Melting the Iceberg of White Supremacy

By Chris Lahr

As the next waive of Facebook posts highlight the tragedies of the white supremacist march in Virginia.  A white woman responded to a post, “Sadly, there is a certifiably insane fringe in every group promoting a cause.  The ‘fringe’ never, ever represents the whole.”

It is common practice for white folks to look at events like Virginia and distance themselves from such madness, without seriously facing the problem underlying the issue.  The white protesters in Virginia are like the tip of the iceberg of White Supremacy.  We all know the tip is only a fragment of the larger iceberg, and in this case a lot of “good people” make up the base of the iceberg we call white supremacy!  If we are unable to name and see the effects of white supremacy in our country then things will not get better.  Many white folks go silent when active racism rears its head, because they think it has nothing to do with them personally, but it does.  MLK Jr said I couldn’t be all I need to be unless you are all that you need to be, and vice versa.  Humanity is interconnected and it’s time we start acting like it!

White supremacy has been woven into the fabric of our society since Columbus oppressed the Native population and paved the way for white settlers to colonize it.  It continued with the racialization of slavery following Bacon’s rebellion as “white” appeared in colonial laws for the first time to create a social barrier between black slaves and poor white folk.[1] [2] [3]   White supremacy continued to rear its head after the abolishment of slavery as sundown towns were established throughout the North and Midwest to drive people of color from their “white towns.” [4]   White supremacy ruled the day as white and black people tried to move to the suburbs, and only white folks were allowed to stay and build wealth through the housing market, while people of color were forced into the ghettos. [5]  White supremacy is reflected today through poverty rates, incarceration rates, police brutality, and on and on.

It’s important to understand the effects of white supremacy, but it is not enough to simply feel guilty, be paralyzed, or even point the finger of blame.  White supremacy is real, and as white folks we need to begin melting away the iceberg (sort of like global warming with justice.)  Here are a few things that white people could do to begin melting the iceberg: move to an urban neighborhood and raise your family there, stay in your small town but actually get to know people of color and develop authentic relationships. Go to a church where you are the minority and sit… build relationships, and earn the right and invitation to use your gift.  Consider giving your time or resources to an organization ran by people of color that are bringing positive change.  There are plenty of grassroots organizations bringing about transformation in our nation.  One example is Timoteo, which is a grassroots mentoring organization in Philadelphia where indigenous leaders empower local youth to bring positive transformation to the city and our world.  Through this organization, youth of color can also be shown that college or the workforce is a real possibility.

The iceberg may be huge but lets not grow weary in gaining a deeper understanding of its elements that manifests itself as racial inequalities.  Lets not grow weary at finding different lifestyle changes that will melt away this iceberg of injustice.  

[1] http://www.pbs.org/race/003_RaceTimeline/003_00-home.htm

[2] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, pp.56-57

[3] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.html

[4] James Loewen, Sundown Towns,  p 47, 54

[5] Race the Power of Illusion: Episode Three: The House We Live In, California Newsreel, 2003.

Chris and Lara Lahr live in Philadelphia, where they raise three daughters. They have been married twenty years, with 17 of them taking place in the city, where they reside. Lara is a community nurse working with babies and mamas in their neighborhood. She is currently going to school to become a midwife. Chris works with a non-profit called Timoteo (www.timoteosports.org). Timoteo is a mentoring program that uses flag football as a means of mentoring urban youth. Timoteo serves over 300 youth in the neighborhood and over 150 adults. The Lahr’s are strong believers that they are called to be neighbor’s (instead of missionaries), which calls them to celebrate, struggle, worship, and live life in the neighborhood they serve. Chris is a graduate of Asbury Seminary and Eastern College. Lara is a graduate of Asbury College.