The System of Supremacy
A couple of weeks ago there was construction going on at my bus stop. The sidewalk was blocked off completely requiring pedestrians to walk around the other side of the bus stop. It was an inconvenience of a few feet. Waiting for my bus I saw numerous people walk around the construction with no problems. After all, you could see the construction from a block away and the solution was fairly obvious—walk around. Then two white men in suits (I was in the financial district) got to the blocked sidewalk. They came to a full stop in front of the construction tape. Their conversation abruptly cut off and they turned to each other with blank looks. It was as if they couldn’t believe something could be in their way and they had to mentally regroup before they could problem solve. They didn’t seem angry—just baffled. After a moment of looking around they were able to figure out how to tackle this barrier and followed everyone else around it.
Now before someone “not-all-men’s”* me, I am aware that these two dopes do not fully represent white men. But this display reminded me of the reality that white men, particularly educated upper class white men have fewer opportunities to problem solve than women and minorities. They face fewer barriers throughout the course of their lives and so have had fewer chances to develop skills for overcoming barriers—they don’t get to practice going around as often.
This is not white men’s fault—at least not in the individual sense. It is collectively the fault of white men, white women, black men and any other group propping up white supremacy and the patriarchy. White supremacy and patriarchy go hand in hand. They are so intertwined that they cannot be considered separately. For simplicity, in this blog, I’ll refer to the two of them combined as “supremacy.” Supremacy has been part of the fabric of western society for thousands of years. The racial aspect of it is younger than the sexual aspect which has been the bedrock of all major societies in recorded history. Because of imperialism and colonialism, supremacy now has its hooks in nearly every country in the world in one way or another.
Thinking about supremacy as a force on all people is a complicated exercise. People are both victims and perpetrators of this system. White women benefit from the racial aspects of supremacy while suffering from the sexual aspects of it. Similarly, men of color, particularly black men, benefit from the sexual aspects of supremacy while being significantly disadvantaged by the racial aspects of it. White women and men of color have continually propped up the system in order to continue to gain the benefits while ignoring the fact that they are also propping up the system that harms them. Both groups are deluded into thinking that they can oppose one aspect and not the other. White men prop up supremacy because they benefit across the board without recognizing the ways in which these benefits limit their emotional freedom and development—they both profit from supremacy and are bound by it. Women of color, particularly black women in the United States, are getting screwed by both sides of the system which is why you see them on the front lines of every social justice movement in U.S. history.
White boys in the United States are raised to believe certain things. This is true no matter how enlightened a family they come from. They are taught from a very young age that they can be whatever they want—and I don’t mean that their parents give them encouragement. I mean that they see white men in all the most desirable jobs. They see older versions of themselves as doctors, lawyers, politicians, entertainers, engineers, scientists, writers, academics, bosses, freelancers, everything. The pictures in children’s books are of white boys and men having adventures and succeeding. The stories are about them. These lessons, learned without effort, give white men a sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to a good life where they are satisfied in their work and things work out for them in whatever way they desire. This is what I mean when I say “the system.” It is not an individual white man sitting his white son down and saying, “You can have whatever you want. That’s the way the world is. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.” But that is the message the little boy gets when he looks around and sees people like him succeeding with a medium amount of effort. It teaches him that medium effort is all that is required to get a good life. When he sees people without a good life he thinks they must not have even put in that medium effort. Here is where individual responsibility comes in.
The individual is responsible for taking the time to find out how the world works for people who are not like them. The individual is responsible for noticing that if all the google images of doctors look like them then it means that there are a lot of people who don’t see themselves in these images. The individual is responsible for realizing that when this happens over and over in a person’s life it begins to impact their interactions in the world. The individual is responsible for understanding that while they have received the message that they can be anything, others have been given the message that they can only be a few things. The individual is responsible for examining the system and recognizing the ways in which they support supremacy. Then the individual is responsible for changing.
*”not all men” is a common cry from men, particularly on the internet where they feel safe in their anonymity, when women make general criticisms of men. This was seen a lot in response to #MeToo. Instead of listening to women explaining a common experience that we have, these men would invalidate our experiences by insisting that not all men behave in this way.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist