The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy by Yawo Brown

This essay appropriately follows the last Continuing Conversation (January 4, 2016) which focused on white supremacy.  Learn about Chad Crow, “the super chill grandson of Jim Crow.”  Among other things Yawo Brown clarifies the distinction between racism and prejudice, explaining that only “racism is tied to a power structure and access to resources.”  Brown elaborates stating that “Polite White Supremacy relies on three key components to ensure its success: comfort, control, and confidentiality.”  In particular, Brown gives numerous examples of how the control of language and the narrative by the white press, white law enforcement, etc. reinforces negative stereotypes.

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10 Comments on “The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy by Yawo Brown

  1. Yawo Brown carefully unpacks the language of white supremacy that is the foundation for creating white privilege and the sense of entitlement. I realize that it remains challenging for white people to accept that this country is founded on this concept of whiteness. Facing the lie we all were told that this is the country of milk and honey, we are the melting pot, and pull yourselves up by the boot straps up to be successful. Yet, rarely have we discussed the truth about those American values or how the depiction of those values displayed in painter Norman Rockwell’s portraits, which speaks to what America and the idea of being American screamed from these pictures…BUT, I do not see me… Do you see you? If so, why? Answer honestly to how easy it is to self-identify when you are held up to the light and illuminated, celebrated, and the communication assigned is one of valuable… Again, where am I? Possibility the maid in the kitchen preparing the meal or cleaning up??? Really ponder how the social fiber of this country celebrates whiteness within every aspect of what being American means…

    • Yes, I have often thought that about Norman Rockwell covers for the Saturday Evening Post. And the Yankee Doodle painting at the Nassau Inn. And stained glass windows in churches…

      • I visited the Rockwell Museum this summer and saw the painting for Look magazine he did in 1964 depicting 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted by deputy federal marshals on her way to an all-white school in New Orleans. He titled it The Problem We All Live With. Very powerful.

      • What did these paintings communicate to you about life and how you felt? Did the painting give you a sense of acceptance and belonging?.

      • I went to the museum expecting to see depictions of a totally white United States. Most of Rockwell’s paintings are that. I had forgotten about his “political” works. (I learned from the Wikipedia article my earlier comment links to that he left the Saturday Evening Post, which published his work as their covers for many years because they would not publish his political paintings. I had probably seen the Ruby Bridges painting when I was young, because it looked familiar. It upended my assumptions about Rockwell and moved me deeply. The focus is entirely on the child. She is the only figure who is depicted in full. The viewer sees only part of the adult figures. Ruby looks perfect–perfectly groomed, perfectly dressed, carrying pristine school supplies, seemingly marching in perfect step. What a contrast to those who are watching her, as the commentary says, they are the crowd watching this small child integrate an all white school, her perfection standing out against the spattered fruit and the scrawled slur behind her. I’m not sure where acceptance and belonging come in. I don’t identify with the hostile crowd watching her and nor with her experience, never having undergone what had to have been a horrific experience, especially at such a young age.

      • Simona, putting the political paintings aside, I DID identify with the white characters in the paintings — the soda jerk, the friendly doctor, on and on. My emotion was — “I recognize these people. I can imagine myself in this situation.” And –of course — the environment of the white person in the Rockwell ’40s and ’50s was totally different from the world of the non-white person. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

  2. Thank you, if you would please indulge me – return to your comment “Ruby looks perfect-perfectly groomed, perfectly dressed, carrying pristine school supplies, seemly marching in perfect step.” In contrast to the crowd watching Ruby walk into an all white school. Your visual statement shines light upon the experiences and consciousness that most black people face daily as we consider the resistance and expectations of our presence; therefore, we dress in perfectly groomed attire to assimilate as effectively as we can…often leaving a part of ourselves in safety at home. Indeed, Rockwell’s efforts to share the truth was dominated by those images of wholesome whiteness; however, as you shared Ruby required attending for so many reasons. I look at Ruby’s picture today and feel in my heart the sacrifices made for “me” to be in this moment and I am joyously grateful…

  3. Indeed, the picture of Ruby surfaces many feelings, one of personal pride and sadness that any 6-year-old child would need that level of protection and escort to obtain an education in the United States of American. In contrast, black children, today, need protection against armed forces as their lives remain under valued and dispensable.. Indeed, looking at Ruby and considering all the events of today, so much has changed, yet remains the same in so many other ways…#BlackLivesMatter… Indeed, Very Powerful…

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