Aged 14: My parents sent me to a private school in West London for my education, as they wanted the best for me, they wanted me to fit in to white Western Society. I was to be educated as an Englishman, to dress like I was English, speak like I was English, and act like I was English. One spring, I was invited to play a role in the school play. I was surprised when they said the role was written for me not because I could act (I cant), but because I was one of only two black kids in the whole of my year of 150 boys. I agreed because I was flattered, because I was naïve. The role involved me taking centre stage in this play, and delivering a solioque to the audience. At the end of this statement from myself though, I was to be beaten up by other members of the cast and dragged off the stage. When my parents saw this, that I was the only black performer there in the audience, and that I got my ass kicked they did not know what to say, so they said nothing.
On the 7th of January 2023, Tyre Nichols was sadly murdered, with the film of his savage beating at the hands of his attackers being released on Friday 27th of January 23, 20 days later (Plett Usher & Tawfik, 2023). Having been stopped by the police, 5 policemen, all black, told him to get out of the car, before beating him unconscious. He died in hospital three days later. Over the past couple of weeks, the 5 black policemen were all dismissed from their jobs, whilst their colleagues, many of whom were white, witnesses to said event, and who did nothing, managed to keep their jobs without any sanction (thus far). That this incident has reignited the debate about police brutality, and the hatred of black people across the USA, and the world, is undeniable. As is the clammer of people calling this a non-racist act, and not one embedded within White Supremacy. This blog though, chooses to challenge this strange idea. Recognising that the police in the USA were initially set up to contain and police the actions of minorities post slavery, the idea that this is not White Supremacy plays no role in this, especially given the disproportionate number of deaths of black peoples by white hands across the Global North, is an incredibly flawed one (at best), an displacement of responsibility and the impact of racism (at medium).
White Supremacy is a System!
One of the first, and maybe most important questions to answer, is how is this still about white supremacy? One way of understanding this is by recognising that White Supremacy, much like Patriarchy and Colonialism/Capitalism, are systemic. So, whilst White Supremacy works to ensure the prominence and superiority of whiteness, by asserting values and behaviours which of whiteness, it does so by denigrating those same behaviours and values of the racialised other. It therefore matters very little the actual colour or race of those who uphold said system of whiteness. Much like my parents, who had been colonised into believing in the superiority of English whiteness, and therefore arrived in the UK so enamoured with it that they sent their children to white, English, private schools, so many of us have bought into the system of whiteness that we all in some way maintain its functioning.
Aged 19: The British Military is one of the whitest environments in the United Kingdom. I joined at 19 as my father had served during the war. Only 4 weeks in and during an evening off from my basic training, one of the other recruits asked me if I would perform Mammy for the Sargent and the Corporal. Wanting to fit in, I did so. I ran up to them, knelt on one knee and did my best Al Jolson impression. They both looked at me like I had lost my mind, and turned away from me embarrassed. I was embarrassed as well.
Systemic White Supremacy is easy to internalise!
White Feminism is often seen as racist, as it marginalises the voices of the racial other within the feminist discourse, eschewing anything intersectional (Abd Elaziz, 2021; Crisp, 2014). It often does so by centralising the experiences of white women, generalising them as the norm in the fight against the patriarchy. One of the reasons for this, is there is a comfort and safety within this position whereby one is allowed to have said economic equity, sometimes, whilst under the protective umbrella of White Supremacy.
In the same vein, there is a comfort for the racial other in the racialised performativity of whiteness. Within said white spaces, one gains a pseudo-safety, as it is never really fully thus, as the racialised other is always an outsider and will be treated as such, no matter the level of performance, adaptation, integration or code-switching, one enacts. In some ways, we all perform (J. Butler, 1988). Be it for the patriarchy, be it for white supremacy or capitalism, we perform to shield ourselves from the gendered, classist, or racialised ravages of the socially constructed worlds we inhabit (Angelou, 1984). We try to squirrel ourselves aside from the whip-crack of conformity because we know said system hates our difference. Our subsequent racial stress is therefore built out of always being on alert out of a knowing that it could have been us on the 7th of January 23, or on the 4th March 2021, or the 3rd of February 2022 (Morton, 2021; Plett Usher & Tawfik, 2023; Various, 2022). These could be our last days on earth.
And our last words could be us calling for our ‘mother.’
24 Years Old: I had by this time spent 4 year living in Berlin with the RAF. Whilst there were some positives to my being in the RAF, I also suffered a lot from depression. I would spend days in bed, sleeping or over eating, and began to hate being on camp because of the racism and the marginalisation. I was happiest though when I was in Kreutzberg, the non-white part of town, with its restaurants, cafes, clubs. I got myself a Jeep (as no one else had one on camp), went to the black clubs, found the black Caribbean restaurant, visited the PX in the American Sector and bought black books by black authors and activists. I felt better for all these visits, for all these returns to my blackness
The System of White Supremacy still works within itself!
Another question involves why is this still a system of White Supremacy. The answer here involves the issue of internalisation. To say a little more, we all internalise though, be it out parents, caregivers, or a teacher from school, we build up an internalised system of positive and negative voices and experiences which all inform who we are and what we do. Internalisation is therefore a major facet in the experience of the racialised other, especially when they are on the receiving end of hatred and looking to survive said experiences (C. Butler et al., 2002).
With Systemic White Supremacy, to survive the experience as the racialised other, one has to engage in the destruction of that which makes oneself different, other, in order to comply with said systemisation. As White Supremacy involves the internalisation of all the values and behaviour which elevate whiteness over blackness, what these black officers played out was the internalised hatred of their own blackness. That they beat up and destroyed a black man’s life is similar to the hatred black people often use against themselves when bleaching their skin or competing with another small island for racialised superiority.
Another facet to recall though is that their colleagues, have not been charged, or chastised for standing by and witnessing such acts of violence (as yet). Given that these colleagues were mainly white, it is no surprise that this happened, that their black colleagues were sacked almost immediately, whilst it has been incredibly difficult to do the same to white police across the Global North when these things happen on such a regular basis.
Systemic White Supremacy therefore needs not the soldiers of whiteness to achieve its goals. It needs the internalisation of whiteness by non-whiteness in order for it to keep going. So conversely, any attempt to redress this internalised imbalance must involve the deep painful shadow work of rooting out these systemic internalisations by those who identify as both white and black, in order to challenge and disrupt said system from regenerating itself along the future generations.
I do my bit for non-white people now because I have worked hard at discovering and marginalising these internalisations of White Supremacy. This shadow work has been hard, fucking difficult if I am honest, but exploring these memories, these experiences has liberated me to stand, to speak, about white supremacy, about systemic supremacy. I do so not without fear, but because to silence myself kills something deep within me. To stay quiet, to remain without that voice stolen from me when my ancestors were enslaved, is to destroy that which makes me black, that which makes me the other. So, when others tell me to know my place, do you know what I say in return?
I say ‘I do full well know my place. It’s front and centre, calling you out!’
Abd Elaziz, H. G. (2021). Against White Feminism: Notes on Disruption, by Rafia Zakaria. W. W. Norton, 2021. 256 pages: W. W. Norton, 2021. Women’s Studies, 51(2), 268–270. https://doi.org/10.1080/00497878.2021.2014837
Angelou, M. (1984). I know why the caged bird sings. Virago.
Butler, C., Tull, E. S., Chambers, E. C., Taylor, J., & Ph, D. (2002). Internalised racism, body fat distribution, and abnormal fasting glucose among caribbean women in Dominica, West Indies. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94(3), 143–148.
Butler, J. (1988). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519. https://doi.org/10.2307/3207893
Crisp, C. (2014). White and Lesbian: Intersections of Privilege and Oppression. Journal of Lesbian Studies. https://doi.org/10.1080/10894160.2014.849161
Morton, B. (2021). Sarah Everard: How Wayne Couzens planned her murder. BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58746108
Plett Usher, B., & Tawfik, N. (2023). Tyre Nichols: Mother describes her grief at dying son’s bedside. BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-64428427
Various. (2022). Bute Park attack: Dr Gary Jenkins left for dead in Cardiff, trial hears. BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-60116759