I don’t like to garden, but I do know that every once in a while you have to weed, or your house will look abandoned. One hot summer day, I saw way too many dandelions and I asked my youngest to help me pull them up. About two minutes later, he came back with his basket full, very pleased with himself. He forgot the little detail about removing them from the root, but simply capped off all the yellow flowers. Now I’d have to go back and find the green stems and pull those out after the fact. Thankfully, dandelions are an easy weed to extract.
But there’s another weed called the Canadian Thistle (pictured above) which is not so easy to remove. It snuck into America aboard a ship in the 1600’s, and has flourished here ever since. It grows in the North and the South: ubiquitous, hardy, prolific, relentless. Its root systems can travel fifteen feet across and ten to fifteen feet deep. It can only be removed through repeated applications of herbicide – over time.
White Supremacy is like this weed.
The concept of race didn’t take hold until the 18th Century, when many in America began questioning the humanity of the slave trade, and those with a lot to lose cast about looking for justification. Race theory came to the fore at the perfect time. A German scientist first floated the idea, but soon scientific and religious writing proliferated proving that humanity could be divided up into five distinct races each with varying levels of intelligence and inherent morality. Caucasians were at the top of this pyramid, and Africans at the bottom. Mix bad religion with bad science and you conclude that Black people were actually created to be servile.
In truth, race is a social construct; it is not biological (and it is nowhere in the Bible). But White supremacy grew out of race theory and spread like a weed, invading American culture and manifesting in myriad tragic ways.
It manifested in slavery. If Black people were born to be abject, you could shackle, whip, sell and breed them with a clear conscience.
It manifested in the Jim Crow South, which separated Blacks from Whites communicating, “You are not worthy to live, work, learn or worship with us. And you certainly can’t take part in our democracy.”
It manifested in the North, which also bared Black people from better jobs, better schools, better neighborhoods and better homes. Black men could fight in the wars, but they couldn’t find a job with a fair wage when they returned home.
It manifested in 1919, when 17 year old Eugene Williams accidentally drifted from the Black section of a Chicago beach into the White section, and the White beachgoers pelted him with rocks, struck his head and left him to drown.
It manifested in 1955 when White men tortured the 14 year old Emmet Till for allegedly groping a white women (an allegation that soon after proved to be a lie).
It manifested in 2012 when George Zimmerman decided to stop and ultimately kill the 17 year old Trayvon Martin for looking suspicious.
It manifested in 2014 when Officer Jason Van Dyke emptied his firearm into 17 year old Laquon MacDonald and left him in the street to die alone.
It manifested when Sandra Bland died in custody, Breonna Taylor died in her bed, Ahmaud Arbery died while jogging and George Floyd died for using a fake $20 bill.
It manifested countless times over the course of our history when Black lives were taken without compunction for minor crimes, or for no crime at all.
It manifests when a White person hears of these killings and quickly searches for justification: when the need to exonerate the killer is greater than the need to lament the loss of life.
It manifests when a White addict is rehabilitated and a Black addict is incarcerated.
It manifests every time a White person gaslights a Black person: What matters to you isn’t real. There is no systemic racism. Your fears are exaggerated. Despite the data, despite the videos, there's nothing wrong; it’s all in your head.
Like the Canadian Thistle, White supremacy can only be removed through repeated applications of weed killer – over time. This weed took a blow when the Emancipation Proclamation, the 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed. It takes a blow every time a White person befriends and respects a Black person. It takes a blow every time a White family watches a movie about Black excellence. It takes a blow when a White teacher reads a book written by a Black author to her class. It is weakened every time a CEO adds a Black manager and every time an employee rallies the courage to challenge a racist policy.
The greatest blows come when White people concede that White supremacy is absurd, that there is no gene that makes them better and when they look around and see that Black Americans have thrived and will continue to thrive when given the opportunity, just like White people.