By T. Denise Anderson, The Presbyterian Outlook.
Last week after we’d learned about a second extrajudicial killing of an African-American man, I put the following plea on social media to white friends who were in lament and wanted to know how much longer we’d have to hear these stories: “White people, you have heard it said that you must talk to other white people about racism, and you must. But don’t talk to them about their racism. Talk to them about YOUR racism.” Many friends and colleagues took the plea to heart, and others bristled. Some took exception to the terms “racism” and “white supremacy” and the suggestion that they apply to the terms to themselves. I think it’s worth examining what we mean when we say “racism” and “white supremacy.”
A few weeks ago, the 222nd General Assembly adopted a revision of the PCUSA’s anti-racism policy, which in part reads:
“Through colonization and slavery, the United States of America helped to create and embrace a system of valuing and devaluing people based on skin color and ethnic identity. The name for this system is white supremacy. This system deliberately subjugated groups of people for the purpose of material, political, and social advantage. Racism is the continuing legacy of white supremacy. Racism is a lie about our fellow human beings, for it says that some are less than others. It is also a lie about God, for it falsely claims that God favors parts of creation over the entirety of creation.”
Our anti-racism policy reminds us that racism cannot be understood apart from white supremacy. I think it’s helpful for us to disabuse ourselves of what might be our classic understandings of white supremacy. White supremacy is not relegated to fringe hate groups. It is not limited to white hoods and sheets or shorn heads. Hate groups are certainly a familiar face of white supremacy, but white supremacy most times isn’t nearly so overt.