White supremacy alive and well in Geneseo

This is a guest essay that was submitted to The Lamron by professor of English Maria Lima.

White supremacy is a belief system rooted in European and U.S. imperialism, existing at the heart of their social system and laws. White supremacy is not just a series of practices or privileges, but a system of domination that overly values and rewards what is racialized as white. Even when white people have been oppressed by various forms of labor exploitation, classism, heterosexism and homophobia, they have been able to find some comfort in the fact that they are not non-white, what W.B. DuBois calls "the psychological wage of whiteness" in Black Reconstruction. Nowhere is white supremacy more evident than in university settings.

For when liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white-supremacist values and beliefs, as bell hooks writes, "even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination, they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they profess to wish to see eradicated." (Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black). The example bell hooks offers rings unfortunately familiar - of white professors who want to have "a" black person in "their" department "as long as that person thinks and acts like them, shares their values and beliefs," teaches like them, preferably without an accent. Since 1992, I've seen too many non-white faculty members at Geneseo be denied tenure because they've refused to assimilate.

This is more or less what I told the young man who walked out of the Ballroom with me at the end of the "Being Black in Geneseo" forum, after he let me know how offended he was by my words. "As a white man who is not a racist," he said, he was "hurt" when he heard me say "this campus is god-forsaken white."

"White men have feelings too, you know," he said.

Geneseo-systemically-is unfortunately still reinforcing and perpetuating white supremacy despite its diversity goals. For we should ask ourselves what is our motivation in wanting more non-white people to come to Geneseo, and the answer should not just be to increase diversity, but the end of white supremacy.

As Robert Jensen writes, "Naming the United States as white supremacist, doesn't mean all white people run around in white sheets or join neo-Nazi militias. Instead, it marks the fact that racialized disparities in wealth and well-being endure - and in some cases have deepened - even 40 years after the major gains of the civil-rights movement. It marks the fact that many white people - maybe the majority? a significant majority? - still believe that what has come out of Europe is inherently superior. Maybe even many white liberals who celebrate diversity still secretly believe that the art, music, politics, and philosophy that come from white parts of the world are more sophisticated, more important, and simply better. So, we live in a world where we (1) speak of our commitment to racial justice yet accept a white-supremacist distribution of resources and (2) speak of our commitment to valuing all traditions, yet go to schools that reflect a white-supremacist ideology. ["Last Sunday: What to do with/about white folks?" ZNet February 24, 2007].

Until the Geneseo curriculum begins telling a different story, decentering Europe and Western knowledge, this campus will continue to be god-forsaken white. Is this what we want?