As people of color, we have always had to fight against the many evils of systemic racism and white supremacy. And lately, it seems, we have made some headway. Obama was elected, and Black Lives Matter was a thing for a little bit.
And then it happened. White fragility exploded into what the media wants us to call the Karen phenomenon. Behind every bush there seemed to be a screaming white lady seeking to end another innocent Black life through a code-laden phone call to 911.
But it’s not exclusive to white women, and we need to call the phenomenon what it actually is so that we can better understand and address it: white spite.
For the procedural record, “white spite” as a term is the act of white people intentionally causing harm to PoC out of a sense of anger or resentment. It can take many diverse forms, from white folks verbally attacking PoC in public to not saying “excuse me” when bumping into us in grocery stores.
The most potent and recent example of white spite is of course the trend of white people calling the police on PoC for simply existing in public spaces. This has become known as “BBQ Becky,” “Permit Patty,” and other names. White people call the police on PoC for things like grilling in a park, selling water on the street, or even just sitting in their own backyard — all with the demented aim of getting as many folks of color killed as police-industrially possible.
But white spite, despite coming from a place of rage, can also manifest itself in far more subtle ways, such as when white folks in a company secretly conspire to block opportunities or advancement for non-white people. It can also take the form of white people taking credit for the ideas or work of a PoC (see: the moon landing — Hidden Figures), or using their white connections to get ahead while leaving PoC to fend for themselves.
The white mediocrity origin of white spite
One of two leading theories suggests that white spite is driven by a fear of losing power or status. In a society that has historically granted privilege to white people, people of color may be perceived as a threat to the status quo. This fear can lead to resentment and a desire to protect one’s own position of power, even if it means acting out against those who are perceived as different or inferior.
The alternate theory suggests that white spite is a coping mechanism for feelings of inferiority. Many people who exhibit white spite may have internalized the fact that people of color are seen as superior in many ways, whether it be intellectually, physically, sexually, morally, or in some other aspect. In an attempt to defend their own sense of self-worth and feel better about their white mediocre selves, white folks therefore express contempt or hatred towards people of color.
But a more fruitful investigation that keeps workable praxis in mind would go all the way to white spite’s ultimate root: the concept of whiteness itself.
Whiteness is an irredeemable social construct that has been used to justify the enslavement of Black people, the colonization and genocide of indigenous peoples, and the marginalization and discrimination of people of color in nearly every aspect of society. It has established a system in which white people are seen as the norm and people of color are seen as exotic novelties whose hair you should touch.
Abolishing the root cause
The sad reality is that white spite and related white pathologies are not new phenomena. They have been present since the origin of white people and they will continue to perpetuate themselves into infinity unless we take drastic measures. The only way to truly end white spite and other symptoms of white toxicity therefore is to dismantle and abolish whiteness itself.
Abolishment means acknowledging and rejecting the harmful beliefs and behaviors that are perpetuated by white supremacy, as well as decreasing the amount of fertile breeding grounds for white pathologies. It also means actively working to dismantle systems, societal mores, and structures that reinforce white comfort and privilege.
This will not be an easy task, as whiteness is deeply entrenched across our planet. It will require a concerted, global effort that includes even white people. White folks need to challenge and transfer their own privilege to folks of color, and simultaneously support and uplift the voices and experiences of people of color.
The work of Abolishment is existentially necessary and we must never cease our sacred labor. Every day we must acknowledge the harm that has been caused by whiteness — and take responsibility for it rather than continuing to perpetuate it. Only through the complete global abolition of whiteness can we truly begin to heal and move forward towards the equitable future that our beautiful children deserve.
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