overt racists, however, provided a comfortable illusion that I had acquired no effects from supremacy acculturation. Searching through the stories of my life provided answers as to how I had been acculturated to blindly accept my role in a white supremacist society.

A common practice in the 60’s at my all white Catholic elementary school was to save our pennies, bring them to our classroom, and pool our meager resources together to adopt, what was officially called, a ‘pagan baby.’ This behavior was normalized through official looking paper adoption certificates which were displayed in a neat row above the chalkboard. Each certificate represented an Asian, African, or Indian baby we had paid for. Students were encouraged to take pride in the growing number of our pagan baby adoption certificates. I still recall the growing excitement in our classroom as we neared the designated purchase price for our next baby, as the prize for reaching our goal was the opportunity to name the baby.

This monetary practice of buying and naming ‘others’, served to teach little white children, like me, how to exert my supremacy – with care – over those we identified as ‘other’. While this exercise certainly didn’t teach us hate, these African, Asian, and Indian babies existed only in relation to our white experience. Why was it it necessary for our altruism to be a power-over white-centered exercise?

Since I can’t undo my past complicity, I continue to listen, learn, and reflect in the ongoing work to dismantle the effects of white supremacy acculturation.

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