Speak Now with Columnist Maddie Raymond: A look at white supremacy culture

  • MADDIE RAYMOND

Published: 1/11/2022 1:17:30 PM
Modified: 1/11/2022 1:16:38 PM

This last month has been hard for me. Even before I was rejected from my top college, and my mom tested positive for COVID-19 two days later, I was cracking under the weight of immense pressure, feeling the need to rest my body but at the same time fear that I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t searching up and applying for enough scholarships to make sure my parents could afford my education next year, wasn’t studying enough for AP physics (my hardest class) or putting in enough hours at my job. I was, and still am, exhausted, but I felt the need to keep going.

Sitting here in my room alone, reeling from the one-two punch that was the last week of my life, I wonder if I’m even qualified to write about rest. If I’m even qualified to tell you all that my inability to rest without guilt (and the one you likely have too) is a product of white supremacy culture. The culture that we all live in, which values quantity over quality and working through the pain. As usual, it is the system we live in that is at fault — the system us white people enforced on the world through colonial violence.

TemaOkun explains to us that the society we live in, the one that values perfection and black-and-white thinking, the one that hoards power and pushes us to work with urgency hanging over our heads, is but one way to live (white supremacy culture). It is the way formulated by the Dutch, the English, the colonizers that spread all over the world and coalesced their cultures into one they called whiteness in order to lord over everyone else. And the simple fact is, it hurts us all. Even us white people, though we simultaneously benefit from it.

But I’m not the best one to explain this, so I turn you over to a website I found called White Supremacy Culture. Based on the original 1999 article by TemaOkun outlining the tenets of the white supremacy culture we all operate in, it expands on these ideas, whether that be through art, further explanation, or collaboration with other activists such as Cristina Rivera Chapman of Earthseed Collective.

To me, this website was a soft place to land after the hardship of the last few weeks. It gave me the permission I needed to enjoy my downtime without the fear that I wasn’t enough, that in this sink-or-swim society we live in just because I didn’t want to push myself every second of every day. It helped me let go of that feeling I’d been harboring since my college rejection; that if I’d just done a little bit more and rested a little bit less I would’ve gotten in and avoided this devastation.

This culture that I have grown up in — that we have all grown up in — has worn me down. My whole life I have been told both consciously and unconsciously that there is one right way. That I have to become an expert in my field, and do what it takes to pull myself up and build a life all on my own. I struggle with the pressure of college season, with the guilt of how many adults have put effort in to raise me. I feel I must return on their investment.

Yet that’s exactly it, an example of white supremacy culture rearing its ugly head. I cannot speak for the horrific violence white supremacy and by extension the hatreds it cultivates and the culture it creates on marginalized people, but I can speak on how it is detrimental even to those it is supposed to support. To truly move in the direction of a liberated society for all people, we must actively practice dismantling the tenets of white supremacy culture, not just with others but with ourselves.

No matter what kind of month you’ve had, I suggest you take a look at this website. For some, it will offer solace, like it did me. For some, it will offer an educational experience, or a call to action. Whatever the outcome, I hope you feel empowered to make some changes in your life to bring down these systems, whether that’s letting yourself rest more often, giving more grace to your employees or coworkers at work, or doing work to accept that more than one kind of path in life is acceptable. These are just examples, the website has so much more.

Personally, I know where I must work. I’m still stuck on the idea that a prestigious college and career are what I must have, and anything else will be at least a little lesser. I still feel I must work until my bones give out before I can rest. I’m still writing this to justify my rest. But I hope what I have shared with you gives you an outlet for solace, and an outlet for positive change. I don’t want to turn my pain into a product, but rather show the world that they are not alone in their hurt.

Maddie Raymond, who lives in the hilltowns, writes a monthly column.


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