During my respite in August, I took the time to write an essay on claims about whiteness. I address whether or not white is necessary and whether or not white is sufficient for injustice.
The claim that all whites are racist is a claim that being white is sufficient for racism to occur. White is all that is needed. The claim that only whites are racist is a claim that white is necessary for racism to occur. The essay is a little long and detailed but I think the subject is important.
Injustice is a Human Problem
I argue injustice is a human problem and restricting the focus to whiteness is hurting the fight against injustice. I look forward to your reactions.
One of the illogical ideas I encounter from time to time is the assertion that being white is a sufficient condition for the problems of injustice. I have an example that clearly demonstrates the assertion is wrong. Something beneath whiteness is responsible for injustice.
The example occurred in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. In 1958, white servers at Docum Drugs in downtown Wichita would not serve Blacks at the lunch counter. A group of courageous young people successfully staged one of the first non-violent sit-ins. They set the stage for more well-known sit-ins throughout the South in subsequent years. Recently, on the Today show, Sheinelle Jones gave an excellent report of the courage and success of those young people.
During that same era, two miles west of downtown, at the Sim Park golf course, a cinderblock snack shack was located between the 9th hole and the 10th tee. At the shack, a white server not only did he serve Blacks, his favorite group to serve was a foursome of Black men who played once a week. He was always excited to see them because Linwood Sexton was one of the men. He had been a running back at Wichita State University and a pioneer in the integration of football in the Midwest. A special man of character, he befriended the skinny white kid who was the server.
I was the server. He was the first adult Black I had the privilege of knowing as a friend and I am grateful for his influence on my life. Not serving Blacks never once entered my mind.
Clearly, the color of the servers in the two situations was a constant. White was a constant and different actions occurred in the two situations.
The simplest example of the scientific method assumes— if you have two groups and they differ in only one variable then any difference in the outcome activities is caused by the variable. An important corollary is that constant conditions between the two groups cannot be responsible for differing results. From a scientific viewpoint, having white skin could not have caused the difference in service to Blacks.
Even skeptics about science should, by common sense and by logic, arrive at the same conclusion—since both servers were white the difference between serving and not serving could not logically be caused by skin color. Skin color is not a sufficient condition for the unjust behavior. Since both servers were white, something under the skin had to be responsible for the decision to serve or not serve. Under the skin is the problem leading to injustice not skin color. The implication is clear — we need to look under the skin for understanding and working to prevent injustice.
White privilege and white supremacy both occur in America at the individual and the institutional levels. However, by putting the emphasis on the adjective white, understanding the real problems and possible solutions is being hindered. The practice of privilege and attitude of supremacy are human problems caused by factors under the skin. To address the problems of supremacy and privilege we should be focusing on factors such as pride, insecurity, and abuse of power as forces of injustice, not whiteness.
I repeat, white privilege and white supremacy both occur in America. With many more whites in America and with the historical power of the white majority, many of the problems of privilege and supremacy in America are with white people and institutions. However, being white is not a sufficient condition for supremacy and privilege in America or elsewhere.
The problems of privilege and supremacy are human problems. Any human is susceptible to the problems. Since Blacks are human, they are just as susceptible to the problems as any other humans. To say differently would deny their humanity.
Again, the distribution and history of power in America means white privilege and white supremacy are very common in America. However, supremacy and privilege with other adjectives do occur in numerous circumstances. Other countries and cultures are replete with examples of privilege and supremacy with adjectives other than white. White is not a necessary or a sufficient condition for privilege and supremacy.
The history and current state of affairs in Africa are replete with instances of tribal privilege and tribal supremacy. England, Saudi Arabia and other kingdoms have instances of royal privilege and royal supremacy. India has caste privilege and caste supremacy. In most countries class privilege and class supremacy, economic privilege and economic supremacy, regional privilege and regional supremacy as well as religious supremacy and religious privilege are commonly observed. Undeniably, gender privilege and gender supremacy are practiced in many situations.
Privilege and supremacy are not restricted to large cultural forces, they happen in many subcultures. Gang privilege and gang supremacy are found in most large cities throughout the world. Even something as every-day as pick-up basketball games in university gyms will have instances of supremacy and privilege in choosing who gets to play and who dominates play.
We need to work on white supremacy and privilege in America. However, making it an exclusively white problem rather than a human problem hinders rather than aids the struggle. The claim that being white is the problem while denying any problems in other cultures is both stereotyping and an act of cultural supremacy. To fight injustice by stereotyping and being a cultural supremacist is not helpful in the fight for justice.
Bottom line – white is not sufficient for injustice. White is not necessary for injustice. Our problems are real but they are human problems caused by factors under the skin. In our brains are the matters that matter.
My arguments are that white is neither necessary nor sufficient for supremacy or privilege. The present arguments in no way reduce the fight against white privilege and white supremacy. The battle focus needs to be on supremacy and privilege not skin color. The battle needs to be about matters under the skin.
We need to fight supremacy and privilege in all forms. Focusing on whiteness contributes to thinking that “me and mine” are better than “you and yours.” We need approaches that think “we and ours.”
In my opinion, seeking solutions to our issues as shared human problems will reduce divisiveness and increase hope for cooperation and success.
Maui Fires. Jeny and I have had great vacations in Maui. The pictures and stories of the recent fires are devastating. The island was created by lava flow from an extinct volcano. With no forest, limited vegetation and all that rock, it is hard for me to imagine the fire raging the way it did. It makes me worry similar devastation could happen almost anywhere.
Angels all over the place
We are driving on our first long trip since our accident. Please pray for safe driving.