The American Government’s Love Affair with White Supremacy
White supremacy has dominated politics in this nation from lowly city councils all the way to the White House.
“… any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof …” — Naturalization Act of 1790
How can we claim to be a nation of freedom, liberty, and equality, when our government has consistently failed to live up to this idea?
Why has white supremacy been tolerated and even encouraged when it runs contrary to American ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality?
I ask these questions and I seek the answers.
For most of my life, I was oblivious to the lack of justice and equality in this country. I spent many years believing the U.S. was the world’s role-model for equality and justice. “Here in America, everyone gets a fair shake.”
Living and traveling in this country shook my beliefs.
Studying the history of the nation has shattered those beliefs.
Diving Into the Government’s Love Affair with White Supremacy
The Naturalization Act of 1790 cemented the white supremacy of the United States government. This act saw numerous revisions through the years leading up to the Civil War. But the language of white supremacy remained the same. The stipulation “a free white person” remained.
Racism was entrenched in America long before the cries of freedom and liberty rang out in the American Revolution. It was a malignant hold-over from the European world and its Eurocentric world view.
The immorality of the ‘peculiar institution’, slavery, was well known. Those who participated in the practice knew it was wrong. Why else did they go to such great lengths to find justification for an obviously wrong and hypocritical practice? Rather than acknowledge it was wrong, they doubled down. They sought all manner of ways to justify their immorality.
Of these the most damaging to people of color and in turn, the nation was the justifications based on the pseudo-scientific fallacies that people of color were inferior. This one notion has infiltrated the government since the beginning of the nation. Like cancer, it has spread, from the government to the people, and from the people to the government — driving so-called patriotic Americans into a cycle of delusion, oblivious to the inequality and injustice devouring the core of the nation’s promises of freedom, liberty, and equality.
The Rise of Abolition
During the mid-19th century, the abolition movement gained momentum, a portion of the nation woke up to the wrongness of not only slavery but also wrongness of the notion that people of color were somehow inferior to whites. And they were fiercely resisted by those entrenched in white supremacy.
It wasn’t until 1863, under pressure from these “Radical Republicans” that Abraham Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
These white supremacists resisted in a feral, animalistic way, devoid of thought and conscience, devoid of right and wrong. The rabid pursuit of their malevolent world view, extended beyond color, beyond culture, beyond religion, beyond all reason.
The nation witnessed the rise of a political movement, one the conservative white supremacists derisively referred to as “Radical Republicans.” The term “radical” was the loaded language used by the white supremacist, it was a slur against those who sought to roll the nation forward, toward equality for all people in America.
Then came the Civil War, fought by the South to preserve its immoral institution of slavery, fought by the North to preserve the unity of the nation. Both sides ignoring the ill effects of inequality. It wasn’t until 1863, under pressure from these “Radical Republicans” that Abraham Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Was Lincoln a racist? Yes, he was. Did he move the country in a certain direction to satisfy his racism? Debatable. Did he do enough? No. Had he not been assassinated would things have been better? That is left to endless speculation. We simply do not know. But it could have hardly been worse than the path taken by his successor. He did show himself to be susceptible to pressure from the abolitionists, that may have helped. Again, that is a rabbit hole of endless speculation.
The Assassination of Lincoln
In 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln, and with that went what may have been the best shot this nation had for finding its way toward equality. Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln. He ranks among the worst Presidents in the history of the United States.
White supremacy was on its deathbed, and Andrew Johnson revived it. He squandered the victory won by the Union by handing the Confederacy a post-war political triumph. Those statues celebrating the Confederacy? They are the victory lap of the white supremacists who lost on the battlefield but won in the sacred halls of the U.S. government.
The reconstruction began with great promise only to falter and succumb to the overwhelming vitriol of white supremacy. Andrew Johnson pardoned the Southern political apparatus. He was bitterly racist and failed to set aside that racism for the good of the nation.
He was not the first politician to do so, nor was he the last. He sacrificed true national unity and equality in favor of unifying only the whites of the nation. The former slaves were left stranded at the mercy of their former masters, the Native Americans were supposed to keep quiet and die, and immigrants were a threat.
The Circumvention of the 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment was meant to improve equality in America. But the political apparatus of the white supremacist had been pardoned. They went to work rendering the 14th Amendment impotent. The KKK, the White Brotherhood, and other militant white supremacist organizations rose up. Beyond functioning as vehicles of hate, these groups worked as the muscle to strengthen white supremacy’s place in the American government.
These groups left a trail of blood, committing atrocities across the nation. Their motivation was driven by more than just hate. No, there was a political purpose in their actions as well. The conservative white Democrats of that time coveted the power lost when they were deposed at the end of the war. With black voters now enfranchised, they found it difficult to impossible to reclaim their old positions in government. They acted swiftly to shift the balance back in their favor by making end runs around the 14th Amendment.
They began campaigns of terror, driving black voters away from the polls. The African American voters who braved the threats and cast their votes often became the victims of lynchings and other heinous crimes. Atrocities were committed against black communities.
“You are Anglo-Saxons. You are armed and prepared and you will do your duty … Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.” — Alfred M. Waddell, former U.S. Congressman and leader of the only coup d’état on U.S. soil.
This campaign of intimidation and hate opened the way for some of the old white guard to resume their places in government. Once there, they expanded their efforts to reestablish the old political system by repealing laws protecting African Americans and enacting new laws like the poll tax and the literacy test, to further disenfranchise black voters.
The Surge of White Supremacy in Government
By the late 1800s, the progress made by the abolitionists and Republicans had largely been undone. A new surge of white supremacy inserted itself into the political psyche of America. White power. The rise of the old racially-biased apparatus of the South had won a crushing victory.
Rather than separating race from government, in 1898 white conservatives in North Carolina put race front and center in American government. Their political campaigns and subsequent violence in the bloody Wilmington massacre of 1898 established white supremacy as the beating heart of American conservative politics.
“North Carolina is a WHITE MAN’S STATE and WHITE MEN will rule it, and they will crush the party of Negro domination beneath a majority so overwhelming that no other party will ever dare to attempt to establish negro rule here.” — Furnifold Simmons, U.S. Senator, North Carolina
White Supremacy in U.S. Government in the 20th Century
This vicious white supremacy platform used in 1898 North Carolina spread throughout not only the South but the entire nation. The South’s Jim Crow laws were expanded at the federal level. White Supremacy proved to be a national problem, not a Southern problem. Violence against people of color was a national issue, evidenced by the rash of massacres during the first two decades of the 1900s, such as Springfield, Illinois in 1908, the Red Summer of 1919, and racial/political violence as seen in Ocoee, Florida in 1920.
Thousands of towns across the country became what is known as Sundown Towns, in these towns, people of color were ran out of the town, and violence was threatened for any who dared stay past sundown, including my hometown that forced all people of color out of not only the town but also the county in 1903.
From the 1920s to the end of World War II large scale outbreaks of violence decreased. The use of Japanese internment camps during the war is evidence of persistent federal level white supremacy. During the post-World War II era, lynchings continued to occur and Jim Crow Laws were strictly enforced. Effects of practices such as redlining which was added into federal law in 1934 and continued into the mid-70s. Cases involving redlining by banks continued to occur as recently as 2015.
People who are interested in helping people become firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics. People who are interested in hurting people, become law enforcement officers.
The segregation laws further put people of color at a distinct disadvantage economically and educationally. Some progress was made with the arrival of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Despite the positive developments of this movement, the work is incomplete. Well into the 2000s, laws were enacted at the federal and state level that intentionally put people of color at a distinct disadvantage both in education and economically.
Disenfranchisement of minority voters continues to be a significant issue. Gerrymandering has not been addressed along with a slew of criminal laws. White supremacy is still alive and well in today’s right-wing conservative political conversations.
We have a President who champions the ideals of white supremacy, touting those who cry out “white power”, and labels those who take a stand against white supremacy as hate groups. He encourages violence against peaceful protestors then calls it a riot, which is a page right out of the early 20th-century white supremacist’s playbook.
He refers to the protests as insurrection, the same word used by white supremacists to justify their atrocities during the early 20th century. This of course is a quick glance through the history of white supremacy in U.S. politics. The progress toward equality is slowly pressing forward against strong resistance from the conservative right.
Despite the long record of terrorism by multiple white supremacist groups, many U.S. policymakers continue to refuse to label them as terrorists. These same policymakers also refuse to criminalize white supremacist activity despite their long track record of terror and violence. With the mountain of evidence against these organizations, the government’s refusal to address these groups is nothing less than a nod of approval.
That leaves the extrajudicial police violence. After working for nearly a decade in EMS (emergency medical services) and witnessing it first-hand and the aftermath I have only one thing to say. People who are interested in helping people become firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics. People who are interested in hurting people, become law enforcement officers.
Seeing the Nation in a New Light
I see the United States in a new light. Once I believed it was the beacon of freedom in a dark world of oppression. I have since discovered over the years the strange juxtaposition of the United States of America. Beneath the glitz and glam of patriotic propaganda is an ugly truth. Beneath the eloquent, powerful words of individuals drunk on the myth of America the Great, is a country plagued with the very problems it condemns other nations for.
The United States strides out of its stylish house, across its well-manicured lawn, traveling half-way around the world. Once there the United States preaches the righteous cause of human rights, meeting out punishment in the name of liberty, equality, and justice.
White supremacy must be purged and replaced with a fair and balanced system of true equality.
Puffed up with its self-righteous stroll through the neighborhood of earth, the United States returns home. Once back home the United States behind closed doors launches into a furious round of domestic abuse. And like a domestic abuser, it tells us it loves us, that only it can care for us, only it can protect us. It hurts us but then tells us it’s for our own good.
The government tells us everyone else out there will treat us worse than it does. We should feel lucky to live in this house and not one of the other houses. We want to stand up to it, fight back, but it is stronger than us. We want to leave, but we are too afraid of what will happen if we do. We are left hoping it will change its ways — that never works.
National outrage is being expressed at the racism so prevalent in this country. But that outrage will be impotent unless it is followed up with meaningful action. We need a moment to repeal old legislation laced with white supremacy. All levels of government from the lowly city councils all the way to the White House should be held to a higher moral standard than its citizens. White supremacy must be purged and replaced with a fair and balanced system of true equality.