The Insidiousness of White Supremacy

While a life like Frederick Douglass's is remarkable, we must remember that not every person who lived through slavery was like Douglass. Most did not learn to read or write. Most did not engage in hand-to-hand combat with white slave breakers. Most did not live close enough to free states in the North to have any hope of escape. No one, enslaved or otherwise, was like Douglass. There were other brilliant, exceptional people who lived under slavery, and many resisted the institution in innumerable ways, but our country's teachings about slavery, painfully limited, often focus singularly on heroic slave narratives at the expense of the millions of men and women whose stories might be less sensational but are no less worthy of being told.

This... is part of the insidiousness of white supremacy; it illuminates the exceptional in order to implicitly blame those who cannot, in the most brutal circumstances, attain superhuman heights. It does this instead of blaming the system, the people who built it, the people who maintained it.

In overly mythologizing our ancestors, we forget an all-too-important reality: the vast majority were ordinary people, which is to say they were people just like everyone else. This ordinariness is only shameful when used to legitimate oppression. This is its own quiet violence.

from How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, pp. 63-64.