The Strange Case of ‘White Supremacy’

Any majority population must be careful not to revert to pre-civilized tribalism and oppressing minority groups. The United States, like every other country that enjoys diverse populations has struggled from its beginning to ensure equality, sometimes unsuccessfully, and only at the cost of thousands of lives.

While the United States was founded originally mostly by those of European ancestry and was plagued by the endemic racism of the age, especially in regard to African slaves and Native Americans, nonetheless its unique Constitution, embedded within a larger framework of the Western Enlightenment, institutionalized self-reflection and the chance for amendment. America’s founding documents were unique in their singular calls for innate and universal human freedom and equality under the law that would eventually and logically demand reification of such ideals.

In other words, in America there was a real chance to overcome not American sins per se, but the ancient sins of mankind in general.

The result is that more than 243 years after its independence, the current longest-lived democracy arguably is also the world’s most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse nation and unmatched in its efforts to promote equality.

More exceptionally, the United States did not resort to a coercive political ideology such as Stalinist Communism to unite the diverse, or embrace an all-encompassing religious orthodoxy in the manner of the dramatic spread of Islam between the 8th and 16th centuries among widely disparate peoples.

Global Comparisons

No American can emigrate to China or Japan and expect to find full equality, given the emphases in those places on race and appearance. Mexico’s constitution has in the past formalized questions of racial essence as a requisite for immigration, given immigrants would be judged “according to their possibilities of contributing to national progress” and without upsetting “the equilibrium of the national demographics.”In most countries, there still remain at least informal gradations and castes predicated on superficial appearances.

Because of the unique success of post-Civil War America in avoiding a Bosnia, Rwanda, or Syria, and given the nation’s lofty pretensions from its very founding, Americans often demand perfection as a requisite for being good—without much cognizance of what still passes for normal in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Not being a race- or class-obsessed Saudi Arabia, India, or Mexico may be a low bar, but some economically developed countries, such as South Korea and Japan, remain mired in racialist orthodoxies.

Immigration Matters

There are concrete ways even in these troubled times to calibrate real American successes in mostly transcending race and religion. The United States is said to be a nation of 70 percent “white” people, at least to the extent in this age of intermarriage that such ossified rubrics mean much anymore. Yet America is the destination of most of the world’s immigrants.

Most estimates suggest new American immigrants range from 80 percent to 90 percent nonwhite, the vast majority from Mexico and Latin America, and Asia, and in particular Mexico, Central America, India, Southeast Asia, and China. Given the dominance of the American media worldwide, the influence of American movies and television, and the ubiquity of American pop culture, most immigrants have a fairly good idea of what life inside America is like.

Why, then, if we as a people are plagued from the outset by an incurable “white supremacy” and “white privilege,” would hundreds of thousands of nonwhite immigrants each year wish to enter such a dreadful place?

The one reason there are so many fake Jussie Smolletts or Covington psychodramas or Duke Lacrosse constructs or notions like microaggressions is that ubiquitous white supremacy has largely become a thing of the past.

The answer to why America appears attractive to newcomers is obvious: what global elites say and what non-elites do are two quite different things.

Certainly, one can damn in the abstract (whether for careerist purposes or from psychological angst) what one desires in the concrete. For all her expressed disappointment in America, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) may well have violated U.S. tax and perhaps immigration law in an allegedly felonious effort to facilitate her brother’s entry into America—a fact that resonates far more than her often tired whines about her dissatisfaction with her adopted country.

In sum, millions over the last few decades would have avoided or been barred from entering the United States, as they have avoided immigrating into an exclusionary but prosperous China or Japan—had they believed America was a racist country dominated by overweening white privilege. Throughout history white supremacist societies—or any other supposedly racially defined nation—have not adopted de facto or de jure immigration policies that welcome immigrants who are 80-90 percent of a different race or ethnic background.

Identity Politics

In terms of politics, there is little evidence that white people vote primarily for white people. Barack Obama, for example, exceeded the white voter support of almost any prior Democratic candidate in the three decades leading up to his 2008 victory. His margin of support from white voters (43 percent) exceeded that of a white John Kerry (41 percent) four years prior. And he topped the totals of the white vote won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (39 percent). In turn, currently, Joe Biden polls higher among black Democratic voters than does either Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) or Corey Booker (D-N.J.),  suggesting that aside from elite racial pyrotechnics, most Americans want to transcend race.

The odd fact about the spate of well-publicized “cultural appropriations,” both linguistic and cosmetic, is that it is often a phenomenon from white to nonwhite, an effort of an Elizabeth Warren or Ward Churchill to adopt a fraudulent minority identity. “Beto” O’Rourke was neither bequeathed an Irish nickname by his father nor found it useful to adopt a German one—largely because he knew in contemporary America inferences of a nonwhite identity were advantageous for a political career, in both Texas and on the national scene. A cynic, of course, would cite the career advantages that constructed diversity offers. But real racists in a culture of endemic white supremacy would not even consider abandoning their own tribe for that of another.

What are we to make of racially themed congressional caucuses, safe spaces, segregated dorms and theme houses, separate graduate ceremonies, and national lobbying groups such as the former National Council of La Raza (“the Race”)? Are they now routine tools of white supremacy? Are they just appropriations of prior white racist protocols, in a sort of well-deserved karma? Are these desperate attempts to keep suspicious white people away from the spaces deemed necessary for minority well-being?

We need some transcendent explanation, but the current reality is that such racially based distinctions to an outsider would seem to have more in common with those of the white population pre-1950 than of white Americans in 2019.

Current Racialist Leaders

All racist movements have leaders. America’s white majority has experienced such fringe racist demagogues who hoped to forge a common racial identity among enclaves of white Americans. More recently, the repellent David Duke’s Ku Klux Klan and macabre George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party come to mind. Yet both men were 20th-century fizzles who never succeeded in making shared whiteness the common weld among diverse Protestants, Catholics, Republicans, Democrats, coastal elites and midwesterners, working poor and the rich, immigrants and native-born.

Today, alt-rightist Richard Spencer sees himself as a successor to white supremacists of the past. But he has no real national following, opposes Donald Trump, and finds his support mostly only on obscure websites and fringe survivalist groups that appeal to the unwell. True white supremacists are always outnumbered by their opponents at rallies, and have no creed that attracts any but the unhinged.

In contrast, the well-known anti-Semites and unapologetic racists of our media age are provocateurs like Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jerimiah Wright. They in varying degrees have been sought out by progressive politicians—for support, endorsements and photo-ops.

In the present-day America of 2019 anti-Semitism usually emanates from people like “the squad” or the unapologetic racial bigotry of an Al Sharpton, prominent rappers, or Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Who has had more influence on a president—Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Richard Spencer?

Political considerations now overshadow racial ones and determine who or what is racist depending on political affiliations, not necessarily actual words or action.

Barack Obama correctly assumed that all of his incendiary rhetoric—the clingers speech, the “typical white person” riff on his grandmother, the defense of his former pastor and confidant, the anti-Semitic Wright (“Them Jews ain’t going to let him [Obama] talk to me”), the cheap braggadocio of getting “in their faces” and taking “a gun to a knife fight,” or Eric Holder’s “my people” would be seen either as mere rhetorical excesses, or now and then understandable emotional cries of the heart rather than sincere windows into a problematic soul.

Of course, there remain overt expressions of old-time racism by whites who exercise real political power. Here one thinks especially of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s observation of Obama as a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Or Vice President Joe Biden’s assessment of his soon-to-be running mate as the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” (On Thursday, gaffe-a-day Biden remarked, “Poor kids are just as bright as white kids.”) Or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noting matter-of-factly how she “had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.” Or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who observed of her rival and future boss, “I found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”). Or Hillary’s husband, Bill, the “first black president,” who quipped, “A few years ago, this guy [Obama] would have been getting us coffee.”

Yet often our hypercritical progressive establishment, both minority and majority, argues that the above are either slips of the tongue, forgivable lapses, or politicized sound bites taken out of context.

The point again is that politics seem to adjudicate racial offenses. Political considerations now overshadow racial ones and determine who or what is racist depending on political affiliations, not necessarily actual words or action. Had any Republican said anything of the above (remember the “macaca” slur of U.S. Senator George Allen?), his career would likely be over.

Similarly, black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas have been the subject of vicious racial attacks by white liberals. But such invective is written off as politics trumping racial hatred, on the liberal premise that progressives who taunt or deride Thomas do so on political rather than racial grounds.

A Thing of the Past

In short, racial politics is a mess. The standards by which racial chauvinism either is deemed dangerous or regrettable and a mere aberration, are largely political.

Thousands of African-American male youths are murdered each year by other African-American young men in progressive cities, run by progressive governments, and usually amid strict gun-control laws—without charges that progressive politicians who impotently oversee such mass death zones are racist or condone racism. That few progressives in 2020 are currently running on platforms with concrete ideas about how to stop the urban slaughter—the great American tragedy of our age—should tell us that racially-driven outrage is largely politicized. A supposedly Alt-Right, massive white supremacy movement is not credibly blamed for the carnage of Baltimore, even by the most opportunistic leftists.

The one reason there are so many fake Jussie Smolletts or Covington psychodramas or Duke Lacrosse constructs or notions like microaggressions—or careers such as those of the clownish Al Sharpton (the anti-Semite, past purveyor of hatred, and tax-dodging racist)—is that ubiquitous white supremacy has largely become a thing of the past.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.


Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com.