We live in a white supremacy
We live in a white supremacy. Wherever you are reading this from, you are reading from a white supremacist super-system. This fact may seem shocking to those who have failed to recognize its existence but rather than switch off now, I urge you to continue reading. First, let’s define supremacy. According to the Oxford dictionary, ‘supremacy’ is defined as ‘the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power or status.’ The fact that we may live in a white supremacy now might be less shocking, let’s continue…
If we now examine Yaba Blay’s definition of white supremacy: as ‘a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples classified as ‘non-white’ by continents, nations and peoples who, by virtue of their white pigmentation and/or ancestral origin from Europe, classify themselves as white,’ the definition becomes more complex, but please, don’t switch off yet.
In the modern world, it is sometimes easy to forget how much contemporary life has been shaped by the imperial past. The world we live in today has been entirely influenced by the history of empires and colonialism. In fact, the reason it is easy to forget, in many cases, is due to the fact governments have actually purposefully erased the history of their parts in colonialism so as to maintain an aura of innocence for damage done during colonization. Despite this overt attempt at ‘erasing the history’ that so many Conservative MPs are now so desperate to keep safe, the role colonialism has played in influencing modern life is undeniable. Un-erasable. To illustrate the breadth and depth of European colonialism, let’s look at his map:
Every single country in the world but five has had some experience with European domination. White supremacy stands on the shoulders of European colonialism. There seems to be this common misconception in the West that white supremacy is something that is only felt in countries predominantly inhabited by white people when this is just so far from true. The reality is far bleaker. White supremacy is felt almost everywhere in the world.
If we zoom into this and look into the one form of European colonialism most relevant to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place recently across the globe, white supremacy becomes much easier to understand. Let’s look at the British Empire. The British Empire, at its height, spanned almost a quarter of the earth’s surface area. It was the largest empire the world has ever seen. Originally, the motivations at the heart of British pathology when endeavouring to create this massive empire, were predominantly economics. It was worth British time and money to invade foreign territories and extract resources to be able to use the profits from the sale and trade of these resources to build the economy back home and eventually, ignite economic marvels like the Industrial Revolution. This economic exploitation lasted a really long time and allowed Britain to cultivate its position today as a global economic superpower.
When did race come into this, you may ask? Before the Victorians, the British Empire had been essentially amoral. Economics was the main motive. The Victorians, however, had more elevated ambitions, ‘they dreamt not just of ruling the world but of redeeming it.’ Thus came, ‘evangelical imperialism,’ the new form of colonialism. The Victorians aspired to ‘bring light to what they called the Dark Continent.’ So, the imperial entreprise turned from an economic exercise to a political and cultural one. The Victorians shifted the narrative and painted this picture that it was in fact Africa that needed Britain to be saved.
Look no further than the memoirs of world-renowned explorer David Livingstone as illustrative proof of his views on race. He spoke of the South African state: ‘the population is sunk into the very lowest state of moral degradation.’ British failure to understand nor accept the cultural differences present in the colonies lead to the exponential rise in popularity of racism and racist theories. William Carey, another British missionary, had similar impressions of Indian society: ‘no people can have surrendered their reason than the Hindus.’
The evangelical mission, however, was not a purely altruistic enterprise. Just like everything else in the world, this too, came down to economics. The missionaries that travelled to Africa and India relied on the propagation of negative images of these societies to fund their trips. If these societies were doing just fine with no need for British intervention, what would be the purpose of the evangelists? They had to paint this picture that black and brown people were so innately savage so that people at home would continue to cough up obscene amounts of money for these travellers could continue to fund their trips abroad: ‘as propaganda to stimulate subscriptions, they naturally stressed the wickedness of non-Christian societies and the immensity of the evil to be eradicated.’
A monumental piece of literature at the centre of the origins of racism in the British empire was actually ironically written by none other than Charles Darwin. Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ published in 1859 sent the scientific world reeling as it seemed to cast doubt on the ability of an organism to adapt to it’s environment (the ethos of the civilising mission) and seemed to reinforce the idea that the British were the most evolutionary advanced species, with all others falling behind in the racial hierarchy. ‘Origin of Species’ metamorphosed into Social Darwinism which purported that ‘racial conflict was inevitable in the ‘struggle for existence.’’ Scientists began arguing that the Negro’s degeneracy was because of ‘the peculiar shape of the skull of the Negro.’ These scientists pronounced far and wide that the reason of inequality in the world was the logical outcome of natural selection and the implications of this theorization can be seen in the Hamitic theory- which essentially posits that races can be ranked in physically differences with ‘Anglo-Saxons self-evidently at the top and Africans at the bottom.’
These racist theories served as the backbone philosophy behind European colonialism and their impact continues to feed the modern conversation on racism. Although on the surface it may appear like modern society has progressed so far from these concepts, the parallels unfortunately continue to ring true. In fact, Hamitic theory played a central role in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, hundreds of years after its inception. While obviously scientific racism has been dismissed as a pseudo-science and it is a now disgraced profession, the theories it gave birth to continue to maintain a strong presence in former colonies and actually in Britain itself. People in the colonies and in Britain, for an extremely long time, were indoctrinated with a lot of information which seemed to ‘legitimize’ Britain’s exploitation of the former so it is maybe unsurprising that the task of dismantling these theories proves difficult.
Fast forward to 2020 and ‘although the colonial regime may have physically left African soil, their legacy of colonial hegemonic ideologies remained.’ Skin-bleaching is a multi-billion dollar industry. A WHO study found that 40% of Chinese women regularly used skin-lightening treatments. In India, that figure stands at 61%. In Nigeria, a whopping 77%. Those numbers are telling as well. In China, women tend to be lighter than Indians and Nigerians naturally anyway. The fact that the percentage of women gets progressively higher from China to India to Nigeria is unsurprising. The darker you are, the likelier you are to wish to be lighter. In these countries, colourism is constructing ‘a spectrum upon which individuals attempt to circumnavigate the parameters of racial hierarchy by assigning privilege based on proximity to whiteness.’ In essence, ‘white is right’ and the closer you get to it, the better. In the words of Akala, ‘the system that is selling racism is doing a fantastic job.’
The skin-bleaching industry and its sheer magnitude brings to mind the words of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko: ‘the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.’ In this sense, the mind of the oppressed have clearly been insurmountably impacted by white supremacy. Layla F Saad alludes to his in her critically acclaimed book, ‘Me and White Supremacy.’ Saad speaks about how, if you are black, you are impacted by white supremacy in ways that teach you, tell you, condition you to believe that you are lesser than and inferior to. This is also evidenced in situations described by Akala, where he speaks about seeing kids in schools embarrassed to say their ‘foreign sounding names.’ A Skepta lyric explicitly makes reference to this almost universal experience for children of African heritage: ‘when I was in school being African was a diss. Sounds like you need help saying my surname, Miss.’ As Akala says, ‘I am yet to see a kid called Tim or Paul feel shame when they introduce themselves.’
These experiences are all symptomatic of our globalized white supremacy. It is also important to recognise that white supremacy is not country-specific. Colonization has impacted every single space in the world, even more so now with the growth of interconnectedness, courtesy of the internet and global technological communication. Wherever a white man goes in the world, he will be treated as if he is better than a black man. He will be treated like a God. It is surely no wonder that this is the case, in a world of a lightened Jesus, we are all conditioned to believe that there is some sort of divinity associated with white skin. Take, for example, the title deed of my family home in Kenya:
The owner ‘will not use any such dwelling… to be used as a place of residence for an Asiatic or African who is not a domestic servant in the service of the tenant or occupier of such dwelling.’ This is Kenya. In Africa. The continent of black people. Though this exclusion is no longer explicitly present in law, the sheer fact it existed until Kenya’s independence in 1963 is surely greater evidence than anything that white supremacy stretches to all parts of the globe that have been touched by white domination.
If we want the world to become a more equal place, we have to recognize the multifaceted and complex repercussions of the racism that plagues our society. Anti-racism work means working together collectively to put an end to the years of white supremacy that has lead to the outbreak of yet another spur of Black Lives Matter protests. If we are to achieve true racial equality, conscious efforts to combat anti-black racism must be made and are undoubtedly possible.