Being informed is an important part of breaking white silence. We hope this page helps you speak up when you hear common talking-points. This page is a work in progress that we will continue adding to so if you have ideas to contribute, then that is a great way to get involved in SURJ!
Resources for Kids & Families [PDFs]
What do we mean when we talk about 'whiteness'? Do we just mean 'white people'? Actually, no. Not always. But oftentimes, yes. Whiteness refers to the foundation of racial categorization and racism - a social construction of privileges and power given to people who are perceived to be white. Whiteness is constructed as social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour that is constantly shifting, and can envelope different people at different times, even people who have not always been considered white (see Model Minority Myth). For more on how whiteness is constructed and its key features, check out this resource: http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness
When we talk about whiteness and dismantling whiteness and white supremacy, are we saying that is it 'bad' to be white? Or that anyone should feel guilty about being white? NO! What we are talking about is understanding that whiteness - its history, its norms, and its violence. We are talking about the legacy of violence that is associated with a society that has privileged white people at every conceivable turn, and actively been violent toward groups of people who were not seen as white or who still are not. We are encouraging of white people to take on the responsibility of building a better and more equitable for ALL people, because it will only be through our collective liberation that we can all be free. When the most marginalized people in our society have what they need, we will ALL have what we need!
When we think of white supremacy, the first thing that may come to mind are white hoods or white power Nazi salutes. These are clearly overt symbols of white supremacy in one of its most violent forms. However, when we refer to white supremacy in the context of racial justice, we are also referring to the overarching system of political, legal, economic, and cultural institutions that structure Western society - institutions which privilege and standardize whiteness (see Whiteness) above all else.
We believe it is important to use the term "white supremacy culture" because the norms, values, and beliefs that our culture reproduces act to reinforce the belief that "white" and people attached to "whiteness" are better, smarter, more beautiful, and more valuable than "black," or people and communities indigenous to this land, brought here for the purpose of enslavement, or immigrating here from Asia, India, or south of our border. We think it is important to name what is really happening, which is that we live in a culture that reproduces -- sometimes overtly and sometimes very subtly -- the idea that white is supreme. Those of us who live in this culture, including those of us who fight against racism, swim in this culture (like the fish in the illustration above) and unintentionally and unwittingly reproduce these norms, values, and beliefs.
Andrea Smith - "Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy" (2006)
Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun - "Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture" (2001)
Over and Covert White Supremacy Culture Pyramid (US-focussed):
White is often considered the ‘default’ without being explicitly mentioned. This means white people can get defensive when someone ‘brings race into it’ by even saying the word. Due to the fact that white people are often so shielded from race-based stress, 'white fragility' refers to the intense stress reaction that occurs when racism or white supremacy are brought up as factors. The concept of ‘white fragility’ was coined by Robin DiAngelo who has lots of resources on her website here. Additionally, she writes about why it is so hard to talk to white people about race in this article.
DiAngelo points to ways to combat white fragility, including:
Being willing to tolerate the discomfort associated with an honest appraisal and discussion of our internalized superiority and racial privilege.
Challenging our own racial reality by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race.
Attempting to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or unequal relationships.
Taking action to address our own racism, the racism of other whites, and the racism embedded in our institutions—e.g., get educated and act.
It is not necessarily a privilege to be white, but it certainly has its benefits. That’s why so many families gave up their unique histories, primary languages, accents, distinctive dress, family names, and cultural expressions. Sometimes, giving these up was enforced by immigration officials in Canada, Britain, or the U.S. For some white people, giving these up seemed like a small price to pay for acceptance in the circle of whiteness. Even with these sacrifices, it wasn’t easy to pass as white if we were Italian, Greek, Irish, Jewish, Spanish, Hungarian or Polish. Sometimes it took generations before our families were fully accepted as white, and then it was usually because white society had an even greater fear of darker-skinned people.
Privileges - Privileges are the economic extras that those of us who are middle-class and wealthy gain at the expense of poor and working class people of all races.
Benefits - Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages that all white people gain at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour regardless of economic position. Talking about racial benefits can ring false to many of us who don’t have the economic privileges that we see others in this society enjoying. But though we don’t have substantial economic privileges, we do enjoy many of the benefits of being white.
Classic article by Peggy McIntosh on Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege
White people can generally count on police protection rather than harassment. White people can be expected to be depicted as deserving sympathy within the media, even when being perpetrators of a crime. Depending on financial situation, white people can choose where to live and choose "safer" neighbourhoods with better schools. White people have been able to settle in Canada from all over the world, and never confined to reserves. White people don’t have to represent all white people, and nothing that white people do is judged as a credit to the entire racial group or as confirmation of its shortcomings or inferiority.
Model Minority Myth
The model minority myth refers to the idea that systemic racism does not exist, or that it no longer exists due to examples of racialized people who are 'doing fine'. Examples often include Black athletes or entertainers, or the election of President Barack Obama in the United States. The problem with this myth is that it is often used to silence those who speak out against systemic racism. It ignores histories of racialized people being brought into whiteness and pushed away from whiteness, depending on the needs of of ruling elites needs at any given moment in history. It also ignores current overall racial disparities in economic and political power between white and non-white populations. You can find out about some of the history and problems with it here [PDF]
What does prison abolition have to do with anti-racism? Although it can be tough to believe, the institutions of policing and prison are inherently racist because the historical origins of these institutions are tied in with the enslavement of people of African descent and Indigenous people, as well as colonization and Indigenous land dispossession. Even in Canada today, Indigenous and Black people are disproportionately policed, arrested, and incarcerated. We cannot be against racism without being for prison abolition. Abolishing prisons can seem like a 'pie-in-sky' idea, but here is a comic strip that summarizes some basic arguments that show how prison abolition is about building support structures not tearing things down (click through to read):
Acknowledging that as white people we live on stolen Indigenous land is an integral part of anti-racism, but this work must go beyond simple recognition and towards supporting Indigenous sovereignty over land and individual nations. Further, work must be done to give back the land. A huge reason why settlers and other migrants have been able to succeed in Canada as a "land of opportunity" is because Indigenous people were forcibly dispossessed of their land, and confined to small reserves. A great primer for Indigenous issues in Canada is Chelsea Vowel's Indigenous Writes.
Native-Land.ca - A great tool for seeing whose land you are on and what treaties apply to the land
Whose Land? - Another great tool for exploring the traditional stewards and caretakers of the land you occupy
Dodem Kanonhsa’ - DODEM KANONHSA’ Elder’s Cultural Facility is a learning and sharing facility which fosters greater acceptance, understanding and harmony between members of First Nations and Non-Aboriginal People. DODEM is Anishinabem (Ojibwe) meaning ‘clan’ and KANONHSA is Kenienkaha (Mohawk) meaning ‘lodge’, and is transcribed in cree syllabics
Decolonizing Together - Harsha Walia's article on moving beyond a politics of solidarity toward a practice of decolonization
Architect of Apartheid - A comprehensive resource on the apartheid system between Indigenous people in Canada and settlers, and the way it has been a model for apartheid in Palestine-Israel
Accomplices Not Allies - On allyship and its limitations in working toward decolonization