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White supremacy or white supremacism is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races. White supremacy has roots in scientific racism and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose members of other races as well as Jews.
The term is also typically used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical or institutional domination by white people (as evidenced by historical and contemporary sociopolitical structures such as the Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa). Different forms of white supremacism put forth different conceptions of who is considered white, and different groups of white supremacists identify various racial and cultural groups as their primary enemy.
In academic usage, particularly in usage which draws on critical race theory, the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socioeconomic system where white people enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, on both a collective and individual level.
History of white supremacy
White supremacy has ideological foundations that date back to 17th-century scientific racism, the predominant paradigm of human variation that helped shape international relations and racial policy from the latter part of the Age of Enlightenment until the late 20th century (marked by decolonization and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa in 1991, followed by that country's first multiracial elections in 1994).
White supremacy was dominant in the United States both before and after the American Civil War and it persisted for decades after the Reconstruction Era. In the antebellum South this included the holding of African Americans in chattel slavery, with four million of them denied freedom. The outbreak of the Civil War saw the desire to uphold white supremacy being cited as a cause for state secession and the formation of the Confederate States of America. In an editorial about Native Americans in 1890, author L. Frank Baum wrote: "The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians."
In some parts of the United States, many people who were considered non-white were disenfranchised, barred from government office, and prevented from holding most government jobs well into the second half of the 20th century. Professor Leland T. Saito of the University of Southern California writes: "Throughout the history of the United States race has been used by whites for legitimizing and creating difference and social, economic and political exclusion." The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only.
The denial of social and political freedom for minorities continued into the mid-20th century, resulting in the civil rights movement. Sociologist Stephen Klineberg has stated that U.S. immigration laws prior to 1965 clearly declared "that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race." The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional Northern European and Germanic groups, and significantly altered the demographic mix in the U.S as a result. Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage through anti-miscegenation laws until 1967, when these laws were invalidated by the Supreme Court of the United States' decision in Loving v. Virginia. Additionally, white leaders often viewed Native Americans as obstacles to economic and political progress with respect to the natives' claims to land and rights.
Some academics argue that outcomes from the 2016 United States Presidential Election reflect ongoing challenges with white supremacy. Psychologist Janet Helms suggested that the norming behaviors of social institutions of education, government, and healthcare are organized around the "birthright of...the power to control society's resources and determine the rules for [those resources]". Educators, literary theorists, and other political experts have raised similar questions, connecting the scapegoating of disenfranchised populations to white superiority.
Nazism promoted the idea of a superior Germanic people or Aryan race in Germany during the early 20th century. Notions of white supremacy and Aryan racial superiority were combined in the 19th century, with white supremacists maintaining the belief that white people were members of an Aryan "master race" which was superior to other races, particularly the Jews who were described as the "Semitic race", Slavs and Gypsies, which they associated with "cultural sterility". Arthur de Gobineau, a French racial theorist and aristocrat, blamed the fall of the ancient régime in France on racial degeneracy caused by racial intermixing, which he argued had destroyed the purity of the Nordic or Germanic race. Gobineau's theories, which attracted a strong following in Germany, emphasized the existence of an irreconcilable polarity between Aryan or Germanic peoples and Jewish culture.
As the Nazi Party's chief racial theorist, Alfred Rosenberg oversaw the construction of a human racial "ladder" that justified Hitler's racial and ethnic policies. Rosenberg promoted the Nordic theory which regarded Nordics as the "master race", superior to all others, including other Aryans (Indo-Europeans). Rosenberg got the racial term Untermensch from the title of Klansman Lothrop Stoddard's 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man. It was later adopted by the Nazis from that book's German version Der Kulturumsturz: Die Drohung des Untermenschen (1925). Rosenberg was the leading Nazi who attributed the concept of the East-European "under man" to Stoddard. An advocate of the U.S. immigration laws that favored Northern Europeans, Stoddard wrote primarily on the alleged dangers posed by "colored" peoples to white civilization, and wrote The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy in 1920. In establishing a restrictive entry system for Germany in 1925, Hitler wrote of his admiration for America's immigration laws: “The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races."
German praise for America's institutional racism, previously found in Hitler's Mein Kampf, was continuous throughout the early 1930's, and Nazi lawyers were advocates of the use of American models. Race-based U.S. citizenship and anti-miscegenation laws directly inspired the Nazi's two principal Nuremberg racial laws—the Citizenship Law and the Blood Law. In order to preserve the Aryan or Nordic race the Nazis introduced the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which forbade sexual relations and marriages between Germans and Jews, and later between Germans and Romani and Slavs. The Nazis used the Mendelian inheritance theory to argue that social traits were innate, claiming that there was a racial nature associated with certain general traits such as inventiveness or criminal behavior.
According to the 2012 annual report of Germany's interior intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, at the time there were 26,000 right-wing extremists living in Germany, including 6000 neo-Nazis.
A number of Southern African nations experienced severe racial tension and conflict during global decolonization, particularly as white Africans of European ancestry fought to protect their preferential social and political status. Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times under the Dutch Empire, and it continued when the British took over the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. Apartheid was introduced as an officially structured policy by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party after the general election of 1948. Apartheid's legislation divided inhabitants into four racial groups—"black", "white", "coloured", and "Indian", with coloured divided into several sub-classifications. In 1970, the Afrikaner-run government abolished non-white political representation, and starting that year black people were deprived of South African citizenship. South Africa abolished apartheid in 1991.
In Rhodesia, a predominantly white government issued its own unilateral declaration of independence from the United Kingdom during an unsuccessful attempt to avoid immediate majority rule. Following the Rhodesian Bush War which was fought by African nationalists, Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith acceded to biracial political representation in 1978 and the state achieved recognition from the United Kingdom as Zimbabwe in 1980.
Academic use of the term
The term white supremacy is used in academic studies of racial power to denote a system of structural or societal racism which privileges white people over others, regardless of the presence or the absence of racial hatred. White racial advantages occur at both a collective and an individual level (ceteris paribus, i. e., when individuals are compared that do not relevantly differ except in ethnicity). Legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley explains this definition as follows:
By "white supremacy" I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.
This and similar definitions have been adopted or proposed by Charles Mills, bell hooks, David Gillborn, Jessie Daniels, and Neely Fuller Jr, and they are widely used in critical race theory and intersectional feminism. Some anti-racist educators, such as Betita Martinez and the Challenging White Supremacy workshop, also use the term in this way. The term expresses historic continuities between a pre–civil rights movement era of open white supremacism and the current racial power structure of the United States. It also expresses the visceral impact of structural racism through "provocative and brutal" language that characterizes racism as "nefarious, global, systemic, and constant". Academic users of the term sometimes prefer it to racism because it allows for a distinction to be drawn between racist feelings and white racial advantage or privilege.
The term's recent rise in popularity among leftist activists has been characterized by some as counterproductive. John McWhorter, a specialist in language and race relations, has described its use as straying from its commonly accepted meaning to encompass less extreme issues, thereby cheapening the term and potentially derailing productive discussion. Political columnist Kevin Drum attributes the term's growing popularity to frequent use by Ta-Nehisi Coates, describing it as a "terrible fad" which fails to convey nuance. He claims that the term should be reserved for those who are trying to promote the idea that whites are inherently superior to blacks and not used to characterize less blatantly racist beliefs or actions. The use of the academic definition of white supremacy has been criticized by Conor Friedersdorf for the confusion it creates for the general public inasmuch as it differs from the more common dictionary definition; he argues that it is likely to alienate those it hopes to convince.
Ideologies and movements
Supporters of Nordicism consider the "Nordic peoples" to be a superior race. By the early 19th century, white supremacy was attached to emerging theories of racial hierarchy. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer attributed cultural primacy to the white race:
The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate.
The eugenicist Madison Grant argued in his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, that the Nordic race had been responsible for most of humanity's great achievements, and that admixture was "race suicide". In this book, Europeans who are not of Germanic origin but have Nordic characteristics such as blonde/red hair and blue/green/gray eyes, were considered to be a Nordic admixture and suitable for Aryanization.
In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is the group most associated with the white supremacist movement. Many white supremacist groups are based on the concept of preserving genetic purity, and do not focus solely on discrimination based on skin color. The KKK's reasons for supporting racial segregation are not primarily based on religious ideals, but some Klan groups are openly Protestant. The KKK and other white supremacist groups like Aryan Nations, The Order and the White Patriot Party are considered antisemitic.
Nazi Germany promulgated white supremacy based on the belief that the Aryan race, or the Germans, were the master race. It was combined with a eugenics programme that aimed for racial hygiene through compulsory sterilization of sick individuals and extermination of Untermenschen ("subhumans"): Slavs, Jews and Romani, which eventually culminated in the Holocaust.
Christian Identity is another movement closely tied to white supremacy. Some white supremacists identify themselves as Odinists, although many Odinists reject white supremacy. Some white supremacist groups, such as the South African Boeremag, conflate elements of Christianity and Odinism. Creativity (formerly known as "The World Church of the Creator") is atheistic and it denounces Christianity and other theistic religions. Aside from this, its ideology is similar to that of many Christian Identity groups because it believes in the antisemitic conspiracy theory that there is a "Jewish conspiracy" in control of governments, the banking industry and the media. Matthew F. Hale, founder of the World Church of the Creator, has published articles stating that all races other than white are "mud races," which is what the group's religion teaches.
The white supremacist ideology has become associated with a racist faction of the skinhead subculture, despite the fact that when the skinhead culture first developed in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, it was heavily influenced by black fashions and music, especially Jamaican reggae and ska, and African American soul music.
White supremacist recruitment activities are primarily conducted at a grassroots level as well as on the Internet. Widespread access to the Internet has led to a dramatic increase in white supremacist websites. The Internet provides a venue to openly express white supremacist ideas at little social cost, because people who post the information are able to remain anonymous.
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Although white racist activists must adopt a political identity of whiteness, the flimsy definition of whiteness in modern culture poses special challenges for them. In both mainstream and white supremacist discourse, to be white is to be distinct from those marked as non-white, yet the placement of the distinguishing line has varied significantly in different times and places.
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For instance, Ben Klassen, founder of the atheistic Church of the Creator and author of The White Man's Bible, discusses Christianity extensively in his writings and denounces it as a religion that has brought untold horror into the world and has divided the white race.
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A competing atheistic or panthestic white racist movement also appeared, which included the Church of the Creator/ Creativity (Gardell 2003: 129–34).
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