This past weekend, I put work aside for a few days, and I started Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. In some ways it is a surprisingly gentle book, acknowledging that we were all born into this and it is never too late to start working to make the world more just. At the same time, it is not a book that is going to let you sit back and nod and tell yourself it’s addressed to other white people. You have to do the work that Saad leads you to do through 28 days of journaling prompts.
It’s pretty powerful, painful, and amazing. She says that because the work is emotional and hard and no one is giving you an “ally” prize at the end of it, sometimes it helps to do it in groups. Those groups are ideally non-Black people, since we should NOT rely on Black people to be our emotional labor as we unpack our roles in a white supremacist system. We’ve got a lot of non-Black women in this community who seem to be looking for ways to become more anti-racists. (I know because hundreds of you have signed up for this event or this one or this one.) So if you’d like to do it with me, I have a thread about that today.
This book, of course, could not be more timely, but one thing struck me as almost anachronistic about it in 2020: Its use of the phrase “white supremacy” not to describe a group of people in white hoods, but the entire system that we all live in and have been conditioned by or victimized by. A system that many of us are uncomfortably complicit in.
Saad beautifully breaks down a definition of white supremacist that you did not hear much in mainstream media a few years ago, but most of us have fully accepted and internalized after more than a week of protests. I feel like no one has to defend the broader definition of white supremacy anymore.
It reminds me of the evolution of how we use the word “patriarchy.” Pre-2018, referring to the patriarchy made you seem like an unhinged feminist. Today, most of us get that the world is not a gender meritocracy, and there is a general organizing system of society that tilts the world against women. The wrinkle with the patriarchy of course is that white women have a valued—if unequal—role in it. But accepting that deal comes at a cost of making us complicit in the system.
That’s where benevolent sexism creeps in, and that’s where an examination of the intersection of the patriarchy and white supremacy is so important for white women to unpack. The same forces of benevolent sexism that encourage us to turn our backs on other women, act as apologist “cool girls,” or focus only on making it ourselves by acting like “one of the guys,” are also the forces that lynched and murdered untold numbers of Black men in the name of the “purity” of white women while white women did nothing to stop it. I am only beginning to unpack this and my role in it, and one of my next reads is They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Would anyone like to do to Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” challenge with me?
- How do you know a statement from a company about Black Lives Matter is more than marketing?
- I’ll match your donation—let’s work on lasting change together