What concerns me most about powerful politicians with “black face pasts” isn’t the morality of the individuals today but the white supremacist culture that raised these people. This culture created their white segregated environment where black facing was socially acceptable, whitewashed the history lessons that could have otherwise taught them the real past and present of racism and the context of black face, and sent the message that the marginalization and suffering of people of color can be relegated and dismissed as entertainment and a joke.
This isn’t a question of good or bad, racist or non-racist, but a question of whether powerful political leaders of our country understand white supremacy as systems and internalizations that affect all white people no matter their intentions or awareness. It’s a question about whether these politicians are even aware of how white supremacy dominates institutions and how this impacts the individual.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo analyzed the racial breakdown of the people who controlled our institutions in 2016-17 and found:
Congress: 90% white
Governors: 96% white
Top military advisers: 100% white
President and vice president: 100% white
Current POTUS cabinet: 91% white
People who decide which TV shows we see: 93% white
People who decide which books we read: 90% white
People who decide which news is covered: 85% white
People who decide which music is produced: 95% white
Teachers: 83% white
Full-time college professors: 84% white
Owners of men’s pro-football teams: 97% white
“These numbers are not a matter of ‘good people’ versus ‘bad people.’ They are a matter of power, control, and dominance by a racial group with a particular self-image, worldview, and set of interests in the position to disseminate that image and worldview and protect those interests across the entire society,” Dr. Robin DiAngelo said.
People who made racist mistakes in the past like wearing black face aren’t necessarily “bad” people today, as long as they can use these experiences to accurately see the white supremacy in this country they were born into, its external and internal effects on all white people, and the importance of actively using their privilege and power to dismantle the systems of white supremacy.
But if these politicians are still stuck in this “I’m not a racist or a bad person” binary (a binary created to hide white supremacy by falsely claiming only bad people are associated with racism), and if they still don’t see their actions as part of the system of white supremacy, which they should actively be dismantling, then they got to go regardless if it’s by resignation, impeachment, or electoral failure. And we, the voters, need to be asking more important questions about the views of our candidates on white supremacy before they get elected.
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