I finally had to ask myself: what's going on with racism in the US--right now? Asking that question was like a secret password to unlocking the door to the US toolbox of social control. A whole world opened up to me. Organizations and movements I'd never hear of, a huge body of literature and analysis of race, its implications and power. People with vast wisdom and stories.

Fighting white supremacy from the inside

by Andrea del Moral, courtesy of ONWARD

For three weeks last spring and six weeks last summer (2002), the Active Solidarity Collective (ASC) brought workshops about white supremacy and tools for dismantling it to white groups of social justice activists across the East Coast, and bits of the Midwest and South. As a group of five anti-authoritarians with white skin privilege, we were asked along the way why we spend so much energy focused on only one aspect of a society that has so much else at the root, needing to be dug up. In addition to white privilege, we also have class privilege. Some of us have gender and sexuality privilege. About white supremacy, I am sometimes asked, “Do you see it as the central problem in our society, or is this a strategic project?” And how, one conversation continued, can this be part of the rest of your politics?

Each of us in ASC works on other aspects of transforming this society. We are engaged in struggles against sexism, agribusiness, the education system, prisons, war and trade agreements; we are sharing and learning organizing skills, building organizations, learning languages, making art, developing support systems to sustain our communities and families, we are studying life in all these endeavors. We are bombarded by the plethora of institutionalized oppressions that resonate through all of US society. So much it becomes tiring to say again and again: class, homophobia, ageism, racism, sexism, ableism, gender-binary system, religious oppression, ethnic oppression, sizeism, etc., etc., etc. I struggle with these, as my experiences have shown me that any oppression I don’t directly confront is bound to emerge. The momentum of society is strong. Divided and disempowered by these systems of oppression we are so small in contrast to its inertia. This doesn’t leave me hopeless. A people’s power is there to be had. We first must know what’s in our way.

In my few years of activism and organizing, and in my life at large, most of these systems of oppression have been pointed out to me. People articulate in what ways these injustices happen. They point to who and how and when. People work consciously to empower each other in contrast to these institutions, and as a result we are better organizers, more respectful individuals, and healthier, freer beings. Racism is a whole other story. I grew up learning that racism was officially over — civil rights movement fixed that. Meanwhile my experiences as a person with white privilege taught me otherwise. Without any explanation of my actual experiences, I, like many white people, grew into a confused understanding of racism.

Then in political settings, occasionally someone would point out the limitations of the white, mostly middle class people in the room and like a collective finger in the electric outlet, everyone would strongly react to the prospect of even thinking about racism. Another time, someone would comment on my own actions, and I finally had to ask myself: what’s going on with racism in the US–right now? Asking that question was like a secret password to unlocking the door to the US toolbox of social control. A whole world opened up to me. Organizations and movements I’d never hear of, a huge body of literature and analysis of race, its implications and power. People with vast wisdom and stories.

It isn’t that this is the only thing plaguing us. Dismantling white supremacy and the idea of race will not yield a free society. But without doing this, we will never be free either. White supremacy is not the only root, but it is a root, and a very deep, insidious, pervasive root, of US empire. This empire in which we live dominates people, land, and living things both beyond its borders and within. For anyone compelled to transform this place we live in, it’s necessary to understand the powerful role race and racism play in maintaining it.

In the Active Solidarity Collective workshops, I always say that white supremacy cannot be understood in isolation from other systems of oppression, that we must address them together. The first step to doing that is understanding each, one at a time. I constantly run into other oppressions when challenging white supremacy. This is inevitable, since all are part of the same logic of domination that upholds the US political empire. But we still focus momentarily (7 hours is quite momentary in contrast to a lifetime of struggle) on different aspects of this complex society, so we can then put the piece together. My aim is to be part of an intelligent, diverse, flexible movement that understands the struggles demanding my attention. I’m working on building blocks.

Ok, so we’re examining this system a piece at a time. Why white supremacy? Why this piece at this time? Because while I can’t quantify different oppressions, I can identify a couple that have so deeply shaped this nation that they practically define it. They need the most work because challenging them rocks the foundation of this country hardest. I know this because challenges are met by virulent repression. The US could possibly function without some forms of oppression. Sexism, ageism, we could likely do away with these and still live in a similar U.S. of A. But dismantle capitalism and white supremacy? Forget it. These two institutions are the US bedrock, and consequently, the driving force for much of the global grievances we struggle against.

You can speak critically of capitalism to a lot of people in this country and be met by mutual criticism and concern, if not always the same conclusions or ideas for change. White supremacy, on the other hand, raises hairs, body temperature, and voices even in rooms full of supposedly “radical” activists.

This phenomenon is what motivates me to create space amongst politically active folks with white skin privilege about the disempowering institution of white supremacy. This is not my only work, and I do not consider it the “most important” work. It is necessary work for all white people, because it is our oblivion that allows it to continue oppressing. Most directly, white supremacy oppresses people of color, but it also hurts people with white skin privilege, as it divides us from everyone else, fills us with fear and misunderstanding, and denies all of us our collective power. Our oblivion is assent. Our awakening is the first step to freedom for us all.