It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans. It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests. It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy. It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism.
It leads “pro-life” “Christians” to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings. It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies. Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.
It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one. And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.
White Supremacy never goes away. It only changes shape, at most. Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives: while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched. The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party. As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.
Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point. In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor. Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so. Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day.
White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism. It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy. It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on. In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied? Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it. The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course. And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.
It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans.
I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American. She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles. Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public. Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans. Imagine the stress this impact creates.
White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.
It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies.
It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.
Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away. And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.
As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy. Instead, they take half-measures—at best. Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.” “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defend murderous police and vote for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever, although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did.
Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done. Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance. White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible. It is at the amoral core of the U.S. It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored. Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position. But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.
The disease of American White Supremacy continues to proliferate like a plague. It makes everybody sick, one way or another. I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it. I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse. Wishing is not a strategy.