I wish I had seen this excellent article earlier. Having this sort of direct perspective — being able to see how presumptively liberal white people eventually choose themselves, just like the 20 or so generations before them, because you marched in the ‘60’s is truly embedded experience.
I agree that white supremacy is both an individual and a social issue. The fact that individual white people prefer to view it as social issue only reflects that deep-seated need to shirk all responsibility, because that responsibility would include admitting profound unearned advantage, and the next question for any even marginally moral person would be to ask what he/she/they must return now that they’ve admitted it cannot possibly be theirs given historical realities.
As a social/structural reality, the embedded nature of privileging whiteness is obvious in every setting: government; corporate; education; military; etc etc.
As Derrick Bell explains in Faces at the Bottom of the Well, white people do not cede anything until it is in their interest in his theory ‘interest convergence.’ They make pretense — even to themselves — that they are interested in ‘helping’ POC when history tells us that they haven’t had this interest and have had, instead, constant conquest and brutality in mind. But then, with the exception of overt white supremacists, they lie even to themselves about this so that they always perceive themselves as ‘good:’ the cognitive dissonance you describe so well.
I am not convinced white supremacy is purely a mental illness; there is some degree of ‘choice’ involved, which is typically not the stance that health care takes towards illness. The ‘illness’ stance lets white people off the hook to some extent by allowing the belief that the behavior is not under their control.
White supremacy is under the control of white people. They choose, whether consciously (overt white supremacists) or subconsciously (white liberals) to support their power over any sort of moral choice involving equality. This cognitive dissonance is their problem: both the collective and the individual.
People can claim ‘ignorance’ as long as they haven’t been told. People like Baldwin, Bell, Crenshaw, etc have been ‘telling’ these stories for generations. White ‘ignorance’ isn’t ignorance at all, or true illness; it is a decision to keep behaving in immoral fashion at the expense of POC because it means that white people can hold onto other people’s things for an even longer time, just in case 500 years isn’t enough.