There’s various forms of this saying, and I don’t know who said it, but it goes something like: “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.”

A fish knows it is in water as much as many white Americans know they take part in white supremacy. So many don’t know what it is or what racism is. They have misconceptions about it, they believe that it’s all just hate speech, bald heads, and pointy hoods. But it is so much more than that.

People often confuse something that is race based and racism. To be racist, there has to be structures of power in place, along with a prejudice against certain races.

There is a spectrum of racism, and levels of prejudice. Black Americans can be prejudiced against white people, but not racist because black American’s don’t hold social power or privilege over white Americans. It’s how Henry Louis Gates can be suspected of breaking into his own home and asked to forgive the officer who thought he was.

Based upon the social, economic, and political structure of America, black Americans cannot oppress white Americans. Again, racism is more than just prejudice.

White supremacy is a system that creates advantages for white people to the disadvantage and oppression of others. This is where the term “white privilege” comes about. White Americans don’t have to fear for their life every time they are pulled over, their “natural” hair is looked upon as professional, there aren’t laws that target white Americans and are disproportionately enforced upon them, and one million other things, etc. etc..

Launa Owens, second from right, received a racist note.
Launa Owens, second from right, received a racist note.

There is a spectrum to this.

White supremacy is more than just pointed white hoods, Nazis, and bald heads. It’s a system. It’s a society. It’s the system and society this nation was founded under. John Adams and Thomas Paine were the only Founding Fathers of the United States of America that did not own slaves. And let’s not forget that right before the start of the civil war, slaves were worth more than the entire industrial sector of the United States economy. Not to mention that the growth of our textile industry, which made cotton an international good for the first time, owed that growth to enslaved Africans.

Then, we get into the founding document which had the 3/5th compromise, which wasn’t about some form of humanity. Northern states fought against it because they saw slaves as property and Southern states just wanted to boost their representation in congress.

Black Americans were also shut out of much of the New Deal, the GI bill, there is still predatory lending, redline zoning, and it’s harder to get business or personal loans no matter your income. If you’re black with an undergrad degree, you’re just as likely to be employed as white high school dropout.

Racism is the vessel or the main tool of white supremacy and it takes many different forms. This gives rise to the privileges of being white in America, which is just manifestation of white supremacy.

A major privilege is not being afraid of police, who were created to protect white Americans, particularly wealthy whites and what became middle class white America from the underclass, or black and brown America.

The origins in the United States came from slave catchers. They professionalization in the north was also a form of control. In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, they began the professionalization of their police force with the hiring of Irish immigrants to become officers in black neighborhoods. This was a 20th century replication of the slave codes, which gave poor whites power and privilege over enslaved Africans.

Things didn’t stop there, across the nation police forces were used to keep black Americans in their place in the larger social order. This hasn’t stopped; the drug war became just another form of this.

Back home, Madison still holds onto some of the largest racial disparities in the nation when it comes to arrest and incarceration disparities.

The thought you might be having is: just don’t commit a crime. Well, what we see a good chunk of the time is what’s called a crime of poverty; meaning that if that person was not living in poverty, they would not have committed the crime. And since we know there are hiring, loan lending, and more biases and disparities, this is what we call institutional or structural racism. Especially as you go on to victim blame those that are living under the much larger crimes of poverty and racism for their crimes to survive poverty.

Meaning that if students of color didn’t experience racism at UW-Madison, then King Shabazz wouldn’t have taken part in an act of civil disobedience in his graffiti. This is a long line of events through this nation’s history that shows us that property is valued more than black bodies, ever since black bodies ceased being property.

You no longer want to see Bucky in a hood? Then work to stop white supremacy.

You may be asking yourself: what racism on campus? It’s just a few individuals, right?. If you’re asking yourself that, I’m betting you’re part of the problem.

Think through your time on campus, have you ever asked or just touched a black girl’s hair? Or have you said, “You’re cute for a black girl?” Or how about those sexual fantasies of being with a muscular black man? Have you thought that a person of color must be here on a scholarship? Or do you love black culture, but don’t support black lives? Did you think that when Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, or one of the countless other black bodies were killed that they deserved it?

You might believe that your thoughts that black students are lazy, didn’t work as hard, are prone to violence and criminal behavior is just the truth, and that you’re not racist for thinking so. Even though those exact same thoughts have been said about black Americans since we were slaves — you know working without pay in brutal conditions.

You might believe racism isn’t that bad and we just need to stop complaining about it. Even though you don’t live it and you can look away as you ignore the quantitative, qualitative, and anecdotal evidence it still exists.

All of those things are racist.

Students of color can’t just be students. They need to be resilient, and they need to be strong in the face of everyday adversity. The majority of the racism they face can’t be written down in a hate and bias incident report. Where comments from classmates about whom you are and if you belong on this campus happen in class, at the library, as you’re walking down the street, at a bar and everywhere. You can’t escape it.

It’s more than a slipped note with the N-word and a hanging doll. It’s when during group projects no one wants to work with a Hmong nursing student. It’s having to speak for your race in every class you’re in because you’re the only person of color. It’s when you’re told your natural hair isn’t professional or fashionable, but becomes a “trend” for white people weeks later.

It’s when countless students assume a student of color is here on scholarship. It’s assuming that if they are, that they didn’t work hard to get it. It’s being asked multiple times in a week if you have or know where to get weed or other drugs. It’s countless aggressions that you don’t see and feel.

Not only do they live in a world where they are harassed every day, they are also asked to be teachers. They are asked to educate a white person or a non-black person of color at their whim. They are asked to bow down and tell them what the demands of #TheRealUW are, at that individual’s whim. They must educate everyone on what racism and white supremacy is. Because, apparently, it’s not on white people to educate themselves, or to attend appropriate spaces and times for such education. People of color must do it at all times in all spaces.

We are open to educating people, but not at your request … we are not your mules. Education and conversations happen, there are spaces for these and they happen all the time. The fact that you may not be aware about them is your failing.

It is very difficult to see the white supremacy in this university and in this nation if you are white. You do not live it, but it is the air you breathe. It’s like a fish discovering water.

Students leave demands on the statue of Abraham Lincoln at a recent protest against racism on UW campus.
Students leave demands on the statue of Abraham Lincoln at a recent protest against racism on UW campus.

UW-Madison has not handled racism on its campus well, the reasons being:
1. They are asking students and staff of color for input and how to make changes … for free. It’s something these students are far too often asked to do. Pay them.
2. Ideas, thoughts, and suggestions have been given to UW-Madison administrators for years; why are they just now listening?
3. These are not actions of single incidents, or a small part of the population. Recognize this is a culture, a larger social issue … it’s beyond climate
4. Initiatives are needed to target white students and even non-black people of color. White students are the main group perpetuating white supremacy. This is more than just cultural competency. It is behaviors and actions they are taking part in every day. It’s also a lack of knowledge of history and systems.

Classes on cultural competency and on ethnic studies class isn’t enough. Yes, ethnic studies are needed, but the history of racism and white supremacy, as well as its impact, needs to be reflected and built in the curriculum for all classes.

Yes, cultural competency training is good for current staff and faculty. But why not include cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competency as part of the hiring process throughout UW-Madison? And why not make the training a career long requirement for all staff and faculty?

You no longer want to see Bucky in a hood? Then work to stop white supremacy.

The bottom line is that these students are asked to be more than just students, they’re asked to be so much more. They are asked to look past the many forms of racism they face every day.

So if you want to truly support Bucky, don’t be a Becky.