Many people focus on the ideological meaning of white supremacy: the belief that white people are superior and should dominate other races. Such an ideology tends to be exposed mostly when someone commits overt hate speech and hate crimes.
However, white supremacy is more than an ideology. It is a pervasive system that is easily identifiable in the West, resulting from the multiple histories of colonisation and exploitation of people of colour by white people. Ellinger and Martinas’ definition of white supremacy as a system is more comprehensive:
“a historically-based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”
Therefore, you don’t need to believe in white supremacy (as a commonly labelled “white supremacist” would) to benefit from, and perpetuate, the system of white supremacy. Similarly, you don’t have to believe in the superiority of men over women to reap the benefits of the patriarchy – you simply need to benefit from male privilege. White supremacy is essentially a system of privilege that allows white privilege to happen.
Bhopal’s recent research on white privilege in the UK helps us understand that, as a system of privilege, white supremacy is prevalent; those classified as “white” benefit from it and those classified as "other" are harmed by it. This system of privilege ties in closely to institutional racism that tends to prioritise white people over people of colour.
So how does white supremacy work? It is a structural problem that is deeply rooted in the historical oppression of people of colour by the West and it is still very much present today. Simply looking at state legislation and rhetoric – such as the Prevent extremism strategy in the UK, the War on Terror in the US and the hostile environments created for migrants (especially of colour and Muslim) – will make it clear that people of colour tend be more criminalised and less valued than white people. Such state racism makes it easier for individuals to internalise the implicit, or “unconscious,” belief that white people are superior and must dominate people of colour.
In fact, state racism and dominant (albeit implicit) narratives about race, in mainstream media and education, breed acts of white terrorism against people of colour. As seen with the Christchurch mosque attacks in New-Zealand, it becomes easy for a white person to hate all Muslims and people of colour if you:
- believe that your country belongs to white people
- ignore the historical crimes of your country, such as the genocide against aboriginals in New-Zealand (originally called "Aotearoa" before British colonisation) that isn't addressed in education
- believe you are being "invaded" by Muslims and migrants of colour as mainstream media and state rhetoric suggests.
Dismantlingracism.org explores interesing ways in which white supremacy is maintained through culture, albeit in an American context (arguably very applicable to the UK).