The key to ending racism lies in ending White supremacy. In America, racism literally IS White supremacy. Today, we’re going to discuss a little about how White supremacy started and how you, as a White person, are in the perfect position to help end it once and for all!
The Real Social Construct
You’ll often hear people say that race is a social construct… that we all bleed red and are essentially the same when you move past minor physical differences. This is true, but there’s so much more to it. See, it’s actually White people who were socially constructed in order to create a racial caste system in America.
It’s ironic that right now in Virginia the nation is watching White supremacy fight for its survival. Ironic, because Virginia is where this whole story of White people and our racial caste system begins.
Here’s the short version…
At this country’s genesis, Whites and Blacks had the same legal rights and worked side by side as indentured servants. This was not the least bit abnormal since in Europe and elsewhere, Blacks and Whites lived, worked and sometimes even intermarried with race not being the huge issue it is today. This is not to say that everyone was colorblind then or that people lived in some blended utopia– yes, there were people who disliked each other, individually. And most people lived close to those who looked like them– but race wasn’t a dealbreaker for most everyday folk, nor was it something people thought should divide people the way that it does today. Europeans didn’t even think themselves “White” but, instead, referred to themselves as English, French, German, Spanish or something relating to wherever they were born.
Working hands were desperately needed to cultivate land in the New World, so wealthy landowners hired indentured servants. These souls willfully entered into contracts stating they’d work for a set period of time in exchange for passage to the New World, food, shelter and land when their servitude was completed. Indentured servants had rights under the law and children born to indentured servants were free. Some children, however, including Abraham Lincoln, were given to servitude in order to earn money or help pay off family debts and some adults were assigned to servitude in order to pay restitution for crimes committed. For the most part, however, servitude was voluntary for Whites AND Blacks. (Even the 20 Africans acquired in 1619 after a battle between the Dutch and their original Spanish captors were originally traded as indentured servants to colonists.)
Frontier life was rough and women were scarce. When English women in the Virginia colony began taking up with Black and Native American men, English men were threatened by this. In an effort to eliminate the competition, several laws were enacted which punished English women for relationships with non-European men. A woman violating these laws could be sent back to England or she could be forced into servitude.
It should be noted that, despite the growing racialized concerns, these women were still classified as “English” and not yet referred to as White.
The Creation of White People
Disappointed with the land they were being given after servitude and frustrated by ongoing disputes with nearby native tribes caused the working class to participate in the upheaval most of us learned about in grade school known as Bacon’s Rebellion. In this uprising, European and Black servants united against wealthy landowners to demand their just due. Once that rebellion died down (remember, I’m giving you a condensed version here), the wealthy elite (aka the 1%) decided to permanently separate the working class in a number of ways.
And Here’s Where White People Entered America…
In order to keep Blacks and Europeans from ever uniting to oppose the 1% again, “White people” became a new legal and social class. No longer were Europeans merely referred to as English or French or Spanish, but they were all now labeled as “White people” and White people were awarded privileges that Blacks simply did not get. In fact, Blacks were further subjugated in that all of their rights were immediately and permanently taken away. For example, from that point on Whites were the only ones allowed to own land, White indentured servants were the only ones freed at the end of their contracts, White children born to indentured servants were born free, Whites could sue in court and so on. Conversely, Blacks were no longer indentured servants, but were permanent slaves; Blacks could not own land and most could never become free. Black children were born into permanent slavery and Blacks could not sue in court. The list goes on, but it suffices to say that all rights were taken from Black servants at the same time that all privilege was given to Whites.
White indentured servants were still dirt poor and were still treated unfairly by the wealthy elite, but their new status as “White people” (and those who were automatically esteemed over enslaved Blacks) pacified them. No longer would the proletariat class be able to come together to oppose the 1%. The plan to divide and conquer worked perfectly and is still in motion in many ways today!
But My Ancestors Never Owned Slaves!
These poor, but newly minted “White people” were also handed a brand new income opportunity. No, they didn’t own slaves and couldn’t afford to purchase a person even if they wanted to. Besides, with very little land of their own to maintain, there was no need for them to spend hard-to-come-by money on purchasing a person to work it. Where they could earn money, though, was by joining slave patrols. Hunting, capturing and returning runaways was a legit revenue stream and most poor White men (and even a few women) were more than happy to sign up to hunt Black people.
Today, certain White people with roots in the colonial era love to rattle on about how their ancestors didn’t own slaves. What they fail to mention, however, is that their great great grandparents, aunts and uncles may have very likely worked on these patrols or even hunted Black people individually in hopes of a reward. This terrible practice not only condoned and supported slavery, but it made the divide between poor Whites and Blacks even wider and makes those ancestors just as complicit in the institution of slavery as the wealthy landowners who paid the bounties.
Racism between White and Black people snowballed from these key moments in history. So, when people say that racism is nothing more than a social construct, they are right. It was constructed, however, around the designation of “White people” and strengthened by the gifting of “White privilege”. If we are ever to get rid of racism in America, it’s necessary to get rid of “White people” and “White privilege”. White supremacy, after all, is literally at the root of all racism.
“White People Must Dismantle White Supremacy”
Black people and no one else can get rid of the divisive nature of the label “White people”, so it is up to YOU to do so!
How? Stick around and we’ll cover that in more detail in another post. For starters, though, you’ve got to denounce White supremacy. You do this by refusing to ignore it or keep quiet about it. There’s a good likelihood that you’re unable to see it in all its glory, so you’ve also got to explore the system and study it very closely. You’ve also got to examine yourself, your life and the people around you to begin to understand how it works in your favor.
You may also want to consider not calling yourself White and ask others not to do so, either. While doing so doesn’t automatically end White supremacy, it is a way to constantly remind yourself and others about the history being perpetuated each time you identify as White. It is a way to recognize the division and begin working to eliminate it. It also stops others in their tracks (when you correct them) and opens the opportunity for conversation where, hopefully, you can explain the historical context of whiteness and why you want to disassociate yourself with this social construct. Don’t worry about what Black people and others call themselves. Your concern is with the person in the mirror and ONLY that person!
In denouncing White supremacy and rejecting the White label, be careful not to take a colorblind approach to racism and White supremacy though. People who “don’t see color” are typically the ones content to ignore the racial injustices that Black people and others face on a daily basis. Your job, however, is to become extremely color conscious, but in a good way. To become conscious to the point that you can actually see the many facets of White supremacy and how it is used to oppress Black people in America… and work to stop it once and for all!
A great book for you to read this week is Debby Irving’s quite raw and transparent book titled, Waking Up White: and Finding Myself In the Story of Race.
Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are!
If you are White and you are reading this know that, no matter how unqualified you may feel right now, you are an integral part of the solution. It all begins with a willingness to make change happen. That you’re here and you’re listening is a good start.
White voices are desperately needed. Voices willing to draw a line in the sand and say, “It stops here. Today!” Voices that may shake and squeak, but voices that will stay the course and become stronger and stronger.
Tell us what you think about the creation of White people. Does this history help you better view the problems at hand? Do you have questions or anything to add? If so, please take a moment to comment below.
And if you’d like to learn more about the historical events discussed here, check these very important videos out:
“The Invention Of The White Race” by Theodore W. Allen. Presentation by Jeffrey B. Perry
Birth of a White Supremacist Nation with Dr. Jacqueline Battalora