The Education of Racists
First off, I want to say love and power and a huge, teary thank you from the bottom of my gut to the fighters on the ground in Charlottesville, Virginia, who spent this weekend resisiting to the death against the hegemonic, elitist, violent white supremacists of all stripes and by any name who came out in droves to intimidate and harass marginalized people and defend whiteness. I am so grateful to you, I am in awe of and empowered by your power, your self-defense, your solidarity and love. This nation-the exact reason why the white supremacists exist-does not deserve you, but many of its people do, and we see what you have done for us and we promise to return the favor. Your sacrifice and struggle is not in vain. Heather Heyer, presente.
There’s lots of dangerous, white supremacist-upholding nonsense being circulated right now as workers, mothers, anarchists, big dreamers, activists, organizers, radical people of faith in solidarity and defense, antifascists and others march & suffer deadly violence in Charlottesville. “Both sides are wrong,” “Love, not hate,” “This isn’t the America I know/These aren’t the values that America was built on,” the list goes on.
But the white supremacy-upholding narrative I want to focus on is that of racism and white supremacy being the result of ignorance and under-education.
When white people, especially liberals, are accused of being elitists, it is precisely because of this oft-yelled and echoed sentiment. That the poor, stupid, unwashed masses lacking their approved scholarship, exposure, and a grand diverse colorful bevy of friends from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and walks of life, are the reason racism exists. And when white people of all political backgrounds are accused of apologism and protecting fragility, it is also because of the repeatedly touted idea that we (people of color) must be compassionate to (burdened by) racists because well, they’re just ignorant, they don’t know any better (and thus are, somehow, magically less responsible for the harm they cause, so don’t be hurt or mad, don’t judge or hold them accountable! Won’t you take them by the hand and change that for free and at your social, physical, mental, spiritual expense? Thaaaaanks.)
But poor people of color, who also have less access to white academia and a formal education, are often yet very well exposed to difference and people of diverse background and nationalities. I have grown up and lived among people of color from all backgrounds and many types of immigrants, refugees, etc. And our cultures and communities have been historically and still now held responsible and lampooned as ignorant, savage, and lesser than, our vast knowledge, experiences, and resources ignored and deemed inferior, and we are granted no compassion, and it earns us more surveillance, policing, death. So out the gate the naming of what is “ignorance” (Confederacy apologism/white nationalism and sagging pants and AAVE are one in the same to many people) & the hypocrisy of who is granted clemency for their “ignorance” is glaring and goes against my best interest.
Another aspect of the “Racism is ignorance” narrative that I find troubling is the burdening of people of color to solve it. I have to not only play the Mammy and do the work for racists and find them resources so as to educate them, open their mind and make them realize and know better, playing the secondary character in my own experiences, the bettering of white people instead becoming the centralized point and narrative of my identity and struggle, but I have to put my body and life on the line and lay exposed for their voyeuristic selves to pick and prode and examine until they decide I’m human, or don’t, Sarah Baartman style, like so many other Black women and women of color before and after her.
Throughout all of this, we ignore that those in political and social power, with Ivy League education, with millions, billions of dollars to their name, from ruling elite families with warmongering, capitalistic power at hand, are also racists, and the ones determining the direction all our lives go in, if they are allowed to be at all. The scapegoating of poor, undereducated whites is a classist one that distracts from aforementioned fact and that also serves to further stigmatize and pathologize people of color from the same class background.
But it does something equally nefarious that we seldom discuss. It is the reason why diversity and exposure alone cannot address or ameliorate the problem of racism.
It erases the fact that White supremacy is educated. It is academic. It is tried and rugged and learned. It does have fucked up resources, its twisted facts, its own biased misunderstanding of and findings and observations in history, science, language, culture and arts to lean on and support its views.
Racism doesn’t come from not being exposed but centuries of very specifically not wanting to be, of racially segregated communities and people of color being relegated to ghettos and reservations, of whiteness not being stuck in but protected by a bubble of whiteness, intentionally so.
Racism is thorough cultural and political indoctrination. Racism is the intentional calibrating of knowledge, resources, education, media and resources in the favor of, in advocacy for, and to uphold and grow white supremacy and European hegemony. Racism is the destruction of Indigenous experiences and knowledge of people across the world especially under colonialism, and the destabilizing of their communities and resources so as to disrupt the continuance of their knowledge.
Racism is the roots of anthropology, it is grammar elitism where one can justify racist, classist, sexist, transphobic language prescriptivism as just being “the rules.” It is the destruction of Native American and Black advancements and tech historically & the gatekeeping of access to those fields today.
Racist academia and knowledge is what led to the experimentation on marginalized from Black and Indigenous people through slavery, land grabs and the early years of gynecology to the experiments in Nazi concentration camps, the findings of which still being used in our sciences today.
Racist knowledge is Eurocentrism in the art we consume, in the architecture we build, the way we use and consume and exploit land, the destruction of our natural resources.
Racist knowledge is leading us to white apologist, pro-state, pro-policing, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Global south conclusions. It makes racism hard to combat because when it isn’t about what you haven’t learned but exactly that everything you have learned is Eurocentric, exclusive, hierarchal, capitalistic, exploitative, colonialist, Christian dominance apologetic, you will forever look and consume the world in very specific and violent ways.
Racism creates the vacuum of whiteness that births the white supremacy (both of the protestors and the police protecting it) we are seeing at Charlottesville. These pro-white supremacists on the ground in Charlottesville are learned, indoctrinated, educated racists descendant from that vacuum. They go on forums and exchange their knowledge and resources. They speak at colleges. They have years of expertise. They believe truly in their dominance because it is so present in the history they have been given.
That is why they have rallied to protect a Confederate statue, one of thousands of icons and images of white supremacists, antisemites, colonizers, slave traders and Indian killers around the nation. Because the history we are collectively told tells them that each icon’s fight was righteous and their social position is God-given, and removing them is a revisionist, a-historical fact that spits on their European Christian supremacy that everyone knows is just how society should be, else why would there be hundreds of statues? Why would their images be etched into the walls of sacred Six Grandfathers mountains if not because they were right?
Racism isn’t about what you don’t know, but what you have been taught and what society is structured to teach and tells you is right, is true, and to believe. These people are not witless in their ignorance, but arrogant in their (mis)education.