As an antiracist White American, I have been accustomed to thinking of race and race privilege in terms of the American experience. But radical black thinkers like Delany, Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Fanon, and others have always understood that the White supremacist power structure is a global structure. White privilege is a global privilege, backed by a global ideology of White supremacy. It must be seen, understood, and opposed globally.

The Global Privileges of Whiteness

by Kendall Clark,courtesy of the monkeyfist collective

Whiteness is ownership of the earth.

— W.E.B. Du Bois

I use the term white supremacy … I intend a latitudinarian conception, one that encompasses de facto and de jure white privilege and refers more broadly to the European domination of the planet that has left us with the racialized distributions of economic, political, and cultural power that we have today. We could call it global white supremacy.

— Charles W. Mills

The average White American’s attitudes about race and racism are a mixture of self-congratulation and defensiveness — “Yes, America has had some episodes of racism and racial bias, but that’s all clearly in the past.” In truth, White racism hasn’t gone anywhere. Its tenor and tone have evolved; now it’s expressed in carefully coded messages rather than in crudely overt themes. White racism, and the White supremacist ideology it reflects, and the network of White privilege it maintains, are alive and well.

Racist expressions of White supremacist ideology maintain three particular nodes in the vast network of White privilege: White empire, White corporate profits, and aggrieved White victimhood.

The Maintenance of Empire

With a model constitution and Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which the US desperately needs to implement, South Africa seems to be the exemplar of struggling with post-colonialism. But it faces obstacles, including a horrifying AIDS pandemic and Western-dictated structural adjustment programs, demanded as preconditions of expanded trade relations, development loans, and so on.

Later this year, the United Nations will convene a global conference on racism in Durban, SA. One might reasonably expect, given the shape of African colonial history, that central to the conference’s agenda is a discussion of reparations for colonialism and the slave trade.

But as The Independent’s Alex Smith reported on 12 June 2001, during SA President Mbeki’s visit with Tony Blair, Mbeki was reminded that one of the ongoing privileges of White Empire is its careful, unblinking avoidance of any responsibility for past horrors. Blair didn’t so much refuse responsibility as refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything to take responsibility for. Smith reports that at the conference, European countries will apologize for colonial exploitation, but Blair warned Mbeki that such apologies cannot be used by African countries to press claims of reparation. A formal apology means nothing when the very idea of reparations is ruled off-limits. An apology which cannot be the basis of subsequent, morally appropriate action, such as reparations, is not an apology at all; it’s merely words in the verbal form of an apology, signifying nothing but a churlish display of White privilege.

It’s not only Tony Blair who mans the ramparts of White empire. Other European colonial powers and the US have threatened to scuttle the UN conference by sending “junior delegations”, if, as Smith puts it, “the issue of compensation for the ills of slavery is allowed to dominate the agenda” (where “dominate the agenda” means, roughly, “appear on the agenda”).

That such refusal is an exercise of White privilege is made perfectly obvious by another sentence in Smith’s report: “Britain, which claims its views are in line with other European countries, says it wants to look forwards, not back.” That is, White Europe and America will make the determination of what constitutes an appropriate moral response to colonial horrors like the international slave trade. No Africans need apply. The victims have nothing to say about the matter.

Not content to rest with an injurious, boastful display of the privilege of White empire, Smith reports that the British Foreign Office hastens to add this insult: “‘The African group [in Geneva] has put forward a position which makes extensive reference to the historical slave trade. But no one wants a retrospective conference. It is important for international anti-racism mechanisms to be made more effective. We are looking to address contemporary issues.'”

Not only will White people be the sole determinant — note the nullifying claim that “no one wants a retrospective conference”; Africans simply do not count — of what is or is not true, of what is or is not morally appropriate, but White people will unilaterally be so in the guise of being “effectively anti-racist”. Thus is reached the pinnacle achievement of propaganda, the total inversion of truth. Asserting White privilege is effectively anti-racist, and justice for African peoples is an impediment.

The Protection of Corporate Profits

Empire is the servant of corporate (that is, private) profit. Such was the case with European colonial empires, and such is the case with the neocolonial corporate empire that bestrides the planet today. Just as White supremacist ideology was developed, in part, as a justification for European colonial Empire and, particularly, the slave trade, one of its chief uses today is to justify and protect White corporate profits. And that’s perfectly clear in the case of American drug companies and the African AIDS pandemic.

As Bob Hebert wrote in a recent column, Andrew Natsios, Bush’s choice to head the US Agency for International Development, is busy spreading White supremacist ideology to protect corporate profits. It makes no sense, Natsios claims, for US drug companies to make drugs freely or cheaply available to combat AIDS in Africa because Africans

don’t know what Western time is. You have to take these (AIDS) drugs a certain number of hours each day, or they don’t work. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives. And if you say, one o’clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about. They know morning, they know noon, they know evening, they know the darkness at night.

And it isn’t just Natsios; an “unnamed senior Treasury Department official” made the same point in April, according to Herbert.

The Bush administration asks us to believe that the perfectly reasonable idea that record drug company profits should be subordinate to ameliorating the AIDS pandemic in Africa is actually absurd since Africans aren’t sufficiently human to follow a drug regime. And let’s make no mistake: to claim that an entire continent of human persons cannot follow a drug regime is to claim that they are not actually human persons at all. Or worse since some animals might be taught to follow simple drug regimes. The clear implication of Natsios’ claim is that Africans are less than human. Further, he seems to know nothing about Africa, which contains many large urban populations where people can tell time perfectly well. Does Natsios believe everyone in Africa lives in a jungle hut?

All of which begs the question of drug companies and dispensing agencies finding some other mechanism — a simple kinetic-powered device that chimes each time a medicine must be ingested comes easily to mind — by which to help people in rural areas, where life is lived by agrarian rhythms more than by clocks, to follow drug regimes. Surely the head of US AID should be required to know that Africa is full of urban metropolises, that rural areas are less clock-bound than urban areas, and that there’s nothing unique about Africa in this regard.

The Privileges of Victimhood

The oppressive ideal is for White privilege to be so deeply embedded and entwined in the social order that it’s hard to see and so hard to fight. One way to make White privilege invisible is to create a kind of cult of aggrieved White victimhood. If White people are victims (of affirmative action’s so-called reverse racism), the real claims of people of color and of women will make little sense. False claims of oppression dilute the force of real claims. White aggrieved victimhood is a smoke screen for White privilege.

The American cult of aggrieved White victimhood has been strengthened by representations of the Oklahoma City Bombing, a tragedy enshrined by the White corporate media as “the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.” According to the media, the victims and the institutions that McVeigh attacked were White, which is not to diminish the deaths of people of color in OKC, but only to recognize that the federal government is largely a White institution, and that the media face of the Oklahoma City Bombing has been almost exclusively a White face.

But by any objective measure the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot was a worse act of domestic terrorism than the Oklahoma City Bombing: 300 people killed (90% of whom were black), 1,400 homes destroyed, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, a thriving black community, devastated. Most White people simply cannot hear that as race-rioting by Whites, but that’s what happened. It’s crass and rather absurd to compare the dimensions of human tragedy, but the White corporate media started the quantification game, and if they’re going to play it, they should be made to play it fairly.

These media representations have reinforced White privilege in two ways. First, by obscuring the responsibility for the terrorism of the Tulsa Race Riots, the White privilege of avoiding responsibility for harms is reaffirmed. Second, by claiming a false sui generis status for the Bombing, White victims are taken seriously and black ones are ignored, made invisible. The effect is to make White privilege invisible because papered over by a false picture of the world in which black victims of one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks in American history (and countless other black and Native American victims of White genocidal violence) are denied any semblance of justice; where the White power structure that committed such an act evades responsibility; and where White victims and institutions are meant to be seen as under attack, both by terrorists like McVeigh and, less dramatically, by the claims of those, primarily people of color and women, who “falsely” claim to be victims of oppression.

The Bombing has been a matter of intense governmental and media attention in order to reinforce the invisibility of White privilege and the worthlessness of black lives. The Tulsa Race Riot has disappeared down the memory hole because, as a horrific assertion of White privilege, it too reinforces the status quo, but in a way that’s far too visible. The same forces that urged public broadcasting of McVeigh’s execution and lamented that he could not legally be tortured to death demand that, when women and people of color press their legitimate claims for justice, White America is under siege from a “victim culture”. The message is clear: anything to satisfy White victims, but for the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots and countless others, nothing but the back of the hand. The cult of aggrieved White victimhood is angry and jealous and will acknowledge no other victims before it.

As an antiracist White American, I have been accustomed to thinking of race and race privilege in terms of the American experience. But radical black thinkers like Delany, Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Fanon, and others have always understood that the White supremacist power structure is a global structure. White privilege is a global privilege, backed by a global ideology of White supremacy. It must be seen, understood, and opposed globally.


My White Problem — And Ours from the monkeyfist collective

“Revisionist Ontologies: Theorizing White Supremacy,” in Blackness Visible