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(Previously published by the Catalyst Project at “White Supremacy

July 28, 2017
(Previously published by the Catalyst Project at
“White Supremacy is an 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 maintaining and defending a system of wealth,
power, and privilege.”
(Definition by the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop, San Francisco, CA)
 The most common mistake people make when talking about racism (White Supremacy) is to
think of it as a problem of personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination.  They do
not see that it is a system, a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions:  political, economic,
social, cultural, legal, military, educational, all our institutions.  As a system, racism affects
every aspect of life in a country.
By not understanding that racism is systemic, we guarantee it will continue. For example,
racist police behavior is often reduced to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed,
instead of seeing that it can be found in police departments everywhere.  It reflects
and sustains the existing power relations throughout society.  This mistake has real
consequences:  by refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system
must be changed, we guarantee such brutality will continue.
The need to recognize racism as being systemic is one reason the term White Supremacy is
more useful than the term racism. They refer to the same problem but:
        A.  The purpose of racism is much clearer when we call it “white supremacy.”   The word
“supremacy” means a power relationship exists.
        B. Race is an unscientific term for differences between people.  Although racism is a
social reality, it has no biological or other scientific basis. There is a single human race.
        C.  The term racism often leads to dead-end debates about whether a particular
remark or action by an individual person was really racist or not.  We will achieve a clearer
understanding of racism if we analyze how a certain action relates to the system of White
Every country has a creation story—it can also be called an origin myth–which is the story
people are told of how their country came into being.  Ours says the United States began
with Columbus’s so-called “discovery” of  “America,” continued with settlement by brave
Pilgrims, won its independence from England with the American Revolution, survived a civil
war, and expanded westward until it became the enormous, rich country you see today.
That is the origin myth we are all taught.  It omits three giant facts about the emergence
What is white supremacy?
By Elizabeth ‘Betita’ MartinezCatalyst Project Recommended Readings 17
of the United States as a nation.  Those facts demonstrate that White Supremacy is
fundamental to its existence:
1. The United States is a nation state created by the conquest of other peoples in
several stages.  The first stage was the European seizure of territory inhabited by
indigenous peoples, who called their homeland Turtle Island.  Before the European
invasion, between nine and eighteen million indigenous people lived in what became
North America.  By the end of the so-called Indian Wars, about 250,000 remained in
what is now the United States, and about 123,000 in what is now Canada (see The
State of Native America, ed. by M. Annette Jaimes, South End Press, 1992).
 That process created the land base of this country.  The seizure of Indian land and
elimination of indigenous peoples was the first, essential condition for the existence of
what became the United States. The first step, then, was military conquest and what
must be called genocide.
2.  The United States could not have developed economically as a nation without
enslaved African labor.  When agriculture and industry began growing in the colonial
period, a tremendous labor shortage existed.  Not enough white workers came from
Europe and the European invaders could not put the remaining indigenous peoples to
work in sufficient numbers.  Enslaved Africans provided the labor force that made the
growth of the United States possible.
That growth peaked from about 1800 to 1860, the period called the Market Revolution.
During this time, the United States changed from being an agricultural/commercial
economy to an industrial corporate economy.  The development of banks, expansion
of the credit system, protective tariffs, and new transportation systems all helped make
this possible. The key to the Market Revolution was the export of cotton, and this was
made possible by slave labor. So the second, vital step in the creation of the United
States was slavery.
3.  The third major step in the formation of the United States as a nation was the
seizure of almost half of Mexico by war–today’s Southwest. This expansion enabled
the U.S. to reach the Pacific and thus open up valuable trade with Asia that included
markets for export and goods to import and sell in the U.S.  It also opened to the U.S.
vast mineral wealth in Arizona, agricultural wealth in California, and new sources of
cheap labor to build railroads and develop the economy.
To do this, the United States first took over by military force the part of Mexico called
Texas and made it a state in 1845.  The following year it invaded the rest of Mexico
and seized its territory under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the 1846-18  Recommended Readings Catalyst Project
48 War on Mexico. In 1853 the U.S. acquired a final chunk of Arizona. by threatening
to renew the war if not agreed. This completed the territorial boundaries of what is
now the United States.  Those were the three foundation stones in the creation of the
United States as a nation.  Then, in 1898, the U.S. takeover of the Philippines, Puerto
Rico, Guam and Cuba by means of war against Spain extended the U.S. to become
an empire. All but Cuba have remained U.S. colonies or neo-colonies, providing new
sources of wealth and military power for the United States. The colonization and
incorporation of Hawaii completed the empire.
Many people in the United States hate to recognize the truth of the three steps. They do
not like to call the U.S. an empire. They prefer the established origin myth, with its idea
of the U.S. as a democracy from its early days.
The roots of White Supremacy lie in establishing economic exploitation by the theft of
resources and human labor. That exploitation has then been justified by a racist ideology
affirming the inferiority of its victims—and this continues today.  The first application of
White Supremacy or racism by the Euroamericans who control U.S. society was against
indigenous peoples, whose land was stolen; then Blacks, originally as slaves and later
as exploited waged labor; followed by Mexicans when they lost their land holdings and
also became wage-slaves. Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and other Asian/Pacific peoples
also became low-wage workers here, subject to racism.  Arab workers have also been
exploited in this way.
 In short, White Supremacy and economic power were born together.  The United
States is the first nation in the world to be born racist (South Africa came not long after)
and also the first to be born capitalist (not just replacing feudalism, for example, with
capitalism).  That is not a coincidence.  In this country, as history shows, capitalism and
racism go hand in hand.
Racist power relations are sustained by the institutions of this society together with the
ideology of Whiteness that developed during western colonization.  The first European
settlers called themselves English, Irish, German, French, Dutch, etc.–not “white.”  Over
half of those who came in the early colonial period were servants.  But by 1760, about
400,000 of the two million non-Indians here were enslaved Africans. The planters who
formed an elite class in the southern colonies, were outnumbered by non-whites.  In the
Carolinas, 25,000 whites faced 40,000 Black slaves and 60,000 indigenous peoples in
the area.  Catalyst Project Recommended Readings 19
Class lines hardened as the distinctions between rich and poor became sharper.  The
problem of control loomed large and fear of revolt from below grew among the elite.
Elite whites feared most of all that discontented whites — servants, tenant farmers,
the urban poor, the property-less, soldiers and sailors — would join Black slaves to
overthrow the existing order. As early as 1663, indentured white servants and Black
slaves had formed a conspiracy in Virginia to rebel and gain their freedom.
Then, in 1676, came Bacon’s Rebellion by white frontiersmen and servants alongside
Black slaves.  The rebellion shook Virginia’s planter elite.  Many other rebellions
followed, from South Carolina to New York.  The main fear of elite whites everywhere
was a class fear. Their solution:  divide and control.
On one hand, certain privileges were given to white servants. They were now allowed
to acquire land, join militias, carry guns, and other legal rights not allowed to slaves.
At the same time, the Slave Codes were enacted that legalized chattel slavery and
severely restricted the rights of free Africans. The codes equated the terms “Negro” and
With their new privileges, those in the servant class were legally declared “white” on
the basis of skin color and continental origin.  That made them “superior” to Blacks (and
Indians).  Thus whiteness was born as a racist notion to prevent lower-class whites
from joining people of color, especially Blacks, against their common class enemies.
The concept of whiteness became a source of unity and strength for the vastly
outnumbered Euroamericans — as in South Africa, another settler nation. It became key
to defending White Supremacy against class unity across color lines.
In the mid-1800s, new historical developments strengthened the concept of whiteness
and institutionalize White Supremacy. Since the time of Jefferson, the United States
had its eye on expanding to the Pacific Ocean and establishing trade with Asia.  Others
in the ruling class came to want more slave states, for reasons of political power, and
this also required westward expansion.  Both goals pointed to taking over Mexico.
 The first step was Texas, which was acquired for the United States by filling the
territory with Anglo settlers who then declared their independence from Mexico in 1836.
After failing to purchase more Mexican territory, President James Polk created a pretext
for starting a war with the declared goal of expansion.  The notoriously brutal, two-year
war on Mexico was justfied in the name of Manifest Destiny.
The doctrine of Manifest Destiny, born at a time of aggressive western expansion,
said that the United States was destined by God to take over other peoples and lands.
The term was first used in 1845 by the editor of a popular journal, who affirmed “the
right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole continent which 20  Recommended Readings Catalyst Project
providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and
federated self-government.”
The concepts of Manifest Destiny and institutionalized racism are profoundly linked.
Even those who opposed expansion did so for racist reasons, as when some politicians
said “the degraded Mexican-Spanish” were unfit to become part of the United States;
they were “a wretched people . . . mongrels.”
In a similar way, some influential whites who opposed slavery in those years said
Blacks should be removed from U.S. soil, to avoid “contamination” by an inferior
people (see Manifest Destiny by Anders Stephanson, Hill & Wang, 1995).        Native
Americans have been the target of white supremacist beliefs that they were dirty,
heathen “savages” and also fundamentally inferior in their values. For example, they
did not see land as profitable real estate but as Our Mother. Such people had to be
forcefully isolated on reservations. assimilated by being removed from their own culture,
and having their own culture either outlawed or ridiculed..
The doctrine of Manifest Destiny established White Supremacy more firmly than ever as
central to the U.S. definition of itself.  The arrogance of asserting that God gave white
people (primarily men) the right to dominate everything around them still haunts our
society and sustains its racist oppression. Today we call it the arrogance of power and it
can be seen in all U.S. relations with other countries.
 One persistent example of that arrogance is the habit of calling this country “America”
when that is the official name of almost an entire hemisphere composing over 20
other countries. From left to right, organizations and ublications and individual leaders
obliterate millions of other human beings, mostly of color, by mindlessly giving the
United States the only meaning, importance, and reality worthy of recognition. We can
assume it comes from habit, not conscious imperialism at work, but that is no excuse for
not recognizing white supremacist thinking among our most progressive forces.
Finally, the material effects of White Supremacy on peoples of color are all too clear in
terms of economic, social, political and cultural inequity. Even that ultimate affirmation
of dominion, racist murder or lynching, still occurs to remind us that age-old power
relations remain unaltered  That is not to deny the positive effects of long years of
struggle to change those power relations, but to recognize that White Supremacy
remains intact systemically, as seen in the constant harm it does to the daily lives and
aspirations of peoples of color.
Less understood than the material are the psychological and spiritual effects of White
Supremacy. Few whites understand what internalized racism does to people of color,
who do not discuss those effects easily themselves. The self-hatred, desire to be like
whites or even to be white, and assumption of inevitable failure are the dreadful legacy
of White Supremacy’s teaching those lies by every means at its disposal. Maintaining Catalyst Project Recommended Readings 21
control over any community has always required not only physical domination but
also the ideological domination that says: things are as they should be. As you inferior
creatures deserve them to be.
Racism has never stood still or remained unchanged in history. Today we see new
forms emerging from the rapid growth of globalization. We can see that  White
Supremacy has become more global than ever and millions of people of color have
become globalized.
Global economic integration is not new in itself; we have seen the world capitalist
economy in operation for centuries.  But today it is an extremely powerful set of interrelated policies and practices with a huge field of operations. It includes the “global
assembly line” for production, with parts made in different countries; the whole world
defined as the potential market for a commodity; and technological advances that
facilitate economic integration more than ever in human history. With corporate
globalization has come a neo-liberalism that means privatization, deregulation, the
decline of social services, and other policies.
The main victims are nations of color (politely called “developing” instead of
impoverished) and peoples of color, as shown by the vast increase in migrant labor.
The vast majority of immigrants to the U.S. today are the globalized: women and men,
mostly of color, driven from home by dire personal poverty to find  survival usually in the
global capitals. New eruptions of White Supremacy often confront them.
It’s been said that militarism is racism in action. We could also say that globalization is
White Supremacy in action, as never before. Manifest Destiny now rages across not
only Las Americas but the whole world.  Given current ruling-class policy at work in the
U.S. today, such as privatization, we see that millions of people in the United States
itself are increasingly victimized.  Are we becoming a “Third World” country?
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