An essay by Anastastia Higginbotham
Learning to accept the truth about white supremacy, when you are white, is like learning to accept an unspeakable but widely known truth about your family. The family secret. The family shame. Everyone already knows, and yet, to say it aloud will ruin everything. Or so you’ve been told.
White supremacy is the very rich uncle who favors you. He’s not handsome but you fail to notice on account of how rich he is and how thoroughly he spoils you. As in rotten. As in rotten to the core. As in rotting inside of you, in your core.
This very rich uncle, who remembers you on your birthday and always sends presents, stole the money he used to get you those presents from Black and Brown people. He robbed them, your neighbors, the people who greet you “good morning” and nod kindly in your direction as you pass on the sidewalk. Your uncle framed them for his crimes. They’re in prison now, which has been a very good investment, because he owns that prison and has convinced himself he owns every life inside of it as well. He earns money from their phone calls home. He hires the prisoners out to work for Victoria’s Secret and Whole Foods and only has to pay them a few cents a day—a day!—which they can put toward paying down their phone bill debt.
He comes to you around the holidays. His favorites are Christmas and the fourth of July. He slides a wad of cash in your pocket and whispers, Buy yourself something pretty, honey. He means something from Victoria’s Secret and Whole Foods. He also means a house. He means you should buy lingerie and organic food and a house in the right neighborhood, where your kids can go to the right school. He says “right” but he means “white.” But he also means right.
White supremacy is a lying, thieving, raping, murdering uncle with ties to the mafia. But you don’t need to know that. Why are you asking such unpleasant questions? Haven’t I been good to you? What do you want, sweetheart? I’ll get it for you. Stop asking these worrisome questions. It makes you look old.
Uncle White Supremacy, who is also an arms dealer, drug dealer, and human trafficker, claims to know whom you can and cannot trust, whom you should and should not love.
You know what Uncle White Supremacy loves? Your pale skin, your blue eyes, your shapely legs. He’s been watching you since you were a baby. He always knew you’d be a beauty. How old are you now, 18? he coos. Oh, you’re only 14? That’s surprising. A beautiful young woman already. If you weren’t my niece, well….” Well, he would try to have sex with you. Or lure you into it, saying you lured him. Or possibly he would force it. And then lie. And say you’re lying. You’re delusional. He would never! His own niece? You women are crazy. He raped your mom when they were kids. She never told you? She told then and was not believed. She tried telling again but her family was furious at her. They shamed her and she finally did come to believe she had something to do with it, and so, stopped believing it ever happened. She no longer believes it happened. My own brother? He would never!
Uncle White Supremacy is disappointed when you don’t reply to his texts. Where were you? Answer me. You’re so pretty. Do you know how special you are? Do you?? You still haven’t told me where you were. He is disappointed you’ve been peeking in his books, studying his tax returns, tracking his investments. His lip twitches when he confronts you about it. His pupils constrict. He wants you to stop spending so much time with those friends of yours. The boys with their pants that sag. The girls with their big soft afros that take up space, their locks, and the others with their shaved heads and hairy legs. And that sissy boy you seem to like so much—which bathroom does he/she/it use anyway?!
He thinks it’s cute you go to those rallies for those people. Cute but dumb. Just goes to show how naïve you are. He thought you were smarter than that. The world is full of pain, honey, you think you can stop it??? That’s life. It’s real life and I’ve been protecting you from all that. This is the thanks I get? Oh, don’t look so pained. As I said, it makes you look old, and ugly. To be honest, I’m disappointed in you. I thought you had more sense.
Uncle White Supremacy places a hot hand on your thigh under the dinner table. He thinks you belong to him too. You don’t.
Anastastia Higginbotham is the creator of the Ordinary Terrible Things children’s book series, which includes Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness (Dottir Press, 2018).