I’m a White Supremacist and So Are You (A Mixed Girl’s Story of Recovering from Self-Hate and Unchecked Prejudice)
I don’t remember a time in my childhood when my parents called me Black.
Maybe due to my own denial, cognitive dissonance, or a creative combination of the two in the years following, but I don’t remember having that message delivered to me as a fact that I must understand about myself. I know that I was different from my white friends, and I knew they were white, but my idea of my difference was never labeled “Black.” (Though I do remember an early childhood poem of mine called “The Little Grey Girl.”)
But when anyone asks me about my race, the question is skirted and is subconsciously — but carefully — edited, as if they care about things like “where are you from?” or “where are your parents from?”
I know this because I answer the question that they ask. “Wisconsin” does not suffice for those curious of my origin.
Wisconsin is not an acceptable place of origin for a very tall, heavily tattooed light-skinned Black woman.
This is what they taught me. Their eyes pass through me, looking for what I imagine to be the crack in my façade of racial ambiguity to pinpoint how they ought to treat me. What they can say around me without judgement? What jokes can they make without having to look over their shoulder for someone who might be offended? For it’s obvious that since I’m in their company, speaking and carrying myself the way that I do, that I am “cool,” or, “one of the good ones” who will let them be themselves. Surely I’ll know they’re not racist, right? In the time of theatrical allyship, how can I validate them in their woke-ness? How can they use me to make them look and feel less guilty?
After thirty-some years of being asked these questions, I know where it goes from here, I know the pause and discomfort, the stammering and the frustration that grows from having to get closer to the truth in their intentions. I know it personally because it would be dishonest for me to speak of these people as if I have not been one of them. You know it personally because it would be dishonest for you to hear of these people as if you have not been one of them.
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We ought to be polite. We’re not racist so we don’t ever speak about race.
We don’t see someone’s race as a definition of their humanity. We don’t have any prejudices. We are just curious, as if it’s a point of easy conversation for all of us and not a crippling tongue twister for anyone who needs to explain themselves further and further when they don’t fit into your concept of how a certain race or culture looks and acts. The real question is uncomfortable:
What are you?
So I answer their question:
My mom is black and my dad is white. My sisters and I are mixed, black and white. My parents have been married for nearly 40 years. I grew up in a rural town in Wisconsin of under 10,000 people. Predominantly white.
No I do not play sports but I go jogging, I do yoga, and my favorite bands in high school were Alien Ant Farm, Arctic Monkeys, Matchbox 20, and Modest Mouse.
This is my resume of comfortable dilution that I have used to identify me to the white people I meet. This was my way of saying “you can trust me.” I dedicated my life to changing and molding the person you see before you today into an acceptable form of digestible “color” for white people to love, because they were the ones I silently wished to be.
Not a Black person or a mixed person, but a person like everyone else.
I resent but must admit the relief that I felt being called “one of the good ones.” From laughing along with the white girls coming home from vacation holding their arms up to mine saying “I’m blacker than you!,” to agreeing with the white roommate who listened only to rap music and watched basketball saying “I’m blacker than you,” to quickly forgiving the white girl who called the men who stole from her “niggers,” when — at my protest — laughed and said
“Oh my god Elyse, I’m not talking about you, you’re one of the good ones. You’re like, not even Black.”
These were the people I wanted to love me. These were the people I loved and I could not see their faults for their supremacy over me, so I took their definitions of my blackness as truth. I swallowed the bitter pills as they were handed to me and believed they were making me a better mixed girl. This is what they taught me. This is what I believed.
While I may not have been able to identify it, I believe I have always understood my blackness to be a kind of weapon; a power greater than myself that I had no idea how to harness or properly use and, over time, grew to resent for fear of intimidating those I wished might accept me as no different than them. But this rifle of blackness could not be concealed. It was much too big, much to conspicuous to be denied or sheathed under the cloud of whiteness that thinly veiled its true power. This subtle denying of my ability to operate my weapon, or rather more like showing that the safety was on and it was not loaded, became who I believed myself to be. Non-violent, defenseless, and disarmed for your pleasure.
This is not only how I entered white crowds, but how I excluded myself from Black ones. It is with an immeasurable difficulty that I address the feeling that burns in my cheeks and deep belly of utter mortification that arises when I am in the company of other Black people. Shame is not deep enough. It is important for me to locate this feeling in my body and to listen to the whispers in my mind that cry out when I am uncomfortable because often the first thought I have is that something is wrong with “them.” I point outward first to blame before really looking inward to the true definition of the feeling I am having. I am quick to say “they” exclude me, “they” look down and judge me, “they” don’t see me as being enough of something in order to be welcomed or heard or accepted. When in reality, the looping inner record of my inherited and learned shame created a lens for me upon all Black faces that portrayed their blackness as powerful, automatic, loaded, and pointed directly at me as their traitor.
I have been rejected and judged and looked down upon by white people all my life and have fought tooth and nail to change myself to fit in with them, while separating myself from Black people and my own blackness for my fear of their having done the same.
This is prejudice. This is MY prejudice.
As a nation we have followed a well worn path from ignorance, to self-awareness, to self-judgement, self-pity, to resentment throughout all of our social progression. (Read that again.) Wherever one side has to admit they were wrong, we have not asked to be shown a new right path. We fear and defend;
we compromise without ever admitting we were wrong in the first place or taking responsibility for our own faults.
This path is a familiar one to anyone who has attempted to manufacture a solution to a problem out of their own limited understanding and perspective. An alcoholic who has tried setting down his glass who still occupies his time in bars, a gambler who leaves his wallet at home on his way to the casino, a man who has been accused of sexual harassment choosing not to speak to any of the women in his office, a political activist who chooses not to vote, a woman accused of racism who then devoted her free-time to creating a social media image of herself as “woke” who refuses to develop relationships with people of color — each of these people understands this same path quite well. While removing what they (and often others) believe to be the source of their discomfort, they only develop resentment through self-victimization and a limited understanding of their capacity to truly evolve and allow the possibility of an entirely different perspective. This is not change.
I am beginning a journey into that of myself which has laid hidden under decades of misinformation, neglect, fear, and denial that was not placed by any but my own hands, yet for which I am now understanding was not the fault of only myself or any other individuals. Though fault and blame are not mine to carry, it is my responsibility to keep from letting it grow or passing it on.
These deep personal injuries to myself as an individual, including those self-inflicted, must be seen, cleaned, and treated before I might go on to pronounce myself a fully recovered survivor of this insidious disease we all carry: systemic and internalized misogynistic white supremacy.
So with this, I am using my God-given gifts to set an example of what change can look like. I stand before you today in honesty and humility, facing a fear that sought to kill me, and I welcome you to take your own responsibility. To shine the light into your own shame and thoughtless internalized prejudices.
What does your white supremacy look like?
White supremacy is not men on horses with hoods anymore, it’s the feeling you get when someone suggests you are racist. It’s the anger you feel at being called out for insensitivity. It’s the desire to point a finger at someone for transgressions you won’t admit you have been guilty of, too. It’s the actions you wish someone else would take for the betterment of the illusion of a lesser man. It’s a deep part of each and every one of us in one way or another for the simple fact that we are American. It is quiet. It speaks to us in our own voices.
If what we truly want is change, we must first know where our enemy lives, and face the fear that it may lie in our own reflections in the mirror. If we are to rid ourselves of the enemy of prejudice, within ourselves is the first place we must find it.