You may not be racist, but are you a white supremacist?
April 8th, 2011
March 30th at 7:30 pm Kingsbury Hall flooded with people to listen to the powerful words of Bell Hooks. She speaks on a variety of topics as a social critic and cultural theorist. She spoke of race and white supremacy as the focal point in the pile of interlocking systems of domination. What better place to speak than in Utah where 92% of the population is white?
Hooks speaks of interlocking systems of domination often, and to understand what that means one must first understand what domination is and how it relates to subordination. Essentially our culture has those people and those things that are privileged and those that are not. “Systems” of domination are institutions, values, and the belief structure of a society that keeps domination—or those people or things that are privileged—in place. Subordination is the underbelly: i.e. those things or those people that are essentially subordinate or inferior to the system and is such pushed aside by such a system. I have often seen proof that either the inferior person or object must conform to the dominating force or struggle to survive as is. Some people argue that there is no such thing as these opposing binaries. That is incorrect. Every society on this earth has them.
Hooks chose to focus more on white supremacy than racism with good reasoning. First, white supremacy is: the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds. The term is sometimes used specifically to describe a political ideology that advocates the social and political dominance by whites. That portion of the definition is exactly what we should focus on.
White supremacy is not reserved for the tatted skin heads and the robed KKK we see running around in various parts of the United States.
Technically our entire culture is white supremacist (though many of us don’t feel racist). Yes, that includes you, even if you are of color. If you need proof, black women in the United States of America spent over $40 million dollars in hair straightening products in the late 1990s. This also proves that there is a binary superior: straight hair—which white women of European descent have—is more sought after than curled or kinked hair, which means that type of hair can be socially interpreted as inferior. Our media says so. Our culture says so. $40 million bucks says so.
Earlier in his career Malcolm X pushed for Blacks to have identity, and to separate their identities from the Whites by unlearning everything they had been taught about themselves by a dominantly white society. The Christian God was white; he punished Cain, a murderer, by blackening his skin. Blackness by Christianity meant impure, and was often equated with the devil. Christianity was also a factoring platform that justified slavery. So, Malcolm X even took it as far as to convince his followers to move back to Africa so they could live a life unchained to a white God, a culture that favored whiteness in every form of its governing institutions and forced them into the shadows.
In later life, post Mecca, Malcolm began to change. He began to believe that white people could even unlearn white supremacy, and that we could all live in harmony together. He became very spiritual. Many people today refuse to look at the core principles of his teachings which he surrendered his life to.
What Malcolm was dealing with at the time required stringent action, and he only evolved. I think his actions aren’t much different than those of the Boston Tea Party rebelling against our mother England—except the Boston Tea Party decided to wear masks and blame it on the Indians initially, whereas African Americans wore their own faces. Regardless, both situations were an assertion of identity. I matter. My vote counts. My life counts. And that’s where Bell Hooks has stepped in. And this is where we better step in. We still haven’t unlearned white supremacy. None of us.
Hooks stated, “Yes, blacks can now make as much money as whites, but that doesn’t equal success.” So, we’ve moved an inch. We have “equal” educational opportunities; segregation is no longer present, etc. but that is not enough. Hooks didn’t even mention racial reparations—which I had expected and am on board with—she’s moved beyond that: simply unlearn white supremacy.
In order to unlearn this one must have an understanding of our pedagogy. Let me define that term then apply it. Pedagogy: is the study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction.Pedagogy is also occasionally referred to as the correct use of instructive strategies. For example, Paulo Freire referred to his method of teaching adult humans as “critical pedagogy“. In correlation with those instructive strategies the instructor’s own philosophical beliefs of instruction are harbored and governed by the pupil’s background knowledge and experience, situation, and environment, as well as learning goals set by the student and teacher. One example would be the Socratic schools of thought. Hooks has coined a term called “engaged pedagogy” in her book Teaching to Transgress. Furthermore, she defines her engaged pedagogy:
“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin (hooks 1994: 13)”
Simple enough. Be loving, genuine, and intellectually stimulating. Care about what you do and in that you can change the way others think.
Hooks also discussed new medical findings. We all know that white people live longer than other races in America. We decided to assume that it was due to genetic factors without looking into it for a long time. Well, scientists have been looking into it for the past 10-15 years now and new findings in science disprove the genetic assumption. Dr. Norman Anderson, author of “Emotional Longevity” answers to this directly in words you and I can understand. He’s taken all the science we have and come up with astounding hypotheses. People of color don’t die before whites because of genetics; they die because of emotional stress. What is that stress? Hmmm…
For further reading please check out the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley and Dr. Norman Anderson’s book titled Emotional Longevity and buy anything written by Bell Hooks. Anywhere is a good start. I suggest All about love: new visions. For some fantastic and enlightening music check out the rapper “Immortal Technique.”
Some memorable quotes from the evening:
“History doesn’t repeat itself. It just hasn’t changed much.”
“You may not be racist. But you are white supremacist.”
“A lot of people have strong opinions on things they know absolutely nothing about.”
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