White supremacy: Alive and well and in a community near you
- Mlilo Mpondo
- 11 Feb 2014 (South Africa)
By definition, the word ‘white’ as applied to human beings has always meant “to have access to certain forms of preferential treatment, and exemption from racial oppression, on the basis of European ancestry and (allegedly) ‘white’ skin”.
A little history: The word was first applied to ‘race’ by slave-owning colonialists in the 17th century to distinguish servants of European descent from those of Africa, the latter being referred to as Negro (Spanish for black). Slave owners created the word to cause separation amongst a group of servants that were joined in rebellions which threatened to bring colonial masters to their knees. This distinction awarded certain liberal rights to what had now become the white race.
Poor Europeans, whites, were bequeathed ownership to small plots of land, wages upon the completion of their duties as servants; the right to sue masters in court and exemption from public whippings were the sum of liberties associated to their kind. Thus the link in concepts of “white people” and “white privilege”.
These concepts are bound both by history and institutions of oppression. From this establishment emerges the concept, and often reality, of white supremacy. A concept, and by extension a reality, based on the historic and institutional practice and perpetuation of exploitation and subjugation of entire continents, nations and those that fall within the category of non-white, for the organisation and preservation and in defence of systems of wealth, power and privilege. These identifiers have come to be associated with what has since time immemorial been understood as white culture.
However, important to note is that this culture of supremacy is not limited to systems of wealth; it is the very mechanism through which the economic, cultural and political expansion and development of Europe was made possible, consequently it has been able to permeate the social, cultural and political discourse of those worlds exploited in the process of expansion. White supremacy has existed for over five centuries; because of its longevity, it can be asserted that white supremacy continues to maintain the world we live in.
The development of slavery, colonialism, or rather, as Mark Christian defines it, “the African Holocaust”, can be attributed to white supremacy. When comprehending terms of reconciliation and nation building, it would be myopic to discard European enslavement and colonialism, because it is a holocaust which continues to plague contemporary human relations between “black” and “white”. When one considers that white supremacy, and its ideology of racism, is the primary cause for socio-economic disparity in the conceptualised third world, it is clear that white supremacy persists even in the 21st century. Of course, other nations of servitude could be added, but this is a series focused on Africa.
Lending from Randall Robinson’s (2000) description of the nature of the American divide, he asserts that racialised discrimination persists even post democracy. South Africa’s socio-economic gap between races is incessant, it is vivid; but avoided almost becoming normalised as though it were natural. High infant mortality, low or no income, exaggerated levels of unemployment, sub-standard education, capital incapacity, insoluble credit barriers and psychological states of morbidity. These characterisations of the African majority are either the consequence of an impoverished spirit or work to cause it. Even those blacks that do not exist within the confines of poverty and hold the status of middle class are not immune to white supremacy and its ideology of racism. Although they may have progressed materially in spite of race, this attests to the relentlessness for survival that has been an identifier of ‘black’ and does not attest to the absence of white supremacy.
It is not the blatant systems of racism which require study, but instead the subtle nuances of White European Intellectual Racism which make room for the hegemony of White Supremacy. Intellectual racism is a composite of white supremyst ideology, it is a characteristic of white privilege and manifests itself in manifold areas. For instance, in former colonies the prescribed languages in all facets of development, economic or otherwise, continue to be the languages of colonial countries. Attention has to be paid to this because it is through language that cultural ideology is articulated, performed and perpetuated. By speaking a language you immerse yourself in its ideas and become a vessel in sustaining these ideas. Therefore the consciousness of European culture is able to assimilate and immerse itself into the cultures of those now considered decolonised.
Also, where education is concerned, the ‘vanguard’ and ‘triumphant’ tale of Europe has elevated its historic and cultural worth by denigrating the historic developments of continents not of the west. This sense of worth has been elevated by literature to such an extent that many European descendants consistently believe that many continents, more especially Africa, owe their development to the West. This assumption in itself suggests that white, and at times black people, assume that the white race is the sole and universal proprietor of intellectual capacity, thus suggesting that people of African descent are without the intellectual wherewithal associated with white-ness. Moreover, the educational system of white supremacy, a system which most are subject to, legitimises these beliefs in its illumination of European victories and discovery, whilst negating Africa’s contribution to the New World, not only in its labour, but in Africa’s aptitude for science, engineering and medicine. The contours of accepted belief patterns are fashioned by white supremacy and its intellectual racism; the misfortune, however, is that these beliefs are not only accepted by whites but by blacks too. Black children do not know that their ancestors contributed to world civilisation, and this is by intent.
The success of European ‘political’ imperialism should not be attributed to its superior military capability; instead its conquest was made possible by using culture as a weapon. White cultural supremacy is a cultural imposition which prevents colonial subjects and their descendants from considering themselves as capable or empowered. Those that are able to rise above this state of cultural imperialism to a point of self-determination again merely reflect the resilience of blackness, but do remember that resilience only arises in the face of adversity.
Racism is not voluntary
The beautiful yet eerie thing about White Supremacy is its latency. In the way Satan convinced the world that he did not exist, white supremacy has attempted to do the same and has been successful in its ruse. As Wildman and Davis put it: If something is invisible it is considered non-existent, and if it does not exist it cannot be combated. Thus privilege is sustained, recreated and ultimately normalised. Privilege is ubiquitous and not staccato, and it remains unless exposed as deviant because “silence in the face of privilege sustains its invisibility”.
So even in the aftermath of imperialism and its many faces over the centuries, the ideas and identities it created live beyond the graves of its architects. Yet there is continual denial of its existence, more especially among white people. This denial contributes to the very existence of white supremacy and its racism, and therefore its baseless assumptions cannot be refuted.
There is a refusal within the white community to accept the oppressive behaviour and intent of White European power structures toward black people. In an earlier column I likened white culture to psychopathy and this is why. Bobby Wright writes in his analysis of the psychology of white supremacy that a psychopaths’ inability to accept responsibility and the inability to learn from previous experience can easily be proven. As far as the white psyche goes, it never accepts blame or responsibility for blacks’ environmental conditions, which are clearly the result of white oppression. On the contrary, blacks are held responsible for the deterioration of their communities even though all the property is white-owned. Of course the biological differences between human beings cannot be endorsed, but there is nonetheless the reality of cultural behaviour.
This behaviour is evidenced even in cultural systems, systems which Faye Harrison has described as “a paradigm for understanding and organising the world and for informing our practices within it”. The human rights of many people living in underdeveloped or developing countries are jeopardised by these cultural systems of control, these countries are dominated by imposed economic controls that undermine their right to self-determination. Through aid and its inherent conditions of political and economic structural adjustment policies, which accommodate the massive wealth accumulation of multi-national corporations and its promotion of privatisation, the West has been able to pauperise poorer continents. These cultural systems and their subjugation of human right are multi-faceted, but can at first be attributed to the hegemonic tyranny and immunity of transnational corporations which dictate social, political and economic realities of developing countries. The educational, health and humane working conditions of smaller nations have been severely compromised by an international system which mandates and favours corporate rights and the rights of transnational corporations at the expense of human dignity.
Harrison asserts that these policies are a form of “recolonisation” of markets in a world plagued by post-colonial dilemmas. Moreover, it is a cultural system upon which white supremacy depends and is sustained. In his scrutiny of neo-liberalism, David L. Wilson writes that neo-liberalism is an establishment of expansion, “a phenomenon of primitive accumulation”. It creates an environment where in which masses of people become desperate for employment “even at wages below subsistence levels”.
Neo-liberalism and its incumbent capitalism has come to be understood by many as a post-Apartheid world order. Salih Booker notes that the notion of divide and conquer is composite to globalisation, and that there is a “global Apartheid” wherein international financial institutions “generate economic inequality”. Like Apartheid, it is a system of minority rule, the attributes of which include “differential access to basic human rights; wealth and power structured by race and place; structural racism, embedded in global economic processes, political institutions and cultural assumptions; and the international practice of double standards that assume inferior rights to be appropriate for certain ‘others’, defined by location, origin, race and gender”.
These systems which dictate policies of ‘sovereign’ states and in turn sustain narrow systems of access for the privileged in South Africa are reproductions of racism in a post modern guise. Gernot Kohler contends that it is a system which is controlled by a minority race of whites which dominates the majority of humanity, a majority which was treated as racial aliens and are now treated as racial subjects by the very same white minority. Capitalism in itself is a system wherein racial hierarchies are perpetuated; therefore where in post-Apartheid South Africa disparities in wealth, education, and basic living conditions are easily accepted as government failure, no consideration is given to the hand that rocks the cradle. DM