Recently, I’ve been noticing this weird trend. It’s become prevalent within the social justice movement, and I haven’t seen anyone else flag it. I brought it up in the context of our Social Justice, Minus Dogma Course + Community, and it turns out other people are noticing it too. So let’s flag it.
The short version is this:
A lot of people are using domination/oppression language (e.g., “white supremacist”, “patriarchal”) as synonyms for “bad” and marginalization/anti-oppression language (e.g., “indigenous,” “decolonized,” “feminist”) as synonyms for “good” — devoid of any meaningful connection to the actual structure, system, or culture they’re mentioning.
Why highlight this at all? In short, because actual, sincere, real-life White supremacy is on the rise, and we need to be able to call it when we see it.
Calling things “White supremacist” that aren’t creates a lot of unhelpful noise.
I wrote this article a few days before we got a blazingly clear example of White supremacy in action, when U.S. President Donald Trump went on a “go back to your country” rant against several members of congress, all of whom are women of color.
Being careful to use the phrase “White supremacy” correctly would allow a criticism of Trump’s rant, and other White supremacist actions, to be held as distinct from general criticisms of Trump.
Both are totally valid, by the way! However, we need to know which basket we’re putting our eggs into.
We need to be able to separate “I don’t like what you’re saying” from “What you’re saying is advancing White supremacy and ethnic cleansing.”
And right now we’re not doing a good job of that, at all.
I’ll explain what I’m talking about in more detail, then talk about a few of the reasons I think this is (deeply) unhelpful.
I’d be curious to hear what you think, if you’re also noticing this. We’ll make space for that, too.
“White Supremacist” doesn’t mean a “White person doing something bad”
Let me first say that, overall, it’s great that more people are becoming comfy using phrases like “white supremacist.”
The same goes for words like “patriarchal,” “colonial,” “heterosexist,” etc. They’re useful words that can be used to pinpoint exactly what we’re talking about, concerned about in society, and wanting to change.
(If we could just add “capitalist” to our comfort zone, we might even make bell hooks proud.)
The issue I’m flagging here is not the use of the phrase “white supremacist” (or any of these other words I’m lumping together as domination/oppression language).
The issue is people using these words like duct tape, sticking them to every problem they notice.
Here’s what it looks like in general:Keep reading…