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October 2013

Racism Isn’t Only American. White Supremacy Isn’t Only Western.

A common comment, tweet, or email that I receive on a weekly basis from someone White (and occasionally people of colour who deny racism’s existence in attempt to protect their psyches) involve two assertions. (This is not hyperbole; it’s already happened twice this week.) One is that racism is primarily an American problem. The second is that White supremacy is a construct that only applies in certain places. 

Both assertions are false. These assertions are based on the presumptions that: 1) White people can determine where racism is. White people are not in the position to make this assertion as Whites do not experience racism. Just because they don’t feel that racism exists in a place doesn’t mean that it is not there. Further, they are not going to “see” it because White privilege obscures their perceptions in terms of noticing it. I am used to White men Whitesplaining and mansplaining this. But the fact that White women also make this assertion is rather comical, and not ha ha funny but please get out of my face with the nonsense funny. White women would flip tables if White men dared to tell them where sexism and misogyny are or are not (which White men actually do). Yet magically they think they are in the position to determine where racism is or is not. 2) Varying population densities where Whites are a numerical minority erases racism and White supremacy. This is also false. Whites do not have to have a numerical majority for White supremacy to exist. Because Whiteness impacts the entire globe—you know the globe where over 80% of it has been impacted by colonialism and White supremacy—yet of course actual White people are a numerical minority globally, clearly it can be seen that this is not a numbers issue. Power, platform, and money lie in the hands of small groups that are often White (and usually cis hetero male) lead. Governments, global corporations, and more are concentrated in power and regardless of the race of the person “in charge” reflect the whims of imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy. 

On an Ask that I replied to in regards to why I capitalize “Black” and “White” this comment was left by amyleona

I usually use White, but there are some times when I don’t think it should be capitalised. By capitalising White, you absolutely are forcing the reader to think about White supremacy in every context. This is a very Western thing*, so there are some cases were White supremacy is not a factor or were there is a difference between White and white. e.g. In Syria, there are many white people. Those of European descent I would describe as White, since they carry that world-wide privilege (especially Westerners). But there are also white Arabs. Though they carry privilege in a lot of the world, the racial dynamics within the region are very different. *White supremacy is a Western concept, based on the actions of Western nations around the world. Much of it is based in the racial dynamics of the US. These principles cannot be applied across the board, to every culture.

False. White supremacy is a global issue. Now, this does not mean that intersectionality and understanding kyriarchy in terms of intersections and matrices gets ignored. White supremacy is only a part of the picture, hence the term “imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy.” Thus, while “ethnic” Whites (i.e. see How The Irish Became White, the racial differences among Jews [not all Jews are White in terms of race], or how certain Europeans are still deemed not “White enough” [i.e. some Eastern Europeans]) and Whiteness itself, (while the latter is not a culture) is hierarchical by ethnicity, nationality, class, and other intersections, this does not mean that White supremacy as a factor evaporates. It complicates, not evaporates.  While one particular culture may have some Whites who dominate other Whites, this does not mean that the existence of the latter Whites then erases White supremacy as ideology, construct or oppression. To think of White supremacy in terms of American dynamics alone eschews the fact that much of the racism, the legacy of slavery in sheer size actually occurred outside of the United States (i.e. Brazil). Much of the colonialism globally impacts America (in terms of capitalism and trade) yet didn’t occur here. The idea that White supremacy evaporates when White people are not present or when some Whites are oppressed for other facets of identity beyond their race is simply untrue.

While cultural facets and country/culture-specific histories have elaborate nuances that diverge from American history or even Western concepts of history, the notion that White supremacy doesn’t apply because of elaborate intersectional facets is untrue. For example, the Arab Slave Trade of Africans or the fact that even some Indigenous people in America owned Black slaves doesn’t mean that White supremacy was no longer a factor. In fact, it complicated what was already complicated. Oppression is intersectional and hierarchical. Vertical and horizontal. And when I mention White supremacy, it is not to imply White = oppressor, anyone else = oppressed as the entire picture of oppression. It’s more complex.

There’s actually a third assertion that I receive almost weekly as well. It is an admission that sure, racism is in America and White supremacy is a problem, but it is “worse” in America. Again, this is not an assertion that Whites are at liberty to make. Even within America, there are Northerners who cling to the notion that all Southern racism was “worse.” (Some stick to that today. Meanwhile Black trans women are regularly murdered in Northern cities…). This worse/better perception within America reminds me of something that James Baldwin wrote:

Northerners indulge in an extremely dangerously luxury. They seem to feel that because they fought on the right side during The Civil War, and won, they have earned the right to merely deplore what is going on in the South, without taking any responsibility for it; and that they can ignore what is happening in Northern cities because what is happening in Little Rock or Birmingham is worse. Well, in the first place, it is not possible for anyone who has not endured both to know which is ‘worse.’ I know Negroes who prefer the South and white Southerners, because ‘At least there, you haven’t got to play any guessing games!’ The guessing games referred to have driven more than one Negro into the narcotics ward, the madhouse or the river.

Whites cannot be so desperate to escape culpability from the fact that they benefit from White supremacy (which racism and colourism are directly tied to and are global problems) that they seek to make it a “problem” that is “over there” and that has nothing to do with them. And this is a consistent stance from Whites looking from the outside into America. Ironically, often during the same weeks that I receive these "nope, your country is more racist" emails from Whites, people of colour from the same places (especially if Canada or U.K.) have another story for me. Literally in the same week many times. This is White privilege…the idea that Whites are in the position to dictate what people of colour experience from a system of oppression that they benefit from.  

While it is important to recognize the multiple faces and facets of oppression, trying to remove the global albeit varying impact of White supremacy is a futile exercise that is often less about recognizing intersectionality and kyriarchy and more about removing the culpability of Whites and discomfort that discussions on Whiteness evokes. 

Related Essay Lists: On Race…, On Race II

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