White Superiority. It’s a big part of White Privilege. Inherently, I don’t feel superior to anyone, but I don’t have to feel it for it to be true.
I began recognizing my White Superiority twenty-five years ago. I had started working at an “urban ministry.” As I sought out things for kids to do, people responded and started donating items--toys, books, computers. Donated books were easy to come by...and I was happy to accept.
Though I don’t remember what brought it to my attention, I started noticing that the characters in the books didn’t look like the kids who participated in our program. Donation after donation came in, all the same: White, White, and White.
Until then, it had never occurred to me how White books were. I had grown up a voracious reader and had never noticed that all of the books I read looked like me. The same went for movies and TV shows (with the exception of the Cosby Show).
I had never noticed that the music I listened to was mostly by White people. That the names of all of the buildings at my college were named after White people. That when I went to Washington D.C. in high school, I saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial...all White people. My history books, with a possible mention of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, were dedicated to lauding White people’s accomplishments. Disney movies were all White princesses with White knights in shining armor sweeping them off of their feet. The dolls advertised on TV? All White.
Though our rural Missouri town was small (707 people to be exact), I did get some exposure to people of color. The maids and butlers in TV shows and movies were Black or Hispanic. The bad guys in children’s books and Disney movies always had dark skin. Welfare moms on the news were represented by single Black women and “deadbeat dads” were represented by Black men. We were taught to lock our doors in the “scary” parts of cities where homes were more rundown and people of color were walking the streets. In the 80s, “Rock 99,” the local radio station, proudly proclaimed, “We never play rap!!!”...which, we knew, was mainly created by Black people.
In my childhood, I fell in love with old black and white movies like White Christmas and I loved tap dancing movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I was never exposed to African-American movies like Cabin in the Sky or astounding Black tap dancers like the Nicholas brothers. I had no idea they even existed until about 20 years ago when a Black friend intentionally showed those movies and more, knowing how many knew nothing about them.
White Superiority is about a system that is in place that tells me I am important. By default, people who are not represented are given the message that they are not as important. If they were, they would be represented more. White Superiority is not about how I feel; it’s about who I am by default.
The problem lies in who chooses...and has always chosen...the representation. Until we recognize that multiple voices and multiple perspectives need to and deserve to be represented, and until we fight to make sure that becomes our reality, our White Superiority will remain intact.