The International Ambassador for the Black Lives Matter Network is urging allies of the movement to “stop saying ‘white privilege’ and start saying ‘white supremacy.’” Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, released a video last week explaining the semantic differences between the two phrases and the need for the change.
“Popular social justice discourse has used ‘white privilege’ to describe the benefits that come with whiteness,” Khan elaborated in the video. “The problem with describing white privilege is that it looks at the individual as opposed to the system itself.”
Khan, who now resides in California, points out that there are many white people in the United States whose personal circumstances might dispel the notion of a privileged life. However, collectively, she says Caucasians have always had a systemic advantage because the country was built on the concept of ‘white supremacy,’ which Khan defines in the video as “the inherent belief that white people are superior to all other racialized groups and should, therefore, dominate society.” According to Khan, that idea is reinforced every day in America through institutional racism built into the educational system, mainstream media, and employment opportunities available to black and brown people.
“Despite the fact that there are all of these determinates of white supremacy, we still struggle to actually name the system itself. We can’t be more afraid of naming white supremacy than of white supremacy. White privilege is only half of the conversation.”
Khan — a transgender immigrant who was born and raised in Canada — has been actively organizing in the United States since she married Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, last year. On Inauguration Day, Khan helped orchestrate a demonstration in Washington D.C. where Black Lives Matter activists blocked an entrance to the main ceremony for several hours. Khan used a megaphone to speak out against the transfer of power to Donald J. Trump, where she “appealed to feminists, socialists, communists and other groups,” accordingto the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Since then, Khan has been a featured speaker at several colleges throughout the country discussing social transformation. But after white nationalists gathered at the University of Virginia’s campus in Charlottesville last month, images of a torchlight procession and a Dodge Challenger plowing into a crowd provided activists like Khan an opportunity to make ‘white supremacy’ part of the national conversation.