5 pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy In DC
Ultimately this frame is an attempt to distill our understanding of White Supremacy and Racial Injustice into a manageable size and tie it to a preliminary vision for Black Liberation. These five pillars are an attempt to explain the complicated nature of modern structural and interpersonal racism in a way that is accessible and that can bridge several divides in our modern conversations about race. We have to bridge the divide between those who focus on systems of oppression like mass incarcerations and those who focus on interpersonal displays of racism. We have to merge efforts of structural reform with efforts for cultural change. We need to expand our vision of state violence and White Supremacy beyond policing. Most importantly we need to expand the role of non-Black people in ending anti-Black racism from allies to collaborators.
Below are the five pillars of Anti-Black White Supremacy in DC we have identified. These pillars are heavily informed by Andrea Smith’s Hetero-Patriarchy and Three Pillars of White Supremacy. They also reflect the ways in which other forms of racial oppression [Settler Genocide and Orientalism] have been repurposed to support the control of Black communities. Lastly they are also heavily informed by modern left ideas like dialectical materialism, generative somatics and emergent strategies. The goal of this frame to educate and provide a tool for identifying targets for strategic action. Technical, academic or key terms that are underlined are defined in the definitions document attached to the week of action frame.
Premises of the Five Pillars
The first premise of these five pillars is that race and racism are flimsy, intangible ideas that are simultaneously created by the context we live in and at the same time help create that context. Following from this is a belief that ideas are the result of human beings moving through the world and interacting with physical [i.e. material] things. We cannot easily describe what race is or how it works yet have no trouble assigning races to people. Many white people have an implicit bias against Black people for being lazy in part because so many Black men are visibly unemployed; yet Black unemployment is caused, in part, by racial stereotypes of Black people as lazy or otherwise unfit workers. The idea of Black people being lazy also has its roots in slavery, when slaves would protest their servitude by refusing to do work and by sabotaging tools and equipment. In this way modern racist ideology is birthed from the material reality of systems of inequality that were created because of prior racists ideologies themselves created by prior material realities.
The second premise of these pillars is that both America and, to a lesser extent, the global society that it simultaneously influences and is influenced by, are fundamentally White Supremacist societies designed [intentionally and by happenstance] to maintain the power of the people who held power during its founding [landed white men]. Following from this, the cultural, political and economic systems that support our society have a vested interest in the racist status quo that birthed them. Change only happens when the status quo is no longer tenable for those with power. For example, the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow south existed to benefit wealthy white men and only ended when mass resistance made system change easier than system maintenance.
Third, the current way society is organized [i.e the modern social order] separates people into racial groups whose arbitrarily defined traits are re-characterized to represent specific threats to the status quo. Therefore, specific systems of oppression are coupled together to address those threats. Overtime, those systems of oppression are perfected on specific populations and eventually used to undermine resistance among other populations.
For example, the “war on [or of] terror” tactics perfected in the government’s harassment of Muslim and Arab populations are now being used to disrupt BLM protests. These same tactics have their roots in the government’s fights against radical European immigrants in the 30’s and Black freedom fighters in the 60’s and 70’s. Likewise, DC’s own police department is heavily influenced by the Israeli Defense Force’s genocidal land grab in the Gaza strip.
Similarly, the current education system that now allows private corporations to profit off the achievement gap and use overly authoritarian discipline systems to condition Black children to follow inconsistent applied rules and extra-judicial white authority figures has its origins in both the “Indian schools” of the 1800’s and the early modern education system used to assimilate the children of European immigrants into the labor force.
Effectively Using This Frame
Lastly, in order to use this frame effectively, organizations/groups must guide their direct actions against the strategic points of intervention for each pillar. A point of intervention is place of strategic importance within the workings of a given system. For instance, if your goal is the production of cigarettes in your state, the state’s largest tobacco factory is a strategic point of intervention. It is where the status quo can be disrupted. Possible Points of intervention for each pillar will be italicized in this text. This concept is taken from Beautiful Trouble:
“Truly effective interventions go beyond simply disrupting a system to pose a deeper challenge to its underlying assumptions and basic legitimacy. This holds true whether the intervention targets a physical system like a sweatshop or an ideological system like racism, sexism, or market fundamentalism.”
The five types of points of intervention are points of production (for instance, a factory), points of destruction (a prison or jail), points of consumption (a big box retailer), points of decision (the Wilson Building) and points of assumption (a place that hold symbolic importance or help create the normative narrative like a monument).
To best use this frame, activists and organizers must research each pillar and break them down into the systems that support them. Once you have identified the systems that perpetuate white supremacy you can then identity the people, places and organizations that will make strategic targets. Once you have your target you prepare an action that can move your target in the direction you want them to go. After you launch and action it is important to debrief with your affinity group to learn from each action. Remember, praxis makes perfect.
The five pillars of White Supremacy in DC we have identified are Inner City Settler-Colonialism, Plantation Politics, Cultural Appropriation, Economic Disenfranchisement, and Psychological Warfare. The names of these pillars are not important nor should they be seen as completely divisible structures with separate logics unto themselves. Rather they should be seen as interwoven tendencies that are in constant dialogue with the local material context.
The first pillar is Inner City Settler Colonialism: Areas of urban decay are simultaneously seen as vacant land ripe with opportunities to be exploited by capitalists and dangerous “uncivilized” areas that need to be tamed. This cry for taming or civilization is then used as justification for violence against the native population, now Black Americans instead of indigenous peoples and enforced by police instead of the cavalry. One can see ettler colonialism in the recent gentrification of Columbia Heights, the current gentrification of Petworth or the impending gentrification of Historic Anacostia.
Charters schools play an important part in this pillar, as brand new elementary schools often herald gentrification from young white professionals. Similarly, the school to prison pipeline and union busting of charter schools break important communal and economic ties in the area that make it more likely that residents will leave the neighborhood. Like the ideology of rugged individualism that provided the exploitable manpower to the ideology of manifest destiny, neo-liberal ideas about privatization and disinvestment from collective spaces speed this process along.
On an individual level, young white professionals see an increase of capital that caters to their personal taste as a positive change in the community, while the resulted displacement of the Black indigenous population is erased from their moral calculations. New Petworth residents might love the new book store and café without realizing that both the pricing and the books are not geared towards long-term residents. Likewise, the quant new stores are owned by the same developers who plan of shaping the neighborhood in their image for their profit.
The solution to Inner City Settler Colonialism is equitable communal development. We must abolish the idea that housing is a commodity to be bought and sold for profit or that communities as created by developers and urban planners. We must abolish the idea that schools are work force development factories. We must abolish the idea of a false meritocracy where the cream rises to the top. Instead we must reinvest in common spaces and resources that can be shared by all. Our schools must be communal spaces where the praxes of love and creative collaborative problem solving are taught in a supportive way. We must create collective solutions to our collective problems.
The second pillar is Plantation Politics: Nearly every power hierarchy in DC gets lighter and more masculine as you climb the ranks. From the political [ANC’s, the Council and Congress] to our unions and Federal government agencies; the DC power structure resembles an old southern plantation. This is a legacy that can be seen clearest in the transition from Slavery to Sharecropping to Jim Crow as the racial power relations were given a veneer of change but remain constant, though less explicit and brutally enforced, for most Blacks. The fact that DC is not state and must have its laws and budgets approved by the overwhelming white male congress is why DC is often called “the Last Plantation.”
Low level and front line staff in government, non-profits and unions are generally women of color who are overwhelming Black, overworked and underpaid. They are often directly managed by Black men or white women who themselves are managed by white women or men. Often times white upper management will hire aggressive and rude Black middle managers to control the Black workers. Equally common are “Black led” organizations held hostage by their white led boards. Even Black elected leadership from Marion Barry to Muriel Bowser were elected by a coalition of either white liberals or light skinned Black elites along with low income Blacks but always bankrolled by white male developers.
This structure also causes relatively privileged Blacks to try to leverage their class, gender, color, nation of origin, cultural or sexual orientation privilege to rise in status. This jockeying for a higher position in the hierarchy perpetuates a respectability politics that further enshrines the hierarchy that marginalizes them. Unfortunately, respectability politics also foster anti-Black racism in other POC communities and xenophobia within the Black community. As assimilation becomes more and more necessary for economic and social advancement within the system, racial progress become less about collective action and more about neo-liberal “rugged individualism.”
The solution to Plantation Politics is Emotional Emancipation and De-Colonization. We must identify, engage with and proactively counteract our implicit biases and internalized oppression about leadership and authority. We must create intentional spaces where the leadership of women, Black people, and working class folks are uplifted and supported. These intentional space should include our union meetings and elections, our staff meetings and legislative bodies. We must create new scripts for social interaction based on a Black Queer Feminist re-envisioning of collaborative power and shared leadership.
The next pillar of White Supremacy is Cultural Appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when elements of an oppressed people’s culture are repurposed by the dominant group’s culture. The moral problem of Cultural Appropriation revolves around the issue of ownership. White people listening to Chuck Berry is cultural sharing. Saying that Elvis invented Rock and Roll and leaving Black Rock and Roll founders to poverty is cultural appropriation. Too often something only exists as a valuable cultural phenomenon once white people “discover” it. In DC we see this when developers highlight and commodify token aspects of a neighborhood’s Black history in order to make is seem more authentic and therefore valuable to white renters. Examples of this are Eatonville’s use of Harlem Renaissance imagery or the numerous Marvin Gaye themed establishments on U Street.
One of the main drivers of cultural appropriation is the construction of whiteness itself. Whiteness is not merely an amalgamation of European cultural tendencies. This means that whiteness is not a melting pot of French, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Italian cultures. Rather, it is a culture of dominance that exists to both bestow and justify privilege for people perceived by society as white. White ethnic groups had to give up parts of their culture and identity in order to access the privileges of whiteness. Whiteness began to be bought and sold through marketing and advertising like many of other cultural values during 1950’s consumerism.
As whiteness was being sold through visions of an American dream in subdivision ads and car commercials, consumer capitalism worked to create a cultural deficit in white Americans, a feeling that they didn’t quite “have it all.” Consumer capitalism is then there to fill that deficit, with the next new “modern” thing. This leads to a tendency to mine other cultures for new music, hair styles and clothing that were previous considered low, uncouth or unprofessional.
The solution to cultural appropriation is Cultural Education and Cultural Ownership. We must teach the history of culture in our society in a dynamic, non-normative way. We have to de-center whiteness in our teaching of history and our understanding of culture creation. We need to consume more cultural productions from the global majority and value the cultural creations of people of color. We also need to change our intellectual property laws and cultural economies so that artists of color receive fair wages for their work and corporations cannot control cultural production.
The fourth pillar of white supremacy is Economic Disenfranchisement. It includes relegating large portions of Black people in DC into low paying service sector jobs that experience wage theft, unstable and insufficient hours and are demeaning. This marginalization is being pushed in large part by a belief in the neo-liberal tenet of privatization. Essential government services that have been disinvested in and fallen into dis-repair are privatized by contractors who provide cheaper services by paying workers less. Often this divestment is only possible with an attack on public sector unions, which are overwhelming Black. Furthermore, this system benefits from and perpetuates Black joblessness that allows for increased marginalization as so many people become willing to do anything to get a paycheck of any amount. Examples of economic disenfranchisement are the privatization of public transit in DC such as the H Street Car and the Circulator.
Similarly, it encompasses the often gendered economic exploitation found in unpaid labor such as emotional labor, childrearing and supporting elders and differently abled family members that further disadvantages Black femme identifying folks. Economic disenfranchisement in a Capitalist White Cis-Hetero Patriarchy also forces Black Trans and gender-non-conforming folks into further economic disenfranchisement as both their Blackness and gender identity and presentation are deemed as less or un professional.
The solution to economic disenfranchisement is an End to Privatization, a re-investment in Black Worker Power and our Economic Safety Net. We need to rehabilitate the safety net that is so riddled with holes of respectability that Black communities fall through. Union leadership needs to be decolonized so that white men no longer head unions full of Black women and they can start to effectively advocate for Black workers. Welfare to work requirements that demonize stay-at-home parenting and force Black workers into meaningless workforce development programs that further enshrine whiteness as professionalism need to be abolished. Lastly, we need a comprehensive policy reform to raise wages for everyone and hold businesses accountable for wage theft, redlining and discrimination.
We need to create workplaces where Black workers are supported and have the power to leverage their demands. We need to create workplaces where diversity is celebrated and workers have room for personal and professional development and income growth. We need to instill a cultural of collective advancement and economic solidarity. We need to invest in family friendly workplaces with paid family, sick and parental leave that allow workers the time to invest in their community.
The last pillar of White Supremacy in DC is Psychological Warfare. Police Brutality induced trauma is used to frighten Black residents into political apathy and make them feel unwelcomed in newly gentrifying areas. Systems like the prison industrial complex and zero-tolerance authoritarian charter schools condition Black people to accept white leadership and internalize messages of failure. This in turn empowers the respectability politics that limit Black leadership and reinforce a multi-tiered class system within the job market as speech and dress become conflated with professionalism and white assimilation becomes a job pre-requisite.
Psychological Warfare also includes the various ways that trauma exacerbates other social problems and forms of oppression. The prevalence of beauty standards that normalize and privilege whiteness further stigmatizing Black women; traumatizing Black girls and increasing their gendered oppression. In a different way, poverty and insecurity incentivize people to assert various privileged identities [i.e plantation politics] to get climb social and economic ladders thereby re-ingraining things like patriarchy, trans* phobia, classism, xenophobia and homophobia. As Black people deal with these external attacks that become internal problems, the myth of “Black on Black Crime” further stigmatizes the community. Any work to alleviate the true cause of Black oppression by attacking one of the pillars of White Supremacy is delegitimized by calls for the Black community to deal with its perceived cultural deficits.
The solution to Psychological Warfare is Instilling a Culture of Loving Empowerment and Investing in Self Care. The solutions commonly given to alleviate Black oppression in today’s society too often stigmatize Black people. Social Service agencies websites and grants go on and on about the plight of their “clients” and how vulnerable or at-risk their communities are. Instead we need to refocus our attention on the resiliency of Black people and the magnitude of the forces that oppose Black progress. Black Joy and Black Love need to be regular aspects of any community venture or event. Non-Black collaborators should partake in and support events geared towards celebrating Black resilience as appropriate.
Black only spaces are also critical for Black people to do the internal work necessary to counter the stigmatizing and trauma so prevalent in today’s society. Black people must process that emotional trauma and love and support each other through the process of liberation. Non-Black communities in solidarity with Black liberation must learn to have empathy with Black struggle and invest time and resources to support Black emotional emancipation. At the same time, non-Black communities in solidarity with Black liberation must process their own emotions in order to expand their capacity to experience joy and love and authentic relationships with Black people. On a systemic level, we need to invest in social workers and positive play in schools not police officers and metal detectors. Schools should look like supportive and collaborative learning laboratories not prisons. We must also invest in communal spaces such as parks, recreation centers, other forums where community can be built and resources shared.
What We Want
At the end of the day, policy solutions cannot bring Black Liberation, nor can anti-oppression trainings. Both tactics can merely give us space to envision and articulate alternatives. Ultimately, we must create new co-operative systems and new models of social interactions that respect the inherent dignity of Black people. We must limit the power of the state to direct our lives, which means that Black communities and communities in solidarity with Black liberation must take responsibility for solving our own problems. We cannot ultimately rely on the police to make us safe or social workers and psychologist to make us whole. We must take care of our neighbors and empower our communities. We must teach each other and learn from each other new models of being our best, most gorgeous, most lovingly empathetic selves.
This week of action is one step in creating a world more vivid, more visceral, more real, and more charged with the glorious energies of a life well lived than this one. A world in which Black lives blossom; where our greatness, our resilience, our magnificence burst into the world with tears of a joy so full of mirth that our whole bodies will shake in collective ecstasy.
We seek a world in which we have all have reclaimed the erotic; where we can feel our power and joy in the marrow of our bones; where the very fibers of our being feel the vibrancy of love coursing through them. We seek a world where we love without reservations; a world where we know we deserved to be loved. We seek a world where Black self-determination is an eternal block party where we sometimes vote on our budget. We fight because we can see a world where justice is love and love is a process and a praxis taught in schools.