Yes, I can appreciate what you are saying to some extent. Here is how I would clarify these things:
- Power: Human (Potential)
- White Supremacy: European (et al; that is, people who buy into the concept of ‘whiteness’ and racial superiority, some of whom are not biologically ‘white.’) (Potential and Reality)
Both elements matter. From a pragmatic standpoint, the second matters more.
From a power perspective, in my opinion, ALL humans, regardless of other features, would behave in a collective manner in a fashion similar to Europeans, given the same opportunity for power and dominance. I use the word ‘given’ deliberately, because this is the result of EXTRINSIC privileging of the sort which Jared Diamond discusses in his writing: good weather/land conditions, (typically) lack of drought=good nutrition=better physical and intellectual performance; lack of disease=higher likelihood of survival, etc.
The collective European dominance didn’t attribute their good fortune to luck, however; they attributed it falsely to an interior superiority AND, just in case that wasn’t bad enough, to GOD himself. Again, I believe that at a basic level, the human brain is the same re: power; that is, grossly and minutely unable to deal with it in moral fashion. The human brain has shown me that it is unable to negotiate power effectively, and even those who can manage it in the short run do not in the long run: privilege and power damage the human brain. I believe this requires much more study than it gets, and at all levels: psychological, physical, spiritual, etc.
BUT, from a reality perspective-that is, white supremacy — only one group of people benefit. This group has not just benefited for a few years, they have benefited from centuries — centuries — of power over virtually everybody else WORLDWIDE. This aspect is unique. Very few white people admit this and actually do something about it; of course, these concepts are related. Not admitted something has the very important function of making sure that something never changes. This is a choice — not a matter of ‘ignorance’ — in a society that repeatedly informs through writers such as Douglass, Baldwin, Coates, Crenshaw, etc. Not knowing cannot be a viable excuse any longer and should only have been in the very early stages. Douglass was writing more than a century ago; five generations of ‘ignorance’ isn’t ignorance anymore: it’s deliberately avoiding accountability.
In this second arena, white people have a collective responsibility that they are not, as a group, taking. As a rule, most white people separate themselves from the overt white supremacists — people willing to admit that their goal is as it has always been expressed by Europeans — we want to have more stuff, more power. We want to continue to matter more than everybody else, and we’ll do anything to maintain it because, as a result, this makes our lives more leisurely and of higher quality. Other people doing the scut work while we benefit is sure a good deal for us; let’s do whatever it takes to keep it, even if it means continuing to damage others.
But white liberals are really no better, because they are doing everything they can to maintain this power but aren’t even admitting it to themselves. This fact is one that almost all POC’s see — I can tell you that in my life, I have counted literally 50+ ethnicities I”ve known, and in the cases where race is discussed, virtually all of them understand that they are subordinated to white people just for existing. I am routinely shocked, in my fifties, at the energy white people put into NOT seeing their profound privilege which most BIPOC around them see readily. It appears, to many POC’s, to be a form of psychosis — like some sort of strange hallucination that all white people have decided to participate in. This is not a problem unless it denigrates others by doing so — and it does. It elevates white people AT THE EXPENSE OF ALL POC’S.
This vast disparity between perception is constantly handled by those in power — white people — as if it doesn’t exist. There is a psychological reason for this: it maintains power AND the ability to look at oneself and pretend innocence/’niceness’ in the face of maintenance of power. In other words, white people collectively have power; refusing to admit it maintains it. This refusal, in my opinion, should be perceived as an ACTIVE immoral choice rather than just a cherubic innocence.
One can claim innocence until one is told. Once the person is told, pretending those factors don’’t exist is studied, deliberate ignorance, and ultimately comprises the same decision as choosing white supremacy. White people have been told, both collectively and at individual levels, that they have unearned benefit which makes a mockery of the concept of merit. How can you know whether you’ve earned something when your entire society is set up to benefit you regardless of any other factors? I can tell you after more than 3 decades as a professional in corporate settings that a wide range of POC’s are subordinated, even when their performance is superlative, in order to maintain the white majority at higher levels, and that this is done at the expense not only of that POC but of real quality.
When we maintain a privileged majority for hundreds of years, we also decide that quality will sink: it is also natural for the human brain to take a ‘break’ when it doesn’t have to compete. Take a look at Lori Loughlin; who isn’t embarrassed by this shameless display of amoral privileging?? After centuries of this, the clear-cut mediocrity is evident: I can vouch for it. I have seen POC after POC denigrated so that much lower-performing, often socially inept white people— both male AND female — can get the higher level positions which he/she didn’t rightfully earn. And I’ve watched this for decades with minimal change in attitude.
Note that this also affects the entire population: a person with a real gift to give will eventually become demoralized and give less or go elsewhere when the reward is going to others who display none of the leadership or authentic gift, there isn’t motivation for the actual performer who isn’t acknowledged.
To rephrase, from a pragmatic standpoint, the POC population is becoming exhausted having to perform at higher levels for lower — or no — -reward while that reward goes to white people, often regardless of quality or lack of it.
This long-standing privilege is a reality, regardless of the potential of any number of POC”s to act this way. It is a tremendous reality, one you can see is repeatedly negotiated with defensive statements meant to minimize its reality — yet another display of the same avoidance AKA ‘ignorance’ which we witness and which ultimately deprives the world of the gifts that POC’s can give only to support the empty egos of the white collective group. This is reality, regardless of potential.
Our current focus should be on reality, not the potential of all human beings to abuse power, because there are too many factors that have not only denigrated but continue to denigrate POC’s. The reality is that POC’s are denigrated by white privilege. In this context, in theory, there is no conflict for POC: assuming the appropriate moral choice, the POC benefits.
But for white people as individuals, the proper moral choice — and acknowledgement of unearned privilege — will necessarily create a conflict, because white supremacy has automatically conferred and still confers free benefit to white people. For white people, the conflicted choice is: do I do the right thing and lose my privilege, or do I keep my privilege and continue to support a grossly amoral system? This is a choice that white people should be making consciously, so that accountability can confer to those operating under the pretense of equality while holding onto white privilege in their own lives.
My conclusion is that white people make a choice, and the designation ‘white ignorance,’ after all these years of information and knowledge, is simply a variant form of supremacy maintenance. One of these tacks is to minimize the effect of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade with claims that ‘all slavery is the same’ and that other cultures had ‘more slavery’ etc, etc, etc. This, to me, is clear-cut supremacy maintenance through a distraction from pragmatic reality: white people are privileged as a result of the events of the last 500 years, worldwide. It would be absurd to compare the Romans, the Ottomans etc to white supremacy, because no matter how far their reach, it was not global. For example, the Americas and their indigenous peoples — the entire Americas — were not affected by the Ottoman empire in significant ways, and certainly not the way white supremacy has affected ALL nations. Etc. White supremacy is the first variety of globally-imposed power and dominance. Another frequent distraction tack which maintains the status quo is to talk about how one has ‘brown’ spouses, children, friends, etc. This is largely irrelevant, and has one purpose only: to show the world how ‘nice’ that person is and thus allows that person to avoid accountability. These tacks both prevent that individual from responsibility which the powerful have if morals are a consideration. White liberals claim morals matter but they aren’t acting it.
Addressing white supremacy from a pragmatic standpoint means putting these defensive maneuvers aside; they’re really no different from white supremacy except in their self-deceptive nature. They spare that ‘good’ white person from admitting that, when you do not admit your privilege, POC’s continue to be damaged.
The fact that all people might be capable of power and dominance is less relevant from a pragmatic standpoint than the actual reality of who does have that power and continues to use it against POC. The discussion about power is one about potential v. reality, and we have a toxic reality which demands our priorities are focused there, especially after the hundreds of years we have watched this deterioration.
One more item: I often hear presumptively ‘nice’ white people state things such as ‘you shouldn’t make white people defensive, because then they might vote for Trump.’ The assumption is that, after a few years of noting their deteriorating dominant status, white people will do what they can to maintain it AND we, the POC, had better make sure we conform to this, constantly considering the delicate psychological status of white people. This is more coddling of white supremacy. I would ask that same group of people: if you think a few years of erosion of power makes you want to push back, how do you think the other 90% of the human race feels after centuries of being stomped on by you? If you can imagine your defensiveness in such a short span of time, certainly you can imagine the rage of people who have been tolerating oppression for generations.
Where is this basic empathy? It may just be effaced from literally generations of privileging. Power affects the human mind in deleterious fashion.
The ball should always be in the court of the powerful. Unfortunately, the human brain doesn’t work this way. As a result, all of us are obligated to be aware of its weaknesses and address these honestly. This juncture in history is the point at which white people should stop talking about power/abuse potential and start focusing on power/abuse reality: the reality of white supremacy.
Thank you for reading.