Power Trip

White Supremacy Acts Like a Bully, and It Can Be Dealt With Like a Bully

Like the system of white supremacy, the bully thrives on fear

DeRay Mckesson
GEN
Published in
8 min readSep 21, 2018

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Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows.

— Assata Shakur

WWhen I was nine years old, my babysitter put water on a grease fire and our house burned to the ground. My father, sister, and I moved to Grandma’s house, to a different part of town — leaving our small but separate bedrooms to share a bed in her living room — about 15 minutes away. And my sister and I started going to a new school. The thing I remember most vividly from that year is the walk home from school. I remember the sweaty palms, the dry mouth, the bravado, the focus, the running.

And I remember the fear.

There was a bully on our block on the walk home, always present, even when I couldn’t see him. And every day, the 10 minutes between the school parking lot and my grandmother’s yard were full of anxiety. I’ve thought a lot about that year since then, especially after teaching sixth grade and seeing the way children are taught about power — about who has it and who doesn’t, how to wield it and how to share it, and how one gains or loses it. And most important, what it is.

I’ve thought a lot more about the role of the bully, too — about how he moves, adapts, and survives over time; about his source of legitimacy; about the impact of his power. Of late, I’ve thought about the bully in the context of our present world versus the world that we aim to create for the future, and considering him has transformed the way I think about both.

The currency of the bully is fear. It is what he trades in and what he feeds on — fear and confusion. He is violent in the obvious ways that we see and feel, in the physical assaults, but also in the quieter ways, the belittling and the taunts, the mental assaults. His goals are straightforward: to harm you and then convince you that no damage was done or that you deserved it. He aims to strip you of your power, to normalize the interaction so that you are simultaneously traumatized and left questioning if what you…

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DeRay Mckesson
GEN
Writer for

I will never betray my heart. Curator, connector. TFA. Educator. Bowdoin alum. Protestor. Snapchat: derayderay. IG: iamderay. deray@thisisthemovement.org