The essential power-relations and basic logic of white supremacy are still in place in America. That's what George Zimmerman's acquittal showed. Here's a longer look at how that still works today.
July 29, 2013


A tweet from the Nation magazine caught my eye just after Zimmerman was acquitted:

"White supremacy: the idea that some black men must be killed with impunity to keep society at large safe."

It cut so neatly to the heart of the case, with all the rhetorical pretense of change stripped away. So I took at the point of departure for an op-ed that I wrote rather quickly... only to see it languish until today, when Al Jazeera English published it (here). An excerpt:

The logic of white supremacy perfectly explained why that neighbor was allowed to testify. The logic of white supremacy perfectly explained why Trayvon Martin had to die. And the logic of white supremacy perfectly explained why Zimmerman had to get away with it.

Many things have changed in America over the past 50 years. The most popular woman in America is the black First Lady, for gosh sakes! But, as the Zimmerman verdict showed, the logic of white supremacy remains perfectly intact - and keeping that logic in mind can be enormously helpful in not getting distracted by extraneous details.

White supremacy remains relevant

Americans talk a good deal about race and racism, but not so much about white supremacy.. One reason is that getting rid of the worst forms of old-fashioned white racism has made it easy for most white people to think racism has nothing to do with them. "I'm not a racist," they'll say, without even thinking about it. "I treat everyone the same." However, research into implicit bias shows that most people have unconscious biases they know nothing about: bias doesn't have to mean either animus, or intent. What's more, field surveys have repeatedly shown that blacks are rejected far more than equally-qualified whites, whether for job interviews or apartment rentals. In one study, whites were offered jobs at about twice the rate of blacks, and whites with a prison record were treated as well as blacks with a clean record.

Beyond that level of discrimination, we encounter more dire impacts. Black and white drug use is virtually identical, for example, but the war on drugs is disproportionately a war on blacks, with more blacks stopped for random searches, more arrested for possession, more arrestees sent to trial, and more of those tried sent to prison. At every single step of the way, blacks are treated more harshly than whites. And in many states, they lose the right to vote as well - long after they've paid the price of years in prison and on parole.

What's happening in America is not just some random mish-mash of racial and post-racial attitudes. There are massive historical and structural forces at work. Individual attitudes matter, of course, but they are only one facet of a much more complicated story - a story whose scope and essence is much more readily grasped through the lens of white supremacy, a system of racial group dominance, rather than racism, which most folks conceive of primarily or entirely in terms of conscious individual attitudes.

Again, you can read the whole piece here.

p.s. In a perfect illustration of how language continues to be used to obscure what's going on, a rightwing commentator at AJE responded to my quoting of the Dred Scott decision, about blacks being "So far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect," by saying, "Respect is earned."

Rights, earned? And they haven't been, yet?

If that's not white supremacy, it'll surely do till the real thing comes along.

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