Robin DiAngelo in her section on White Supremacy says that it “is a descriptive and useful term to capture the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices based on this assumption.” As I read this I thought about the hatred people had for Barrack Obama. I am talking about hatred, not distaste or disagreement with his politics. Being the educated man that he had with the confident savvy and amazing knowledge and vocabulary he had, he must have been an affront to people who were already intimidated by highly educated people, viewing them as snobs. To be a black snob was just to much to tolerate.
(Forgive me – this assumption is pretty judgmental on my part., and reflects a pretty snarky remark Hillary Clinton made about Donald Trump’s supporters during the campaign.)
As DiAngelo continues, she reminds us that racism is a structure.”White supremacy in this context does not refer to individual white people and their individual intentions or actions but to an an overarching political, economic, and social system of domination.” There are hate groups, of course, that proclaim that whites are superior, but their existence tends to obscure “the reality of the larger system at work and prevents us from addressing this system.”
Racism occurs in other cultures but the United States, as a global power, spreads the idea of white supremacy through movies and mass media, corporate culture, advertising, US manufacturing, military presence, historic colonial relations, missionary work and other means.
My husband and I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala a number of times to serve in a program managed by Common Hope, a group organized to serve the poor in that country. We worked directly with the indigenous people on projects, got to know their families, celebrated and prayed with them. I noticed that even in their homes that we might call hovels, a family might have a television set. Living in such dire poverty, they were witness to riches Americans had through programs and advertising. Directors in the program told us that the people assumed all Americans are rich. We were dismayed when the father of a girl we sponsored in the program wanted us to take her home with us to raise her. She was just a child. But the director said he believed the life we could offer her so surpassed anything he could offer. We were embarrassed by our wealth, the wealth we didn’t feel we had when we were back home in the states. The indigenous people held us on pedestals we didn’t deserve because of our American whiteness.
Charles W. Mills, author of The Radial Contract, describes white supremacy as “the political system that has made the modern world what it is today.” He says that white supremacy is never acknowledged and that fact protects it from examination and holds it in its place. Below is a breakdown of positions of power and decision-makers in the United States.
- Ten richest Americans: 100 percent white, seven of whom are the ten richest in the world.
- US Congress: 90 percent white.
- US government: 96 percent white
- Top military advisers: 100 percent white
- President and vice-president: 100 percent white
- US House Freedom Caucus: 99 percent white
- Current US presidential cabinet: 91 percent white
- People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white
- People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white
- People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white
- People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white
- People who dictate the one hundred top-grossing films of all time, worldwide: 95 percent white
- Teachers: 82 percent white
- Full-time college professors: 84 percent white
- Owners of men’t professional football teams: 97 percent white
It is important to note whites make up about 60 percent of the population in the U.S. but, according to the list above, they hold about 90 percent of the power.
How does this happen? It is actually quite deliberate. Lee Atwater, Republican strategist and adviser for presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush explained what was known as “the Southern Strategy.” It was a way to appeal to the racism of white southern voters without pronouncing it openly.
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now (that) you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is (that) blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
It shocks me to read this. While I consider myself a liberal democrat, I’ve had an appreciation of the Republican party that seemed to always be keeping their eye on the budget. To think of budgeting strategies as a cover-up for preventing black Americans from achieving the benefits of their white fellow-citizens gives me pause…and I think may be even hurt my heart.