Have you ever wondered just what it would take to end white supremacy? You are showing up as an ally in anti-racist struggle, you are doing your part to dismantle your socialization as a white person … but is it enough? What are our long term goals, and are we taking the steps we need to get there?
Our Analysis is the place where White Awake expresses our organization’s evolving response to these questions, and more.
Race is not a biologically “real” thing. Nevertheless, racial categorization is real and has tangible, material effects.
Modern, genetic science has proved without a doubt that there is no biological foundation for race. No one characteristic, trait, or gene distinguishes members of one so-called race from members of another. Despite surface differences, humans are among the most similar to one another of all species. Nevertheless, as a way of manipulating relationships between groups of people, the categorization of people based on “race” is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to resources and opportunities. This effects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.
White is a racial identity.
In an apartheid-based society, everybody is assigned a race. Because people categorized as white are awarded certain types of privileges, and because privileges generally consist of access to things all people should have, white people are not directly confronted with the every day effects of racism in the ways that people of color are. This can lead us to overlook our own racial status. When white people become aware of how society classifies us by race, we can begin to critically examine this classification, the socialization that comes with it, and the particular role we have been groomed to play within an exploitative economy. With awareness comes the power to change and make choices that were not available to us before.
Racism is not a just personal issue – it’s a social hierarchy. We can call this hierarchy white supremacy.
For decades following the Civil Rights period, white people tended to think in terms of “racist” or “not-racist” categories, focusing on individual behavior and denying the presence of systemic racism. This mainstream understanding of racism as individual race prejudice downplays the way in which society is structured – both formally and informally – in ways that systematically disadvantage people of color. White supremacy is a term that can help us discuss the ways in which racism is systemic – a chronic, all encompassing problem, not just a series of random, acute incidents. To address white supremacy, we’ll need to understand it’s function.
White supremacy is a divide and rule strategy that is intimately tied to the birth – and continued life – of capitalism.
White supremacy developed out of the very legitimate fear of the former U.S. Slave society’s ruling class that indentured Europeans and enslaved Africans, when united, could overthrow the planter class. By awarding white laborers select privileges, creating an identity that tied them to the “white” elite class, and subjugating Africans into fully-institutionalized, hereditary, chattel slavery, these two groups could be divided and controlled (see Birth of a White Nation for specifics). Scholars C. Vann Woodward (The Strange Career of Jim Crow) and Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) explain how later systems of racialized social control have served the same purpose.
White supremacy, at its inception in the late 17th century, not only divided white and black laborers; it effectively redirected centuries of resistance by European peasants and laborers to economic exploitation and paved the way for capitalism as we know it today.
What’s wrong with capitalism?
Capitalism is an economic system that systematically deprives people of material security (things like having an income, housing, and basic health care) and personal/communal autonomy, or freedom from oppression. The reason for this is simple: capitalism is dependent upon market forces that cause corporate entities (and their owners) to prioritize profit above everything else.
The effects of this endless grind of competition, exploitation, production and depletion can be seen all around us. Forty two billionaires hold the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns we might have as little as a decade to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius — or face generations of ecological and social catastrophe. The far-right is on the rise while state repression in the form of police brutality, mass incarceration and mass deportations have begun to politicize millions. The inadequacies of the capitalist system are coming to a head.
White supremacy and capitalism work hand in hand.
In the United States, white supremacy is historically tied to the very practices that consolidated the material resources (or “capital”) upon which the global capitalist economy would be based: 1. the enslavement of African peoples, and corresponding anti-black racism; 2. land theft and genocide of Indigenous Peoples, and corresponding Doctrine of Discovery and illusion of Manifest Destiny; and 3. international imperialism, beginning with the takeover of half of Mexico by war and the corresponding Monroe Doctrine.
Capitalism continues today to stoke racial, national, and gender oppression that keeps working people divided, and justifies exploitation. This is easy to see in the messaging of the Trump administration.
If we want to create a just world, we will need to replace capitalism with a democratically managed economy.
In order for us to all get what we truly need, everyday people need to have control over the production and distribution of the things we need to live (such as housing, energy, etc), and for these common resources to be managed democratically. To make this vision a reality, we will need to build a lot of power. If white people are serious about confronting white supremacy, then we need to tie our anti-racist work to a larger vision for social change – one that leverages the power of working people to disrupt and overcome the power of the capitalist class.
A transition to a just, democratically managed economy is not complete unless it corrects the specific harms of colonization, genocide, enslavement, and imperialism.
We cannot usher in the world we need without addressing the fundamental harms upon which capitalism and white supremacy were built: human trafficking and the enslavement of African people; genocidal warfare against Indigenous Nations; and broad-scale, Eurocentric imperialism and colonization. Correcting these harms is something white people can agitate for (supporting and prioritizing POC and Indigenous leadership on these and other issues that directly impact them), and educate their communities about, including actions such as restitution and reparations, repatriation of land, and nation to nation respect for the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.
While restitution for massive harm might seem like an “expensive” endeavor, in a world where a small minority of people are hoarding massive amounts of wealth, there are resources enough to go around and make restitution for these harms.
Confronting the power of capital will take broad scale, unified action based on proven solidarity tactics. Unfortunately, anti-racism activist culture doesn’t always prioritize this.
Many people who enter social justice spaces are met not with a broad analysis of capitalism and power, but rather a list of rules and dogmatic management of interpersonal interactions that can be stifling or even harmful. While understanding and correcting problems with how we have been socialized is important, a rigid focus on identity and “right or wrong” ways of acting will not build the collective base of power strong enough to topple something as powerful as global capitalism – which wields national armies and private mercenaries to protect the interests of a few while maintaining the horrific, white supremacist agenda that is enmeshed within it. (See Eric Ward, “The Evolution of Identity Politics” for a deeper analysis of the strengths and pitfalls of identity focused work.)
Solidarity means identifying our self interests, and appreciating the self interests of others.
While a lot of what passes for anti-racism on social media vilifies conservative, rural or small-town white people, solidarity practices necessitate that we listen to one another and look not for differences, but for points of overlapping interest or concern. This solidarity approach often leads to a common assessment – by white people and people of color – that racism is a divisive tactic that needs to be overcome together. A great example of this style of organizing is Down Home North Carolina.
What does broad scale, unified action look like?
Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, and A. Philip Randolph argued that the movement for racial liberation should also fight for redistributive reforms that would benefit everyone. Their work stands as a strong testament to what is needed today: 1. targeting specific forms of social oppression (including racial oppression) through broad based action; 2. pushing for universal demands – such as Medicare for All – from which racially targeted minorities have much to gain, and through which mass mobilization can be initiated and solidarity-based relationships can be formed; and 3. building power in the workplace, where working people have the most power and leverage to undermine the strength of the capitalist class.
White folks knowing who we are, and withdrawing our support from white supremacy, is a major threat to the capitalist order.
Because our racial identity was created to bind us to the ruling class, and motivate us to protect their interests, divesting our energy and resources from white supremacy is a powerfully subversive act. This reclaiming of our personal and collective power can be expressed through social action, self education, and spiritual transformation. White Awake focuses on education and practices for inner transformation as a support to the work of white people to reject the legacy of white supremacy, and embrace the struggle for collective liberation.
May we change the legacy of white supremacy that we have inherited, and join with others to build a sane and just society.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
– Fannie Lou Hamer
The material on this page draws heavily from: Race the Power of an Illusion; Jacqueline Battalora’s work around Birth of a White Nation; the DSA online publication The Call (including Race, Class, and Socialist Strategy); Elizabeth Martinez’s essay, What Is White Supremacy; and Vivek Chibber’s contributions to Jacobin Magazine