On Ending White Supremacy
Since Inauguration Day, the progressive community and people of good conscience more generally are experiencing a mix of dread, despair and fear as we steel ourselves to face the dystopian reality of the Trump era. We all recognize the threat that a Trump administration represents for the United States, its residents and the world. Some analyst are still making noise about Trump’s message of so called economic populism winning the day, in an attempt to normalize the results of the election and understand his voters. But most of us are clear that Trump’s win was a victory for the true axis of evil — white supremacy, patriarchy and exploitative capitalism.
So many in our communities, are terrified and anxious about the future and for good reason. But I will let you in on a little secret. We have perhaps never been closer to ending white supremacy as we are right now. This is a bold statement and you probably think I am in a state of deep denial, but hear me out. To be clear, I did not say that white supremacy will end soon. Indeed, it will be emboldened during the Trump era, and continue to evolve and persist for the foreseeable future. That said, I firmly believe that that we have never been closer to ending it, relative to other moments in history. It is all relative, but in this moment that relativity can provide our communities with a much needed, however modest modicum of hope.
I believe we are closer than ever before to ending white supremacy because recent social movements and political events have helped organize key constituencies and exposed the core nature of white supremacy to the broader public. White supremacy or more exactly elite white male supremacy is about power and social control, and uses anti-Black racism, patriarchy and classism as primary tools for building power, privilege and wealth and maintaining total control for white male elites. It justifies the oppression of people of color, and tricks working class white folks into a self-destructive collectivism and complacency in their own oppression. Today’s freedom fighters are organizing to defeat white supremacy. The road ahead may be challenging, but they have already begun taking some of the most critical first steps:
- Occupy popularized the reality of the 1%, exposing the idea of an elite ruling class and the exploitation of 99% of the populous. However, this analysis neglected the central role of anti-black racism in building wealth and maintaining social control.
- Black Lives Matter Movement continues to shift the narrative, exposing the reality of anti-Black structural racism in today’s society, as a form of social control. The movement, emphasizes a radical Black womanist analysis and leadership base into the movement, but BLM has yet to fully articulate the connection to exploitative capitalism, at least in the general public sphere.
- The Hillary Clinton campaign and the aftermath of her defeat — particularly the Women’s March on Washington — has activated and energized women to name sexism in concrete ways. The extent to which this work will center the leadership of women of color, while aggressively confronting elite white male supremacy as a system of social control is yet to be seen.
- The infrastructure and/or social power of other movements are also at critical points in their development and are increasingly working in more intersectional ways including immigrant rights; LGBTQI rights; Native American movement; labor and worker’s rights (e.g., Fightfor15); climate change movement; incarcerated people; etc.
Now is the time to help these movements deepen their collective impact by challenging elite white male supremacy head on. Already, these movements have penetrated the public discourse and laid a foundation for political consciousness raising with the general public that can make plain the universally destructive impact of anti-Black racism, patriarchy and exploitative capitalism. If we remain unapologetic about our values, this new consciousness can serve as the foundation for an authentic cross-racial,-gender, -class, -sexual orientation, -religion, -nationality, -ability movement focused on ending elite white male supremacy.
Finally, the election of Donald Trump has shaken this country like no other political event in a generation. His victory knocked the air of inevitability out of those of us who may have believed that we would eventually achieve racial and gender equity because of demographic destiny or the supposed growing cultural tolerance of the country. The truth is, the only thing that was inevitable was that white supremacy would strike back — hard. The Trump election, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million people, is an important reminder that vigilance is the most important victory. We would do well to remember this pain and fear, use it to resist the normalization of the Trump presidency, and energize our commitment to work together to end elite white male supremacy.
Vigilance is the most important victory.
It is important to accurately define elite white male supremacy. Elite white male supremacy is an economic, political, ideological and cultural social order with the sole purpose of maintaining the rule of white male elites over communities of color, women, non-elite whites, the middle class and poor. White supremacy is not the same as white superiority — which is the unfounded belief that the “white race” is superior to other “races”. White superiority is a primary tool used to sow dissension and conflict between whites and people of color in order to keep them fighting each other and not against the hegemonic power of elite white males. Also, elite white male supremacy is not the sole purview of conservatives/Republicans, as liberals/Democrats are often also vested in its continuance. There can be huge differences for sure between conservative and liberal policies, as we are seeing with implementation of the Republican agenda under a Trump administration. But it is difference in kind, not in substance, if the policies and practices still ultimately support and advance a system of elite white male dominion over others. Given this, the only way to end white supremacy is to build enough power to seize control and replace the existing social order of elite white male supremacy with an egalitarian and progressive system based on freedom, fairness and equity.
Ending white supremacy begins with developing answers to the following question: How do we build the power to expose, challenge, defeat and replace elite white male supremacy as the ruling social order?
Exposing white supremacy
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” The Usual Suspects (1995)
Elite white male supremacy is a regime whose existence relies heavily on obfuscation and mis-direction, as well as structural violence and complicity. Broad public exposure of how white supremacy exploits everyone — including working class whites — in order to maintain and defend the wealth, power, privilege and control of white male elites, is a critical step toward ending it.
Elite white male supremacy divides people into artificial binaries (e.g., white/Black, immigrant/citizen etc.), ascribes a social and legal hierarchy between these divisions and then fosters animus between the divided people. It does this to keep the oppressed fighting each other rather than the ruling class. This same strategy has been used throughout human history to oppress and subjugate people, but “whiteness” was the unique contribution of American ingenuity. The term white was created by the elite white male ruling class in the American colonies in order to disrupt the possibility of collective uprisings against the European landowner class from bonded Scotch-Irish and African laborers. How could have “American” history been changed if bonded Europeans, Africans and Indigenous men and women stood in solidarity with each other against the elite white male ruling class? How can our futures be changed if the oppressed and exploited act in true solidarity to tear down the rule of elite white males? This is the fragile opportunity that we can create out of this moment.
Exposing elite white male supremacy must operate on at least two levels. First, we must create broad and penetrating public understanding of how elite white males specifically benefit from the exploitation of those who are not elite white males. The Left has done a good job uplifting how inequitable policies hurt those who are directly impacted, but we must also frame our campaigns to expose how the policies help to maintain hegemony for the benefit of elite white males. For instance, positions like denying climate change, privatizing schools, opposing universal healthcare, supporting mass incarceration, taking away a woman’s right to choose, deporting immigrants and banning Muslims, etc., could all be framed according to their value for maintaining elite white male rule — in addition to how the poor, women, Blacks, immigrants or the planet will be hurt.
We must also frame our campaigns to expose how inequitable policies help to maintain hegemony for the benefit of elite white males.
Second, we must expose the interconnected ways that elite white male supremacy exploits everyone who is not part of the elite white male ruling class. Under the system of white supremacy, we are all race, gender and class constructed beings. We are socialized to believe the race, class and gender conflicts that this system created are naturally occurring phenomena. From an early age, we are all indoctrinated to believe in and rely on the social reward and punishment system of this regime to varying degrees. White people are exploited by elite white male supremacy as well. In her article, How White People Got Made, Quinn Norton writes, “It is to the political benefit of the existing system to keep whites, especially poor whites with little more than their whiteness to be proud of. It makes for a predictable political group. Whites thus managed will vote and flock to issues as reliably as tides.” Working class white folks, who should be the natural ally to communities of color, have to stop clinging to a collectivism that guarantees their continued exploitation and subjugation. We all have to find a way to stand together after being constructed to stand against each other. To do this we will have to make a tremendous and persistent effort to heal the deep intra-personal, inter-personal and inter-group damage caused by elite white male supremacy. But healing can come from working together for a common purpose. Exposing the commonality of our exploitation — albeit distinct by class, race and gender — is one way of fostering the bonds of solidarity necessary to defeat elite white male supremacy. Indeed, crafting a vision of a brighter shared future is necessary to pave a more lasting path towards deconstructing the barriers that have kept us apart.
Challenging white supremacy
Many people are calling on folks to resist, oppose and make ourselves ungovernable under a Trump administration. And this is right because we have to challenge elite white male supremacy at every turn in every way possible. Our compliance and complicity is white supremacy’s courage. This means fighting for justice and fairness and a better quality of life for all those who are oppressed, subjugated and exploited by this system. But to be effective at ending elite white male supremacy, we have to expand beyond our goals of securing rights for the marginalized, to include the ultimate goal of seizing control. To end white supremacy, we need double vision — focused on meeting the needs and winning the rights we all need to survive and thrive, while simultaneously focusing on building the power necessary to wrestle control away from the current regime and replace it with an egalitarian social, political and economic system.
We should expose and challenge particular white male elites that are benefiting from and strengthening white supremacy (e.g., the Koch brothers, Donald Trump, etc.). But we should also remember that elite white male supremacy is more than rich white men and is held together by a system of policies, practices, ideological beliefs and the presumption of legitimacy. We have to target and strip away these policies, practices and beliefs, and those who uphold them to challenge elite white male supremacy. This requires that we look at repressive policies and also those that enable the unfettered accumulation of elite white male power and wealth. We have tackle issues like tax and trade, mergers/acquisitions, land use, electoral reform (e.g., gerrymandering), legislative and budget rules reform, etc. These are issues that communities of color within the social justice infrastructure do not typically address because we are focused on more obvious repressive policies and practices. Honing this double vision will allow us to see all threats to our existence clearly.
To end white supremacy, we need double vision — focused on meeting the needs and winning the rights we all need to survive and thrive, while simultaneously focusing on building the power necessary to wrestle control away from the current regime and replace it with an egalitarian social, political and economic system.
Developing a vision for a fair and egalitarian social order that is broadly accepted in the general public is the central challenge for the progressive movement. However, it represents the biggest threat to the system of white supremacy. It is also a tremendous opportunity to build the deep partnerships across the myriad communities that will need to come together to end elite white male supremacy. When people begin to not just question and reform the system, but work to enact a transformational alternative, then elite white male supremacy will truly be on the decline.
Defeating and Replacing white supremacy
While we are closer than we have been before in exposing and posing a powerful challenge to white supremacy, we have a lot of work to do to defeat it. Although anti-Black racism, patriarchy and classism are ingrained into the fabric of American society, they can be driven so far underground and made so impotent that they will not be major factors in the lives of most people. Defeating elite white male supremacy is about breaking down and weakening it as a system of social control, and about building up and strengthening a countervailing social, economic, and political vision and practice to replace it. This requires building a powerful infrastructure for progressive social, institutional, political and economic power.
Building this infrastructure is a generational endeavor. The current progressive power infrastructure is imbalanced and in need of intentional, inter-sectional, and well-resourced development. For instance, the infrastructure for Black led social change has been under-resourced for decades. This has hamstrung the overall strength of the progressive movement because a strong infrastructure for Black-led social change is the cornerstone of a strong multi-constituency movement for progressive change. We also need to strengthen the social change infrastructure of other constituency groups and forge authentic and powerful cross-constituency, multi-issue, multi-sector coalitions and movements for progressive change. We need to build real, accountable political power on the federal, state and local levels all across this nation. This will likely mean the development of at a multi-party system (that may be born out of the transformation of the Democratic Party) and a switch to proportional representation of some sort. We need greater democratization and decentralization of information and media. We need to take existing and experimental systems of equitable economics to scale. We need to dream big and be brave. We don’t just need to build power, we need to wield it boldly, unapologetically, and effectively. We need all these things and so much more to defeat and replace white supremacy.
Elite white male supremacy is an illegitimate and destructive social order that shrouds itself in moral and authoritative legitimacy. It relies on fear and social anxiety to divide our communities and diminish our collective vision for a fair and just America where prosperity is shared among all those within her borders. We must prioritize and knit together a liberating race, class and gender analysis if we hope to disarm elite white male supremacy. An effective and broad movement that exposes the illegitimacy of white supremacy will weaken its moral authority, subvert the public’s acceptance and compliance with its authoritative power and thus facilitate its demise.
We have a unique opportunity now to grow the progressive community into a powerful, multi-constituency, multi-strategy, force to defeat the policies, practices and ideologies that support elite white male supremacy and replace it with an egalitarian system rooted in equity and freedom. But to do so, we have to stretch ourselves to be better than we have ever been before; see farther than we have ever seen; and act together in ways that we can barely imagine. This is something we must do. This is something we must believe we can do. This is something we will do. Yes we can!!!
Special thanks to Jennifer Epps-Addison, LaTosha Brown, Robert Tyrrell, Ronnie Galvin and Lola Smallwood-Cuevas for their feedback and editorial insights.