The term white supremacist has been banded about a lot in recent months, in particular since the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, a man supported by the Klu Klux Klan (an overt, unapologetic white supremacist organisation) and in direct association with the so-called alt-right.
Prior to this obvious upturn in far-right politics, such movements was seen as peripheral. We’d imagine hooded clansmen, or National Front skin heads, not white men in suits glamorised in Mother Jones.
But this is because our understanding of structural, endemic racism is skewed. Society presents racism as being nothing more than interpersonal name-calling, rather than a system of oppression that runs deep in the cultural fabric of Western society.
You don’t need to use overt racist language to be a white supremacist. In fact you can even find such behaviour crass and distasteful whilst still upholding white supremacist structures.
The Oxford dictionary defines white supremacy as “The belief that white people are superior to those of all other races” – making no reference to the use of racist language or overt hate speech; it is simply a superiority complex.
White supremacy is mainstream, even if it is often not as overt as Donald Trump or Richard Spencer’s conjuring up Nazism.
The notions of white superiority are integral to the make up of the idea of Western civilisation. This is why many people actively aid and abet white supremacist power structures without being fully aware of it.
For instance, we may see those on the left talking up anti-racism, whilst at the same time having deeply ingrained Islamophobic beliefs. This is also undeniably true of many liberals in the press, who preach tolerance yet clearly believe in the superiority of what are perceived as Western values.
This is something alluded to by Samuel Huntington, who wrote an essay and later a book titled The Clash of Civilizations:
“Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures”
Huntington clearly associates these values with the West and holds the rest of the world in disdain.
These arguments were also drawn upon recently by Slavoj Zizek, a covert leftist, white supremacist, in his book Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours in which he notes the perceived threat refugees pose to European values.
Richard Spencer’s recent interview on Al Jazeera gave an insight into these ideals of Western supremacy as he commented:
“Only Europeans could have gone into space … have science … reformations, the Enlightenment.”
The interviewer did not challenge this comment. Why? Because there is an underlying belief that Western civilisation is superior. It’s inherent in our society and is not just reserved for white people.
There is little awareness for the fact that atheism and secularism are not really Western concepts. Whilst it is also the case that binary arithmetic came from outside of Europe, as did the number zero. Or that modern science was pioneered in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Were people to know these things, the myth of white supremacy would become unsustainable. The current notion of the West relies on its perceived superiority and without it the West would cease to exist in the way it currently does.
Thus, in or order to maintain this paradigm, everything Western societies deems to be progressive is whitewashed and associated with the Western world.
The root cause of this is a lop-sided educational system which allows Richard Spencer and the like to go around unchallenged when they spout such incorrect ramblings.
An informed journalist would have challenged him by raising the contributions of other cultures and debunking the white supremacist revisionist history Spencer presented.
But in the end, as it stands, we are all white supremacists. All of us are born into a world that teaches us to uphold these ideals and recreate this oppressive system, so we are all responsible for the rise of people like Spencer.
These beliefs are not just inherent on the right, but also deeply embedded in many progressive circles. Whilst the latter group might bulk at this suggestion, if we delve deeper there is often a latent silent loyalty to the superiority of Western principles.
As a society we need to take responsibility and act to dismantle these systems and create a fairer, better world, because as it stands ideals about the West are completely underpinned by not-so-subtle forms of white supremacy.