Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yes, White People, You Benefit From White Supremacy and Slavery

EDIT: I changed the title of this slightly because upon seeing it pop up as a "popular post of the week" link I realized the titling and wording assumed that all people who read this blog are white.  It was written as a tool for me to directly hand to other white people to avoid having to repeat myself over and over again.  The rest of the article is unchanged.

I'm really sick of people clogging my Facebook feed with stuff about how they shouldn't be punished for what their ancestors did 150 years ago.  Paula Deen apparently has that effect on people.   "Rah rah I'm white and I never owned slaves blah blah my ancestors bleh."  OK, listen.  I get that you don't think that slavery is your issue because you never owned slaves and didn't fight for the Confederacy in the United States Civil War.  Hell, maybe your family didn't even come here until after.  The majority of my own family--if not my entire family--arrived here after 1865.

It makes no difference that exactly zero of my blood relatives were engaged in chattel slavery.  I still benefit from white supremacy--and yes, slavery--every day, both as a white person and as a consumer in a first world country.

There are two overarching reasons for that which are different but in many ways connected.  And although it's obvious, I should probably state that I am specifically referring to my white friends who keep posting bullshit like what I detailed above:

1. The United States is still a fundamentally white supremacist nation, as are many nations like it.

Things didn't suddenly get all peachy keen after slavery was made illegal.  Ever since then white people have constantly attempted to find legal loopholes allowing us to disenfranchise people of color and fought any attempt to mitigate the disadvantages a legacy of slavery has subjected them to.  Debt slavery by prior owners, Jim Crow laws, denial of access to education and work, and inability to vote are all directly related to slavery and enduring racism; and lots of it still happens today.

Efforts to mitigate this legacy are consistently ranted about and fought by people comfortable with white supremacy and even praised by society as fighting for "fairness."  Look at Abigail Fisher, who didn't get into the University of Texas because she was an average student by UT standards who decided to create a national debate because she assumed "her" spot was "erroneously" taken by a minority student.  This is a woman who went on to go to a good school and get a good job who is whining because she has different "networking opportunities."  The fact that she can actually make this case and have hundreds of Americans pity her is not only her benefiting from white supremacy... it is an offshoot of the benefits we all get as white people.  It means that you and I can all fall back on claiming a minority got an educational opportunity or a job that we totally deserved and practically never get called out for it.  People will probably even listen to you and sympathize with you even though you just said something ridiculously and unquestionably racist.

The section of the voting rights act that was struck down by the Supreme Court mere days ago?  Directly related to white supremacy.  And as soon as this happened Texas legislators began the push to implement a voter district map that was struck down in 2011 because it slashes and undermines minority votes.  Saying "Oh, it's only Texas, we expect that from them!" is remarkably foolish: In 2006 I did a get-out-the-vote in Wisconsin and found that people in largely black communities didn't even know there was an election, while people in largely white communities screamed their heads off at me because they felt "harassed" by people telling them to vote.  We live in a country, in short, where white people feel harassed because people want them to exercise a constitutional right without even realizing that communities of color are being entirely ignored by people who don't give a fuck about their votes.  Your vote counts more.  You benefit from white supremacy.

Those few times in your life when you are not given an advantage--whether it's through affirmative action, safe spaces for people of color, or simply letting other peoples' issues shine for once--are not somehow you being punished for your ancestors.  That's just how it feels when you are ignorant of how much you benefit from racism only to have that benefit temporarily taken away or mitigated... and you know what?  You still benefit from it.  You are crying over nothing.  Stop it.

2. Slavery still exists, and you benefit from that, too.

If you are reading this, you have benefited from slavery; the electronics industry is so pervaded with slave labor that it's practically impossible to own a piece of electronic equipment that hasn't been touched by slaves.  Unless you are buying nothing or buying absolutely everything fair trade--and even then it's not a 100% guarantee that label means anything--you are regularly using goods that have been created by slavery.

That benefits you.  It means you get to buy things for significantly cheaper than the labor and materials are actually worth.  It means you can eat fresh vegetables out of season.  It means you can eat complicated-to-produce luxury goods for cheap.  It means you can get all sentimental over diamonds and rubies and gold.

In school my Ethics teacher and Economics teacher were the same person.  Picture a person who in Ethics class would talk about slavery as an unquestionably bad thing... who in Economics class would go on gushing rants about how awesome it is that we can get cheap goods from other countries.  Think about that disconnect, that ignorance, and then apply it to damned near everybody.



So yes, even if you aren't a literal slave driver, even if your relatives weren't literal slave drivers, you benefit from slavery, both past and present. You are a part of that legacy.  And as such, you--and all of us--are responsible for it.