White people, we need to talk about what white supremacy really looks like.

White people, we need to talk about what white supremacy looks like. We need to talk about the fact that it looks like you and me.


Picture of Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

This blog post was originally published on June 8th, 2020 on the platform Thrive Global and is specifically written for people who hold white privilege.

“The world isn’t white”, my mum used to tell me. “It’s just designed to make us believe it is”.

When I was a baby, my mum and I lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family of African descent.

Later, when we got our own council flat, Debbie from the children’s home where my mum worked, became my beloved unofficial older black sister for a period of time.

Some of the earliest memories of my life is me being the only white child around.

We weren’t exactly rich. My mum was an unmarried single mum with a working-class background who had moved from Sweden to the UK in her youth. She was also an activist. And the mid 1970’s she’d taken part in civil rights protests in the US as a white ally.

She taught me about the slave trade, colonialism, about the murder of indigenous peoples, that the white European men upheld as great explorers hadn’t ‘discovered’ any continents, but had plundered and raped and tortured themselves to the top of an invented hierarchy amongst people, and created a system we are all still part of, an ideology that upholds that the lives of people who looked like me and her were worth more.

Mattered more.

She taught me that no matter how little money we had, and no matter how much people looked down upon us or whispered behind our backs because she wasn’t married and my dad wasn’t around, we would always – ALWAYS – be more well off in the world, simply because of the way we looked.

Simply because of our whiteness.

She told me that most white people wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting a black person into their homes for a cup of tea.

She told me that some white people would be civil to black people in person and yet behind closed doors make racial slurs. She told me to expect to experience this from other people who looked like us.

She told me that black people and people of colour may not feel safe with me or ever be able to trust me fully because of my whiteness representing oppression, trauma and degradation. She told me to not take this personally and to strive to be an exception in their lives.

Learning this about the world made me angry and sad. It made me bewildered and confused.

It made me feel uneasy in all-white neighbourhoods heaving with self-assured privilege, oblivious to the outside world.

It still does.

It led to the ANC posters drawn in break-time in the 5th grade, in my imagination to be sent to South Africa to support the release of Nelson Mandela. It led to leading anti-racists groups and events as a teenager.

It led to campaigning for education reform of the history curriculum in the UK and work to expose the white norm in the arts and cultural sector.

Despite all of this, despite this being my background, the truth is, I am still a white supremacist.

And so are you.

We all are, white people.

There. I said it.

I know it hurts my friend. I am hurting too.

No matter how woke we think we are.
No matter how many anti-racist rallies we go to.
No matter how many black friends or partners we have.

Because the world we live in, the system we are a part of, is white supremacist to its core, and this is the only world we know.

This is the world we have benefitted from every moment of our lives.

It is the world created by our ancestors.
Our white supremacist ancestors.

And we have been socialised to uphold this world view without being able to make the conscious choice not to, because the white norm way of life is so ingrained into our psyche, we can’t see it.

It is in our DNA.

The wealth built and passed on through generations of white families the result of enslaving African people and sucking out natural resources from countries conveniently conquered and divided in the name of Kings and Queens.

Every single European country has grown their wealth as a direct result of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. Yes. All of them.

Our monetary systems, educational institutions and the very way our societies are structured are built on these foundations.

Crimes against humanity are part of their fabric.
The death of black people in the bricks and mortar of the temples of white wealth.

We need to look ourselves, white people.

It is time to reckon with the hard truth.

This Nelson Mandela taught us as he finally walked out of the Robin Island prison.

The first thing you are shown at the entrance of the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg is a mirror with the invitation to look at yourself deep into the eyes.

To feel your discomfort, to feel the shame of your ancestors’ abuse, to feel the shame of your own unconscious complicit abuse.

It’s not saying : “be ashamed that you are white”.

I am not ashamed of being white.

I am ashamed of white supremacy and what is has done to the world.

When we don’t acknowledge shame, it grows, and it owns us.

When we don’t speak of it, it is magnified. The more we deny shame individually or collectively it grows, and the more uncomfortable it gets.

That’s when we tend to start denying its existence and the underlying cause of it all together. We know this from research in family trauma as well as collective trauma (for example holocaust denial). I’m not saying focus on the shame, I’m saying admit that there is shame, feel it, look at it, move through it. So that the legacy of white supremacy does not own us anymore.

What I am writing about isn’t comfortable.
It’s not meant to be.

As a self-leadership coach I know that it is only when we have the courage to go the most uncomfortable places and feel all of the emotions that can be found there, that we can move through them and transmute them.

“Keep looking”, says the exhibit there at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. “The more uncomfortable you feel, the more you must look”.

Because it is not looking at this uncomfortable truth that is keeping the white supremacist system alive.

It is not looking at this uncomfortable truth and pretending that this all ended hundreds of years ago and I sure am not a racist and how awful it is that this still goes on and black people have after all got equal opportunities now etc. etc. that is perpetuating the system, perpetuating the suffering, perpetuating the trauma.

Perpetuating the loss of black lives.

Pretending all is fine when it is not is called gas-lighting. It’s a tactic used by narcissists.

This is no surprise. The white supremacist ideology is deeply narcissistic.

White supremacy isn’t just about Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazis.
That’s sure the extreme version of it.

But if we think that’s what white supremacy is and that we have nothing to do with it, we become part of the problem. We become the boulders that block the path of reconciliation, healing and new beginnings.

White supremacy permeates every-day life in so called non-obvious ways (non-obvious to white people, very obvious to black people and people of colour).

White supremacy is thinking that we need to make our workplaces, institutions and organisations more black and POC ‘inclusive’ instead of re-framing the whole damn thing, admitting that it’s based on a white world view, where white people are at the top.

White supremacy is persisting with “all lives matter”, not understanding that that is part of the white normative perspective and as such the problem.

Black lives matter doesn’t say “only black lives matter” or “white lives don’t matter”. It’s not saying poor white people’s lives don’t matter. It’s not saying police brutality towards white people don’t matter.

Black lives matter says what it says.

That black lives matter. Because in the white supremacist culture we all live in, black lives haven’t mattered. Never mattered as much as white lives matter.

White supremacy is having to type in ‘black woman with computer’ into the search engine of an image site if I want to at least attempt to represent how the real world looks when I communicate in my business, as when I type in ‘woman’ I only get images of white women.

White supremacy is believing that you got your job or made your money solely because of your credentials or your brains. And believing that your parents and grandparents did too.

White supremacy is not caring about where our food comes from and who it is picked by. (Black African workers live enslaved lives in squalid conditions in Southern Europe so that we can have our Cos lettuce all year round at a cheap price).

White supremacy is not caring that our clothes are made in sweat shops where POC and children of colour are working in inhumane circumstances so we can have our fashion for pennies.

White supremacy is the confidence that comes with not having to – never EVER having to – deal with the constant tinnitus sound of low-level or higher-level fear as you move about your life. Every day of your life.

White supremacy is denying this experience for black people and people of colour.

White supremacy is the physical, emotional and mental health that comes with wealth and safety.

White supremacy is the belief that black people and POC could have the same life as I do, if only they worked for it.

White supremacy is judging the trauma responses and long standing PTSD of black people and POC as ‘unnecessary and ‘out-of-control’.

White supremacy is not understanding that crime and drug addiction can be trauma responses as a result of knowing that you will never be able to ‘make it’ in the white supremacist system, no matter how hard you try.

White supremacy is saying “I’m so woke and so anti-racist that I don’t see colour, can’t we all just come together as one?!”

White supremacy is having a month every year dedicated to Black history and the rest of the year talking about white (male) history where the white history ignores the bits where white people murder black people and instead mysteriously makes them heroes with swords, castles, gold and diamonds.

White supremacy is about taking for granted that the system we live in where whiteness is celebrated as the norm, IS the norm.

White supremacy is believing that whatever white people do, is the right way of doing things.

Until we DISMANTLE this belief system – this white supremacist belief system we are all part of, more black people will die.

And this dismantling is our responsibility, white people.
Black people have tried to make us wake up for years.
It is not their job to educate us.
It is our responsibility.

This is our responsibility.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

We are the ones who can make a difference and be the change.

But it takes courage.

Because we can’t do it unless we are willing to look our ancestors – long dead – in eyes and say: ‘I love you because you are my grandfathers and grandmothers, but what you did was wrong’.

We can’t do this unless we look at ourselves in the mirror and say: “You can do better my friend. You are part of a system that little by little taught you that the world is white. This is an illusion. You were brain washed. You can press reset and start again.”

No, you might say! I wasn’t brainwashed, there was no propaganda. My parents taught me to be nice to black people. (!)

But this is the thing.

White supremacy is a bit like microplastics in the ocean.

It’s so subtle for most people that we can’t see it.

Little by little it seeps into our pores and collectively it just becomes part of who we are. Our identities.

I say: no more.

And I invite you to say no more too.

Are you willing, white sister- brother- sibling to see what you have previously not seen?

Are you willing to reckon with your ancestors?

Are you willing to sit with the discomfort – disbelief, grief, anger and shame – and move through it so that you too can admit that the system is part of you?

Are you willing to every new day stand up and rise up to call out not only racism but white supremacy when you come to see it?

Are you willing to become white people that black people can feel safe around?

Are you willing to join me in saying “white supremacy ends with me”, and be a courageous change maker that weaves a new world?

Find out more about the Wish Tree Wholeness Immersion based on Layla F. Saad’s powerful work: ‘Me & White Supremacy’.

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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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