The Perpetuated Fallacy Of White Supremacy
Historically, white supremacy has been understood as the belief that white people are superior to people of color. As such, white supremacy was the ideological driver of the European colonial projects and U.S. imperial projects: it was used to rationalize unjust rule of people and lands, theft of land and resources, enslavement, and genocide.
During these early periods and practices, white supremacy was backed by misguided scientific studies of physical differences on the basis of race and was also believed to take intellectual and cultural form.
White Supremacy in US History
The system of white supremacy was brought to the Americas by European colonists and took firm root in early U.S. society through the genocide, enslavement, and internal colonization of indigenous populations, and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants. The system of slavery in the U.S., the Black Codes that limited rights among newly freed blacks that were instituted following emancipation, and the Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation and also limited rights combined to make the U.S. a legalized white supremacist society through the late-1960s. During this period the Ku Klux Klan became a well-known symbol of white supremacy, as have other major historical actors and events, like the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust, the apartheid regime of South Africa, and Neo-Nazi and white power groups today.
As a result of the notoriety of these groups, events, and time periods, many people think of white supremacy as an overtly hateful and violent attitude toward people of color, which is considered a problem mostly buried in the past. But as the recent racist murder of nine Black people at Emanuel AME church has made clear, the hateful and violent breed of white supremacy is still very much a part of our present.
Yet, it is important to recognize that white supremacy today is a multifaceted system that manifests in myriad ways, many not overtly hateful nor violent—in fact often quite subtle and unseen. This is the case today because U.S. society was founded, organized, and developed in a white supremacist context. White supremacy and the many forms of racism it employs is infused into our social structure, our institutions, our worldviews, beliefs, knowledge, and ways of interacting with each other. It’s even encoded into some of our holidays, like Columbus Day, which celebrates a racist perpetrator of genocide.
Structural Racism and White Supremacy
The white supremacy of our society is evident in the fact that whites maintain a structural advantage over people of color in nearly every aspect of life. White people maintain an educational advantage, an income advantage, a wealth advantage, and a political advantage. White supremacy is also evident in the way communities of color are systematically over-policed (in terms of unjust harassment and unlawful arrest and brutalization), and under-policed (in terms of police failing to serve and protect); and in the way that experiencing racism takes a societal-wide negative toll on the life expectancy of Black people. These trends and the white supremacy they express are fueled by the false belief that society is fair and just, that success is the result of hard work alone, and an overall denial of the many privileges that whites in the U.S. have relative to others.
Further, these structural trends are fostered by the white supremacy that lives within us, though we may be wholly unaware that it is there. Both conscious and subconscious white supremacist beliefs are visible in social patterns that show, for instance, that university professors give more attention to potential students who are white; that many people regardless of race believe that lighter skinned Black people are smarter than those with dark skin; and that teachers punish Black students more harshly for the same or even lesser offenses committed by white students.
So while white supremacy might look and sound different than it has in centuries past, and may be experienced differently by people of color, it is very much a twenty-first-century phenomenon that must be addressed through critical self-reflection, the rejection of white privilege, and anti-racist activism.
The photo above is a goal we should strive to achieve
I hate racial discrimination most intensely and all its manifestations. I have fought all my life; I fight now, and will do so until the end of my days. Even although I now happen to be tried by one, whose opinion I hold in high esteem, I detest most violently the set-up that surrounds me here. It makes me feel that I am a Black man in a White man’s court. This should not be I should feel perfectly at ease and at home with the assurance that I am being tried by a fellow South African, who does not regard me as an inferior, entitled to a special type of justice.
Racism is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as subhuman, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.
Definition of Systemic Racism
Developed by sociologist Joe Feagin, systemic racism is a popular way of explaining, within the social sciences and humanities, the significance of race and racism both historically and in today’s world. Feagin describes the concept and the realities attached to it in his well-researched and readable book, “Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations.” In it, Feagin uses historical evidence and demographic statistics to create a theory that asserts that the United States was founded in racism since the Constitution classified black people as the property of whites. Feagin illustrates that the legal recognition of racialized slavery is a cornerstone of a racist social system in which resources and rights were and are unjustly given to white people and unjustly denied to people of color. https://9328588279eb7995c23b3aa52d1c1053.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
The theory of systemic racism accounts for individual, institutional, and structural forms of racism. The development of this theory was influenced by other scholars of race, including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Oliver Cox, Anna Julia Cooper, Kwame Ture, Frantz Fanon, and Patricia Hill Collins, among others.
“Systemic racism includes the complex array of antiblack practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power. Systemic here means that the core racist realities are manifested in each of society’s major parts […] each major part of U.S. society—the economy, politics, education, religion, the family—reflects the fundamental reality of systemic racism.”
In the U.S., white people hold most positions of power. A look at the membership of Congress, the leadership of colleges and universities, and the top management of corporations makes this clear. In this context, in which white people hold political, economic, cultural, and social power, the racist views and assumptions that course through U.S. society shape the way those in power interact with POC. This leads to a serious and well-documented problem of routine discrimination in all areas of life, and the frequent dehumanization and marginalization of POC, including hate crimes, which serves to alienate them from society and hurt their overall life chances. Examples include discrimination against POC and preferential treatment of white students among university professors, more frequent and severe punishment of black students in K-12 schools, and racist police practices, among many others.
The Costs and Burdens of Racism Are Borne by POC
In his book, Feagin points out with historical documentation that the costs and burdens of racism are disproportionately borne by people of color and by black people especially. Having to bear these unjust costs and burdens is a core aspect of systemic racism. These include shorter life spans, limited income and wealth potential, impacted family structure as a result of mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos, limited access to educational resources and political participation, state-sanctioned killing by police, and the psychological, emotional, and community tolls of living with less, and being seen as “less than.” POC are also expected by white people to bear the burden of explaining, proving, and fixing racism, though it is, in fact, white people who are primarily responsible for perpetrating and perpetuating it.
The Power of Racist Ideas, Assumptions, and World Views
Racist ideology—the collection of ideas, assumptions, and worldviews—is a key component of systemic racism and plays a key role in its reproduction. Racist ideology often asserts that whites are superior to people of color for biological or cultural reasons, and manifests in stereotypes, prejudices, and popular myths and beliefs. These typically include positive images of whiteness in contrast to negative images associated with people of color, such as civility versus brutishness, chaste and pure versus hyper-sexualized, and intelligent and driven versus stupid and lazy.
Sociologists recognize that ideology informs our actions and interactions with others, so it follows that racist ideology fosters racism throughout all aspects of society. This happens regardless of whether the person acting in racist ways is aware of doing so.
Resistance to Racism
Finally, Feagin recognizes that resistance to racism is an important feature of systemic racism. Racism has never been passively accepted by those who suffer it, and so systemic racism is always accompanied by acts of resistance that might manifest as protest, political campaigns, legal battles, resisting white authority figures, and speaking back against racist stereotypes, beliefs, and language. The white backlash that typically follows resistance, like countering “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter,” does the work of limiting the effects of resistance and maintaining a racist system.
Systemic Racism Is All Around Us and Within Us
Feagin’s theory and all of the research he and many other social scientists have conducted over 100 years illustrate that racism is in fact built into the foundation of U.S. society and that it has over time come to infuse all aspects of it. It is present in our laws, our politics, our economy; in our social institutions; and in how we think and act, whether consciously or subconsciously. It’s all around us and inside of us, and for this reason, resistance to racism must also be everywhere if we are to combat it.
Racism, xenophobia and intolerance are problems prevalent in all societies. But every day, each and every one of us can stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. Be a human rights champion.
The images bearing racist ideologies were used solely for the purpose of showing how far back the evil specture of racism has adumbrated the world, it is imperative for everyone to stand up against it, expose it and give it no comfort zone to breed its offspring.
Ken George Dill
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