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Use Your Voice, Power and Privilege 

If Black Lives Matter, The Social Construct of Whiteness Must End

In the midst of the chaos, are we witnessing a shift in the consciousness of America many have been waiting for? Protests across America, international marches of solidarity, corporate and philanthropic declarations, tweets, social media posts from pro-athletes, political leaders; hell, even the National Football League proclaimed that Black Lives Matter (news flash… they still have their knee on Kaepernick’s neck). It seems like everyone is calling for change, sharing words of solidarity and promises to do better for the Black community. Then Tonya Russell published Check in on Your Black Employees, and like the “well-meaning” people that they are, White people around the world checked on the mental health status of their Black friends, colleagues and family members. Texts, phone calls, Facebook posts, marches, extra smiles on the street, “Black Lives Matter” signs everywhere. To be clear, I was truly grateful for the thoughtful and sincere sentiments and attention given to my mental health, especially since the world is literally burning down around me. I must admit, after a week, I was exhausted by the “check-ins.” Every call, every email, every Facebook post left me wondering: Aren’t white people also experiencing depression? Didn’t they see the video of George Floyd’s death? I understand the despair and pain black people are feeling right now — in Floyd’s dying eyes, we saw our son, our brother, our uncle, cousin and baby. We saw US being murdered in the street. But I wonder, what did white people see in the video? Reflected in the eyes of Derek Chauvin, did they see their father, son, brother, cousin, nephew, baby? Did they watch themselves kill another human being in broad daylight, left hand casually in their pants pocket, sunglasses perched upon their military-cut hair, looking directly into cameras with matter-of-fact calm and defiance? Did they see themselves reflected in the police who shot bean bags into the stomach of a pregnant protestor in Austin, Texas? Did they watch themselves push a 75-year-old man to the ground, his blood staining the pavement, in Buffalo, New York? Did they watch protestors cry and flee chemical weapons as they lifted a Bible for the cameras? Did they see? Did they see? Are White people facing mental health crises? Or have they become invisible even to themselves? In her recent piece titled America’s overdue reckoning with white supremacy: ‘We have allowed evil to flourish,’ Kristen Power writes: “You think the term “white supremacy” is too extreme? I get it, because I used to think the same thing. But it’s actually an accurate, descriptive term for the systems of the United States of America. Against all historical pretensions to the contrary (exhibit A: “All men are created equal”), this country treats whiteness, particularly white maleness, as the supreme value. It works to denigrate and erase any culture that is not white. It centers the feelings, cultural practices and experiences of white people above that of anyone who isn’t. That is, quite simply, white supremacy.” So, it is time we have a conversation about White Supremacy. Notice that I did not say “white supremist.” Instead, I mean White Supremacy, a system, an insidious idea that undergirds policies and politics, education and criminal justice, economics and more: Whiteness is greater than Blackness, therefore whiteness must dominate. I mean the very construct of whiteness. I mean people covering up their rich cultural heritage — German, Irish, Italian, French, etc. — with the opaque cloak of Whiteness because it allows them to actively participate in and benefit from the racist, apartheid system rooted in White Supremacy. White Supremacy killed George Floyd. It killed Breonna Taylor. And it allowed 400-plus years of chattel slavery, separation of families and economic and environmental destruction world-wide. Whiteness even killed Derek Chauvin. Because, let’s face it, Chauvin lost his soul long before he murdered George Floyd. The events occurring in the United States today are not new to us, nor to the world. So, let’s remember both what got us here and what binds us together. Because if we truly believe Black Lives Matter, then White Supremacy — and all the systems born of it — must die. And it will take all of us, marching in the streets, defying complacency and sustaining our righteous rage to build new systems rooted in the value of our shared humanity. If we don’t, White Supremacy will continue to destroy everything in its path — including “white” people.

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