by Yawo Brown // The Magical Negro
What is Polite White Supremacy?
Polite White Supremacy is the notion that white Americans should remain the ruling class while denying that they are the ruling class, politely. Affectionately, it’s called #PWS for short. It has been referred to as the Casual American Caste System, Delicate Apartheid, Gentle Oppression, or what I like to call it after a few drinks: Chad Crow, the super chill grandson of Jim Crow.
No but seriously, Polite White Supremacy is real. So why is it that we must specifically say ‘Polite White Supremacy’ rather than racism? We must say Polite White Supremacy for three reasons. First, saying #PWS puts the responsibility solely on the creators of a systemic problem. Second, this phrase addresses the subtlety and casualness with which oppression is administered. Thirdly, it eradicates the all-too-common confusion between racism and prejudice. It’s important to eradicate this confusion so it can be clear that racism is tied to a power structure and access to resources.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RACISM AND PREJUDICE
Racism and prejudice are not interchangeable. Racism is the systemic oppression of one group of people who can be categorized within certain phenotypical traits over multiple generations that has been, at one point, sanctioned by a country, the majority and/or ruling class. Racism is committed only by the ruling class and agents of the ruling class because they have the power that comes with racism. Racism, in America, is absolutely the attack dog of the white ruling class. However, sometimes it’s also a slow poison in that it causes its victims to die of exhaustion or grief. Again, racism is a kind of prejudice that comes with power. Racism is the systematic and intentional oppression of group of people from the ruling class and its agents. In America, the ruling class is white people of all classes.
America has been playing a centuries-long game of ‘stop hitting yourself’ while holding the arms of Black America.
Prejudice, though harmful, is not necessarily systemic and can be committed by anyone. It simply requires one to pre-judge. It does not require its user to have any access to the ruling class or status of whiteness. However, you have to be part of or support the ruling class to wield the power of racism. Those who are not part of the white ruling class, yet support white supremacy of any form, are called agents of white supremacy. They are not white, but benefit in some direct way from empowering and enforcing white supremacy often times on their own people. Historically black overseers and house slaves were bestowed more rights, and ultimately more power during slavery. These were employed agents of white supremacy who oppressed their fellow black Americans. This employment was a status. It was a form of racist power that white slave owners gave to black overseers as a way to also instill mistrust within the black community. Prejudice alone, has no real power without the system of control and power to support it.
OVERT RACISM TO COVERT RACISM: THE EARLY STAGES OF POLITE WHITE SUPREMACY
Today’s covert version of white supremacy is a lot more subtle than having black overseers beat their fellow slaves. Nor is this power the same as buying or selling your slaves children for a good price, using black children as alligator bait, cutting open pregnant black women, castrating black men, generational rape and molestation of black women and men, and lynchings of those who were accused of making white Americans nervous. This is something more subtle than that. The ruling class has begun to employ a particularly clever passive tactic to remain in power while denying this power. They pretended this was the natural way for society to function and influenced perception by using double standards in language as a starting point.
The passive methods of #PWS have been ingrained in almost every facet of American society to such a point that speaking about its existence seems mythical. It’s not a unicorn though. In fact, bringing it up causes people of all colors to feel discomfort because Black Americans have become accustomed to appeasing the comfort levels of white fragility. As a result, certain black folks think about white reactions first before doing any action. This subservience illustrates the passive ‘slow poison’ effect of polite white supremacy that still effects many Black Americans until this day.
THE THREE KEY INGREDIENTS OF POLITE WHITE SUPREMACY
In detail, Polite White Supremacy relies on three key components to ensure its success: comfort, control, and confidentiality.
White Americans who participate in #PWS desire to be comfortable in all settings while maintaining some influential level of control over all situations without acknowledging this power. Omitting acknowledgment of white privilege gives off the psychological effect that white Americans have some how worked harder than non-white people and black Americans must be lazy since statistically black people are suffering a great deal in America. They pretended this was all natural.
These three components manifests themselves in various scenarios. They are not restricted to obvious positions like law enforcement or government. Often times, it was not the wealthy or elite that carried out the bulk of these practices. Their employees did. One such group of employees were home loan officers. White home loan officers carried out and maintained Polite White Supremacy by using the subtle tactic of redlining.
Redlining ensured white people would control of their neighborhoods comfort by confidentially employing this tactic. Later, discriminatory hiring practices reinforced an intrinsic authoritative status for white Americans.
INGREDIENT ONE — COMFORT
The comfort level of white people relied on redlining to keep black Americans out of white neighborhoods. To maintain comfort, home loan officers covertly switched from overt segregation to the more subtle practice of redlining, one early example of Polite White Supremacy.
This practice prevented black people people from getting home loans, bank accounts, insurance, and other services necessary for financial growth. Often times, poor white Americans would get the aforementioned services while middle and upper-class black Americans faced rejection. This ensured that Black Americans would have a much more difficult time in establishing a multi-generational legacy. Eventually, redlining helped to create present-day black inner-cities across America along with dependence on white oppressors for employment and certain resources. Meanwhile, this white participation privilege lead to multi-generational wealth and self-sufficiency in white communities.
As mentioned before, all classes of white Americans can and did participate in Polite White Supremacy. Moreover, Polite White Supremacist practices such as redlining reinforced stereotypes and portrayals of black Americans as underachievers because it helped create the ghetto. Because of practices such as redlining and employment discrimination, black folk are still inaccurately perceived as dependent underachievers.
Omitting the acknowledgment of white privilege from practices such as redlining gives off the psychological effect that white people have somehow worked harder than non-white people and black people must be lazy since statistically black people are suffering a great deal in America.
Redlining is a direct ancestor of gentrification.
The subtle power of controlling neighborhoods, resources and wealth is present today in social and professional settings. Redlining disregarded the qualifications of people of color who already proved their competence, bravery, and skills. Remember, redlining is only one example of polite white supremacy. There are many others that ensured the comfort of white nerves.
INGREDIENT TWO — CONTROL
Control the terminology and you can control the perception. Eventually this perception helps onlookers judge whether an area is good or bad. Polite White Supremacy adapted many forms of control to maintain its subtlety. #PWS controls the narrative and perception by controlling language itself. The subtle linguistics of Polite White Supremacy influence perception through usage of disingenuous and misleading terminology with subtle double standards. These double standards continue to permeate stereotypes within news, film, education, and music.
Polite White Supremacy attempts to control the language, the narrative, and the perception. Moreover, the heavy white-washing of history to eradicate black contributions to the global human story has negatively impacted black self-worth and self-confidence. Consequently, psychological effect of believing these stereotypes is that, simply put, black people deserve to suffer.
CONTROL THE LANGUAGE
Polite White Supremacy relies on subtlety such as using the passive voice to describe events involving a white aggressor and a non-white victim. For example, when a police officer shoots someone, the report uses the passive voice instead of the active voice when describing the shooting. Saying things such as “there was an officer-involved shooting” or “force was used” sidesteps any notion of personal responsibility and makes it automatically appear as though the officer acted defensively. Often times the officer does everything to escalate the situation regardless of what version of the truth he or she writes in their report. There is a difference between saying ‘There was a person who got into a fight’ and ‘he punched someone because they hurt his ego and they punched him back’.
Law enforcement’s reliance on the term ‘resisting arrest’ incarcerates many black people who have claimed to do no such thing. As a matter of fact, it’s a simple fact that the human body bends in certain ways at certain joints. So, when an arm is twisted by surprise at specific angles by a burly officer (or several), any person’s involuntary muscular reaction is to correct the pain they’re feeling. This is called ‘resisting’. What regular person can lie perfectly still as their arm is being broken? Who can pretend to not be in pain?
CONTROL THE NARRATIVE
Terms such as ‘black on black’ crime place a spotlight on black crimes while omitting that ‘white on white’ crime is nearly identical statistically. Major news outlets rarely pay attention to black conferences for peace or organizations that uplift our youth such as Black Girls Rock as black people try to ‘do for self’. As a result, the narrative continues that black people don’t care about crimes or the well-being of black neighborhoods. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When white crimes are actually acknowledged there are double-standards in the terminology. The same action committed by white people versus those committed by black people are somehow perceived as less threatening if there is a white aggressor. According to Polite White Supremacy, screwdrivers become ‘burglary tools’ depending on the color of the person holding them. A group of black people gathering is thus deemed a ‘gang’ and a group of white people gathering, is a group of white people gathering. Words such as ‘Lawlessness’, ‘looting’, ‘criminal’, and ‘thug’ often accompany the most peaceful protests by Black Americans long before agent provocateurs can influence a crowd towards violence.
What do media outlets call white rioters who torch property after their team wins or loses? ‘Revelers’. Basically, ‘revelers’ means they’re white and just having some wild fun. The perception is that revelers are white and aren’t scary like those black ‘rioters’ who did just as much property damage, though for different reasons.
There’s also the less of physical control and less lethal assaults placed upon the bodies of unarmed white aggressors. In a nutshell, it’s important to look at what’s not being done when white people pose a threat.
What did the police not do to the white bikers who got into a brawl that killed nine people? What did the police not do to Dylan Roof or TJ Lane when they were arrested? Polite White Supremacy makes it seem safer to be a white serial killer rather than a black man or woman speaking their American rights to an officer of the law.
White aggressors who do the same actions (or far worse) as black aggressors don’t face the consequences black folk often face because white lives are actually valued more by law enforcement.
CONTROL THE PERCEPTION
The value of white lives influences the perception of good neighborhoods vs bad neighborhoods. The oversimplified assumption is that good neighborhoods have very little crime, while bad neighborhoods have high crime. This seems like common sense. Unfortunately, it’s slightly inaccurate. The perception of neighborhoods as good or bad comes highly influenced from whether or not it is being over-policed. Good neighborhoods don’t have a large police presence so naturally one must conclude that bad neighborhoods have a high police presence. The problem with this comes from the documented fact that police departments across America are around disproportionately white males.
Frankly put, these white males are not going to over-police their own communities. They’re not going to snitch on each other and reveal who amongst them are of the ‘Ghost Skin variety. When they do police and potentially arrest their own people, their lives are actually considered. White lives actually matter to the police. To them, ‘white on white crime‘ seems ludicrous. Meanwhile, black people seem like an easy target to fill a quota.
INGREDIENT THREE— CONFIDENTIALITY
Confidentiality is silent complicity while pretending that black suffering happens because black Americans somehow deserve it. Polite White Supremacy uses confidentiality to pretend this is all normal for its own existence to remain in power covertly.
The silence of confidentiality is the glue holding this whole charade in place because #PWS can’t exist out in the open as overt white supremacy, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s unfashionable to be an open white supremacist in today’s society.
Instead of openly celebrating a lynching, pretend you actually believe it was a suicide. Pretend you actually believe that white people work harder when black Americans worked for free and literally built this country. These are the same people who don’t hire equally qualified Black Americans for positions then complain that Black Americans are lazy and unemployed. Pretend that over-policing doesn’t target the poor and perpetuate the stereotype of bad neighborhoods. Pretend you didn’t just see a man choked to death and his heart attack happened randomly at the same moment he was being choked because ‘he was fat’. Pretend that unionization had nothing to do with white people fearing competition from the useful, tangible skills of black people. Pretend like redlining didn’t exist and that white people just worked harder so they lived in ‘better’ areas.
Pretend that giving a bullet proof vest and Burger King to a person that just walked into a church and massacred nine Black Americans after he has been taken into custody is not at act of terrorism. Pretend it was a coincidence we had to watch black officers re-raise the Confederate Flag after a Black American woman bravely, but illegally removed it. Later, white officers took it down and treated it like it was some heavenly artifact during a religious ceremony. Let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.
To practitioners of #PWS, America is one big Sun-Down Town where everyone must pretend there is a magical off-switch for racism that’s been flipped and somehow centuries of physical, psychological, and spiritual warfare against Black humans has been undone.
Many brilliant black minds succumbed to the intense pressure of simply trying to live with dignity during periods of blatant and then later, subtle oppression. White America has been playing a centuries-long game of ‘stop hitting yourself’ while holding the arms of Black America. Polite White Supremacy has been feeding off the bodies of Black Americans while pretending Black Americans cannibalize each other.
It’s fun to pretend.