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White supremacy or white supremacism is a form of racism centered upon the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior in certain characteristics, traits, and attributes to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore whites should politically, economically and socially rule non-whites. The term is also typically used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial 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). Different forms of white supremacism put forth different conceptions of who is considered white, and different white supremacists identify various racial and cultural groups as their primary enemy. White supremacists have typically defined Jews, Catholics, and Native Americans, even if white, as undesirable.
In academic usage, the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socio-economic system where whites enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, both at a collective and an individual level (ceteris paribus, i. e., when individuals are compared that do not relevantly differ except in ethnicity).
History of white supremacy
White supremacy has ideological foundations that at least date back to 17th-century scientific racism, the predominant paradigm of human variation that helped shape international and intra-national relations from the latter part of the Age of Enlightenment (in European history) through the late 20th century (marked by the abolition of apartheid in South Africa in 1991, followed by that country's first multiracial elections in 1994).
White supremacy is dominant in the United States even after the American Civil War and also decades after Reconstruction. In large areas of the United States, this included the holding of non-whites (specifically African Americans) in chattel slavery. The outbreak of the Civil War saw the desire to uphold white supremacy 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. Since the founding of the United States when the right to vote was restricted to white men of property, professor Leland T. Saito of USC 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. Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage through anti-miscegenation laws until 1967, when these laws were invalidated by the Supreme Court decision 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.
Nazism promoted the idea of a superior Aryan race in Germany during the early 20th century. Notions of white supremacy and Aryan racial superiority combined in the 19th century, with white supremacists maintaining that white people were members of an Aryan "master race" which is superior to other races, and particularly the Jews 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 destroyed the purity of the Aryan race. Gobineau's theories, which attracted a strong following in Germany, emphasized the existence of an irreconcilable polarity between Aryan and Jewish cultures.
In order to preserve the Aryan race, the Nazis introduced in 1935 the Nuremberg racial laws which forbade sexual relations and marriages between Germans and Jews, and later between Germans and Romani and Slavic peoples.
According to the annual report of Germany's interior intelligence service (Verfassungsschutz) for 2012, at the time there were 26,000 right-wing extremists living in Germany, including 6,000 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. White supremacy was dominant in the Republic of South Africa under apartheid, a system of racial segregation characterised by its draconian pass laws and exceptional rigidness carried out under Afrikaner minority rule. 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 a lengthy guerrilla war by African nationalists, Rhodesian premier Ian Smith acceded to biracial political representation in 1978 and the state achieved recognition as Zimbabwe in 1980. South Africa abolished apartheid in 1991.
In June 2015, Democratic Representative John Conyers and his Republican colleague Ted Yoho offered bipartisan amendments to block the U.S. military training of Ukraine's Azov Battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard. Some members of the battalion are openly white supremacists. Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion and leader of the neo-Nazi political groups Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine, is member of the Ukrainian Parliament. The First Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Parubiy, is co-founder of the neo-Nazi Social-National Party of Ukraine.
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 absence of racial hatred. 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 are adopted or proposed by Charles Mills, bell hooks, David Gillborn, and Neely Fuller Jr. 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 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 disconnection between racist feelings and white racial advantage or privilege.
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 civilisational 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 that the Nordic race had been responsible for most of humanity's great achievements, and that admixture was "race suicide". In Grant's 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, 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 they do not focus solely on discrimination by 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 Anti-Semitic.
Nazi Germany promulgated supremacy in the belief that the Aryan race, or the Germans, was the master race. It was combined with a eugenics programme that aimed for racial hygiene by using compulsory sterilizations of sick individuals and extermination of the Untermenschen (or "sub-humans"), Slavs, Jews and Gypsies 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. The World Church of the Creator (now called the Creativity Movement) is atheistic and it denounces the Christian religion and other theistic religions. Aside from this, its ideology is similar to many Christian Identity groups, in their belief 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 the 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 By the 1980s, a sizable and vocal white power skinhead faction had formed.
White supremacist recruitment activities are conducted primarily at a grassroots level and 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.
Alliances with black supremacist groups
In February 1962 George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party, spoke at a Nation of Islam rally in Chicago, where he was applauded by Elijah Muhammed as he pronounced: "I am proud to stand here before black men. I believe Elijah Muhammed is the Adolf Hitler of the black man!" Rockwell had attended, but did not speak at, an earlier NOI rally in June 1961 in Washington, D.C. and even once donated $20 to the NOI. In 1965, after breaking with the Nation of Islam and denouncing its separatist doctrine, Malcolm X told his followers that the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad had made secret agreements with the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan.
Rockwell and other white supremacists (e.g. Willis Carto) also supported less well-known black supremacist groups, such as Hassan Jeru-Ahmed's Blackman's Army of Liberation, in reference to which Rockwell told Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Drosnin in 1967 that "Any Negro wants to go back to Africa, I'll carry him piggy-back."
More recently, Tom Metzger, erstwhile Ku Klux Klan leader from California, spoke at an NOI rally in Los Angeles in September 1985 and donated $100 to the group. In October of that same year a collection of over 200 prominent white supremacists met at former Klan leader Robert E. Miles's farm to discuss an alliance with Louis Farrakhan, head of the NOI. In attendance were Edward Reed Fields of the National States' Rights Party, Richard Girnt Butler of Aryan Nations, Don Black, Roy Frankhouser, and Metzger, who said that "America is like a rotting carcass. The Jews are living off the carcass like the parasites they are. Farrakhan understands this."
- Anti-miscegenation laws
- Aryan Brotherhood
- The Birth of a Nation (movie)
- Black supremacy
- Hate group
- Heroes of the Fiery Cross (book)
- Institutional racism
- Jim Crow laws
- Master race
- Race and intelligence
- Scientific racism
- Frances Cress Welsing
- "The White Man's Burden" (poem)
- White power music
- Superiority complex
- White nationalism
- List of white nationalist organizations
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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.
- Fredrickson, George (1981). White Supremacy. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. p. 162. ISBN 0-19-503042-7.
- A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union: "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."
- The "Cornerstone Speech", Alexander H. Stephens (Vice President of the Confederate States), March 21, 1861, Savannah, Georgia: "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery--subordination to the superior race--is his natural and normal condition."
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- Mills, C.W. (2003). "White supremacy as sociopolitical system: A philosophical perspective". White out: The continuing significance of racism: 35–48.
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- Fuller, Neely (1984). The united-independent compensatory code/system/concept: A textbook/workbook for thought, speech, and/or action, for victims of racism (white supremacy). SAGE. p. 334. ASIN B0007BLCWC.
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- "Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?" hooks, bell (2009-02-04). Black Looks: Race and Representation. Turnaround Publisher Services Limited. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-873262-02-3.
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For instance, Ben Klassen, founder of the atheistic World Church of the Creator and the author of The White Man's Bible, discusses Christianity extensively in his writings and denounces religion that has brought untold horror into the world and 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: 129–134).
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- Heart of Whiteness documentary film about what it means to be white in South Africa
- Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Frank Meeink from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum