This week, I’ve been slowly getting through the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. What originally started as a 28-day social media challenge ended up going viral, garnering the support and responses from tens of thousands of people around the world. The point of the challenge was to have each person lean in to challenge, examine, and ultimately take ownership and responsibility of the ways that they uphold white supremacy in their lives. Now, this guide has been published as a book with a foreword added by the antiracism educator and sociologist Robin DiAngelo, as well as additional historical and cultural contexts, stories and anecdotes, and expanded definitions.
One thought that immediately is shared in the book is that when most people hear “White supremacy” or “White supremacist,” their thoughts immediately go to images of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, etc. In other words, they hear “white supremacy” and think it has nothing to do with them as individuals because they try to see all people regardless of race or color as “equal.” But Saad argues that this thinking is so far from the truth, and that in fact, White supremacy is “an ideology, a paradigm, an institutional system, and a worldview that you have been born into” by virtue of your privileges and socialization into a world that has created the social construction of race and thus socializes you to conform to those social constructions.
This is pretty true upon reflection, even for those of us who are not White. There are many relative privileges that people of Asian descent face in White America. Though in the U.S., people sadly look at the world through a lens that only sees white vs. black/brown, and thus Asians are pretty much invisible, we have many privileges. We rarely have to worry about getting shot and killed by the police or randomly getting pulled over just because of our skin color. When we walk through neighborhoods with hoodies on, it’s less likely that we’ll be accosted or accused of theft the way a Black person would. While we have lots of stereotypes attached to us, “lazy,” “stupid,” “unintelligent” or “incapable” are rarely adjectives that get used for Asians, unfortunately, as Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo, Layla F. Saad, and other antiracist educators, historians, and sociologists have found through research, these are just a handful of derogatory adjectives associated with being Black. I doubt that anyone ever questioned whether I would finish high school, attend college, or get a white-collar job after college.
For my entire life, White people were the norm on TV, in movies, in books. Probably about 90 percent of all the teachers I ever had were White, with a handful of exceptions that I can actually remember right at this very moment. When Asians were portrayed, it was always in a geeky, dorky, passive, exotified type role. When Black people were portrayed in non-dominant-Black cast shows, it always felt like they had stereotypes attached to them. Everyone who wasn’t White was some cookie-cutter stereotype that Hollywood created. “White” was considered “normal.” Everyone else was considered “other” and thus “not normal.” As a result, I always am a bit excited or curious when I see someone who is non-White NOT being in a stereotypical role. As a result, I think that “White” is normal and everything else is not. So I tend to get gleefully surprised every time I see someone make it big who is not White. I’ve embraced comedians like Ali Wong, Hasan Minhaj, Ronny Chieng, Trevor Noah, Vir Das. I support Constance Wu, Randall Park, and other Asian actors. The more I think about this, the more excited I get that hopefully one day, our next generation will think it’s just normal to see different people of different colors and races mingle together, to see Asian actors on the big screen or to have Black instructors teaching their courses. It could be a “new normal,” an improved normal. I hope that we will continue to see more people of color who are usually under represented more in the media so that people can realize that we are also “normal,” too, and not “different” or “other.”