The Myths That Feed White Supremacy

Adrien Schless-Meier has written a thought-provoking article about the ties that bind everything from Nellie Andreeva’s questions about whether or not people of color are currently taking up too much space on television to the shooting of unarmed black men by law enforcement. Her analysis finds that the one thing all of these reactions have in common is that they are based on a “zero sum game” when it comes to the relationship of white people to people of color.

While it’s easy to cast off discussions of pop culture as trivial or inane, Andreeva’s article draws on and reinforces a logic with deep, pervasive implications. It is the axiom according to which white folks organize our histories, our lives, our relationships: In a world based on whiteness, there is only room for one winner-and it had better be us…

The irony of this fear shouldn’t be lost on us – white people simply wouldn’t exist as we do today, embedded within and sitting atop a racial hierarchy, if it weren’t for systematic violence against Native people and African slaves in the early years of colonialism. We have learned, over the course of generations, that the path to power runs through the graveyard…

When we ask whether we’ve gone “too far” in creating spaces for people of color to explore and articulate nuanced, intricate life experiences, we are reinforcing the idea that only one narrative – that people of color represent a threat to white people – can or should endure. Left unchecked, this belief is the bedrock for the justification of everything from forced deportations to police killings. We cannot do the hard work of reshaping both the limits of our own empathy and the structures of our institutions if we continue to buy into the logic of the zero-sum game.

The sustained assault on people of color in the U.S. demands, at the very least, the dignity of better questions. Rather than wonder what white people might lose if people of color win, we should start by asking why we continue to tolerate, even condone, a world where the cost of protecting whiteness is measured in real, valuable lives lost.

What Schless-Meier has tapped into is the win/lose aspect of what Riane Eisler calls the domination model of human relationships. In this instance, it assumes that in order for white people to win, people of color must lose. One must dominate. That myth is what underscores our fears – which leads to a defensiveness to change.

The entire edifice on which that myth is based needs to be challenged if we are ever going to get past our fears. It is a sad commentary on our religious life in the 21st century that so many of our institutions fail to address this deep anxiety (and in some cases, even reinforce it).

The questions Schless-Meier suggests that we ask ourselves as white people about why we tolerate such a world were at least partially answered for me by Lynne Twist in her book The Soul of Money. In it she suggests that the zero sum game is based on the myth of scarcity.

Whether we live in resource-poor circumstances or resource-rich ones, even if we’re loaded with more money or goods or everything you could possibly dream of wanting or needing, we live with scarcity as an underlying assumption. It is an unquestioned, sometimes even unspoken, defining condition of life. It is not even that we necessarily experience a lack of something, but that scarcity as a chronic sense of inadequacy about life becomes the very place from which we think and act and live in the world. It shapes our deepest sense of ourselves, and becomes the lens through which we experience life…

This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationship with money.

A world-view based on scarcity means not only that I am not enough (the bedrock of fear), but also the belief that there is not enough for everyone. And so, one of us wins and one loses. In such a world, I am going to fight to make sure that I’m not the loser.

Twist says that we need to let go of the lie of scarcity and replace it with a sense of sufficiency.

We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, and a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough

When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.

As long as we tell ourselves a story of scarcity, we will be trapped in our fears and the zero sum game. Knowing that “there is enough, and that we are enough” releases us from all that and opens up the possibility for empathy…and perhaps the ability to let go of the need to defend “whiteness” at the expense of others.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.