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White Supremacy and White Privilege are discussed in part two of the series on race and prejudice in America.

The most important factor for educating about and discussing race and prejudice in America is the understanding of how America became divided in its regard in the first place. This begins with the phenomenon of white supremacy and white privilege. It must be first understood that white supremacy and white privilege are both preexistent of racism and not the result of racism. Then, it is necessary to understand that white supremacy, white privilege, and racism, although have connections, for the most part act independently of each other. Although they do exist, it is rare to find Americans who embody the principle functions of all three phenomenons.

White supremacy is the belief that the white race is dominant and inherently superior to all other races [1]. White supremacy is confined to the personification of a hate group. It’s an ideology and a system that is pervasive in academia, politics, religion, and history. In this ideology, the white race is not only dominant physically, intellectually, but culturally as well. Robert Jenson defines white supremacy this way:

[A] society whose founding is based in an ideology of the inherent superiority of white Europeans over non-whites, an ideology that was used to justify the crimes against indigenous people and Africans that created the nation. That ideology also has justified the legal and extralegal exploitation of every non-white immigration group, and is used to this day to rationalize the racialized disparities in the distribution of wealth and well-being in this society. It is a society in which white people occupy most of the top positions in powerful institutions, with similar privileges available in limited ways to non-white people who fit themselves into white society [2].
Hierarchical members of this system, as early as the fourteenth century to the present have, through conquest and warfare, colonized and successfully taken control of many of the world’s habitable geography [3]. England, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States have colonized through ill means almost all the territories of North, Central, and South America; the Caribbean; the Pacific; Africa; India; and Australia [4]. All of the colonizing nations are all European nations, with the lone exception of the United States (which has a majority population of European ethnics).

In the process of deeming themselves superior over those they oppressed, these Euro-ethnic conquerors indoctrinated the history, science and religious books with their presence. They created a seventh continent, when the Earth only six (Eurasia is actually one continent. Neither Europe or Asia is a great, continuous land mass, independent of one another and surrounded by a great body of water). Suddenly, every great deed performed throughout every culture, was due to some newly formed white figure that had, in theory, not conquered, but brought to its barbaric people compassion, education, culture and civilization. Any great philosophy that originated from anywhere else in the world, was now found to have its roots in Greece, where it was now discovered to be the birth of mathematics, writing, map making, science, and of course philosophy. Even Egypt, which is actually in Africa, became a European nation.

Scientifically, the system of white supremacy created race. In 1735, Swedish Botanist Carolus Linnaeus, in his book System of Nature, separated man, whom he referred to as the Genus Homo sapiens, into four categories and assigned each group characteristics [5] [6]:

1.    Homo sapiens Americanus: Black hair and sparse beards, stubborn, prone to anger, free, governed by traditions.
2.    Homo sapiens Asiaticus: Yellowish, melancholy, endowed with black hair and brown eyes, severe, conceited, stingy, governed by opinion.
3.    Homo sapiens Afer: Black, slow, foolish, relaxed, crafty, indolent, negligent.
4.    Homo sapiens Europeaus. White, optimistic and muscular, gentile, active, very smart, inventive.
From this single reference, Eurocentric scientists, religionists and politicians from all over Europe and the Americas, began publishing scientific works that categorized the newly formed races of men by similar, if not identical characteristics, using every possible means of justification. Georges Cuvier, Johann Blumenbach, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, John Hunter, Christoph Meiners, Voltaire, John Mitchell, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Benjamin Rush, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Samuel George Morton, and Samuel A. Cartwright were but a few who published works that gave the white race superiority over all others, with the black race being collectively placed at the bottom of the new racial hierarchy. This was the origin of white supremacy racism [7].

Washington University School of Law Professor Barbara Flagg, proficient in constitutional law, critical race theory, federal jurisdiction, and jurisprudence [8], defines white supremacy in this way:

Whiteness is a social location of power, privilege, and prestige. It is a "an invisible package of unearned assets." As an epistemological stance, it sometimes is an exercise in denial. Whiteness is an identity, a culture, and an often colonizing way of life that is largely invisible to Whites, though rarely to people of color. Whiteness also carries the authority within the larger culture it dominates to set the terms on which every aspect of race is discussed and understood. Whiteness thus is many-faceted and pervasive. I believe it lies at the center of the problem of race in this society [9].
In the late 1960’s, white supremacy opponent Theodore (Ted) A. Allen called attention to the phenomenon of white privilege by using the terminology white skin privilege, which he described as, “Free land, constitutional liberties, immigration, high wages, social mobility, aristocracy of labor – all, white-skin privileges [10],” adding that, “…the white-skin privilege [has] historically frustrated the struggle for democracy, progress and socialism in the US [11].”

By this time frame, white people had been pretty much defined as Americans whose ethnicities were rooted in Europe, but that historically wasn’t always the case. In the same manner, although the system of white supremacy has been dominant throughout Europe, Africa, and the Western hemisphere since 1492, the privilege of whiteness, theoretically, for the average white American was not a given.

One of the most common misconceptions in American history is that Africans came to the colonies as slaves, while Europeans came as indentured servants to pay off their travel accommodations. This myth is responsible for excusing the racism of this country away because the system of slavery was a transplant from somewhere else. It had been a part of the nation since the start of the nation. This is an untruth. What this myth does is support the common cultural belief that American blacks come from slavery, while the whites colonists with a full range of rights who were simply workers that needed to pay off debt.

The truth is that most of the land in the colonies was owned by British joint stock companies like the Plymouth Company, the London Company, and the Virginia Company [12]. These were publicly owned companies whose purposes were to take England out its impoverished state by enterprising in the treasures of the New World [13]. Because only the first-born male could inherit property, second-born sons from noble families were chosen to lead factions of the companies, along with Puritans and merchants who opposed from the Church of England [14]. Everyone else who lived in the colonies served as indentured servants.

These servants were bound by three to ten year contracts and were owned by the company for that period of time. They had no rights or freedoms, during which time they suffered numerous, remorseless abuses for the smallest of infractions, including highly frequented whippings, and even more severe hangings, shootings, and being burnt alive. They were possessed by force [15]. For receiving shelter, food, their passage across seas – which was sometimes forced – and other accommodations, they gave up their freedom for the prosperity of the company the served. From 1607 indentured servants included the Irish, Scottish, English, Germans, and…Africans, who arrived in the colonies in 1619 [16].

The life of an indentured servant was one that was wrought with the horrors associated with slavery, with the difference being that the servants became free after their contracted service was completed. This freedom was given to whites and blacks alike. Color was not vital to freedom or the owning of servants. The principle factor was Christianity. Freedom was given to those servants who converted to the Christian faith. Their freedom, after serving out their contracts, was accompanied with the ownership of a parcel of land, supplies and a gun [17]. This freedom also meant the ability to purchase servants to work their own land. Blacks were able and did purchase servants, both black and white [18].

Still, slavery as it is known today, did not exist until 1654, when certain individuals had cases that went to court and had their servitude extended for life. This was not common, but there were cases where it did happen. The first recorded case was that of John Casor, a black servant whose contract had expired. After losing his appeal in court, Casor’s owner – and this should be noted – a black man named Anthony Johnson was granted Casor’s servitude for life [19].

It wasn’t until after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and its future promise that slavery for blacks became a reality. It was this rebellion, where over a thousand blacks and whites united to successfully fight off the English Crown, that the fear of another similar uprising, where the unified frustration of the common people might end their reign of dominance, took hold [20]. Free labor was a necessity for continued prosperity, but they realized that the system couldn’t remain the way it was. The choice was made to enslave the blacks, as the number of free whites in the colonies was growing, as opposed to the number of blacks, and they could be readily differentiated by their skin color. Slave codes were enacted for blacks that prohibited them from free involvement or bearing arms and would be servants for life. Whites on the other hand would have their restrictions lessened, would be allowed to vote and would be allowed to own black servants [21].

This was the birth of slavery. So whites were not inherently born free men and blacks were not inherently born slaves. It was the combination of a gradual process and a decision made by the-powers-that-be that brought about the slavery of blacks.

Carolus Linnaeus’s 1735 classifications would begin the justification of privileging whiteness. Later books like Negro-Mania: Being an Examination of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Various Races of Men [22] and The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status? Is He the Progeny of Ham? Is He the Descendant of Adam and Eve? Has He a Soul? Or is He a Beast in God’s Nomenclature? What is His Status as Fixed by God in Creation? What is His Relation to the White Race? [23] would argue for proof of the superiority of whites and the inferiority of blacks based on science, so-called common sense, and biblical verses. This is how white privilege came into being. It was not a natural or an obvious phenomenon. It was a well-planned decision.

When the Naturalization Act of 1906 defined which immigrants to the U.S. could become naturalized citizens by stating that only white persons and persons of African descent or African nativity (which came into being after the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 which ended slavery and the 14th Amendment in 1868 which gave citizenship to anyone born in the Nation) would be eligible, further definitions about who was white and who was not was the result. The Japanese were considered to be an unassimilable race [24], while Indians, who are ancestrally Aryan, were denied whiteness because they were note European. Associate Justice George Southerland of the United States Supreme Court in 1923 stated [25]:

It is a matter of familiar observation and knowledge that the physical group characteristics of the Hindus render them readily distinguishable from the various groups of persons in this country commonly recognized as white. The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distinctive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry.
But even with this being the case, whiteness did not initially include all those whose whiteness is taken for granted today. From 1896 to after World War II, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were considered racially, physically and culturally inferior from Northern Europeans and Scandinavians. Italians, Jews and Slavs faced employment, housing and other discrimination that other non-whites in the US were experiencing [26].

After World War II those Southern and Eastern Europeans who were once considered to be inferior and not-quite-white were now invited to inclusion on the side of the divide whose members were all a part of the dominant society. That line would be drawn between suburbia and the urbanized city. The mark of white privilege would come in the form of home ownership, which would lead to the creation of the middle class and a level of wealth eight times that of non-whites. From Race: the Power of an Illusion [27]:

The 1790 Naturalization Act permitted only “free white persons” to become naturalized citizens, thus opening the doors to European immigrants but not others. Only citizens could vote, serve on juries, hold office, and in some cases, even hold property. In this century, Alien Land Laws passed in California and other states, reserved farm land for white growers by preventing Asian immigrants, ineligible to become citizens, from owning or leasing land. Immigration restrictions further limited opportunities for nonwhite groups. Racial barriers to naturalized U.S. citizenship weren’t removed until the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952, and white racial preferences in immigration remained in place until 1965.

These government programs made possible the new segregated white suburbs that sprang up around the country after World War II. But it was another racialized New Deal program, the Federal Housing Administration that helped generate much of the wealth that so many white families enjoy today. These revolutionary programs made it possible for millions of average white Americans - but not others - to own a home for the first time. The government set up a national neighborhood appraisal system, explicitly tying mortgage eligibility to race. Integrated communities were ipso facto deemed a financial risk and made ineligible for home loans, a policy known today as "redlining." Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. More than 98% went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.

Government subsidies for municipal services helped develop and enhance these suburbs further, in turn fueling commercial investments. Freeways tied the new suburbs to central business districts, but they often cut through and destroyed the vitality of non-white neighborhoods in the central city.

White privilege has become a major topic of discussion in academia with major debates over the validity of the phenomenon. Some whites have acknowledged that they have benefitted from the privilege of being white, while others can’t see how this is connected to them. This has produced what has been termed white denial.

What comes to mind, personally, is a conversation I had with a white student while I was studying for my undergraduate degree. Somehow the group that I was in at the time began discussing reparations for slavery. This student told me that she couldn’t understand how a young lady like herself who wasn’t a racist could be responsible for the sins of slavery just because she was white. She added that her grandparents were immigrants to this country, and then restated her question. How could she be responsible? I asked her if she felt that her parents grew up in privilege. She said that they did. My response to her was, “Then you owe.”

I’m not sure if I really felt that she or anyone else owe me anything in terms of reparations. The knowledge of a concerted effort to give privilege to some citizens while decidedly not giving it others for no good reason is disheartening. What I did feel was that there is a distinct line drawn between whites and non-whites in this nation and there’s no denying that. Because some white people can nonchalantly express the benefits of their privilege in the face of those who have been disadvantaged and be offended when it is pointed out is an indication of denial.

In 1988, Wellesley College Center for Research on Women Associate Director and anti-racist educator Peggy Macintosh, Ph.D wrote a high popular essay that put white privilege into perspective. She sought to identify the daily effects of white privilege. In doing so, she listed a list of things that she could say that she did/didn’t experience as a white person that non-white people simply couldn’t say that they did/didn’t experience in the same manner. She referred to it as, “unpacking this invisible backpack of white privilege.”

In Macintosh's estimation, white privilege was unearned with the dominance of the white race conferred onto its owner without their knowledge or recognition. It is something that they are born with and something they use every day whether they are aware of it or not. To be able to walk into a store without being followed, to not be pulled over in their car for driving under normal conditions, to never have to think of themselves in terms of race, etc., are privileges that most non-whites are aware of every moment that they are not living people of their own non-white classification.

White privilege is a complex issue for both whites and non-whites. One of the major reasons why it is a major issue for whites is because most did nothing to earn it. For non-whites it’s an issue because to bring it up means that they are using race as an excuse. Regardless of whether race is the reason, which in many cases it is, non-whites are not allowed to question their oppression. Such is the power of whiteness.
There are those who know the difference and who are making an attempt to change the systematic impact of white supremacy/privilege. It is not a war against white people, as some would like to call it. It is an attempt to bring to light what afflicts us as Americans. We cannot become the melting pot we aspire to be as a nation if we look past these phenomenons.

The Statute of Liberty, our nation’s symbol, in it’s New Colossus, states invitingly, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door [29].” Was that poem only intended for those who could assimilate to whiteness?

1.    Merriam-Webster Dictionaries, (2012). Definition: White supremacist. Retrieved from:
2.    Jenson, Robert, (2005). ‪The Heart of Whiteness‬: ‪Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege, page 4. ‬‪City Lights Books‬, ‪Sep 1, 2005‬. ‪124 pages‬. ISBN 0872864499, 9780872864498‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
3.    Gale, Thomson, (2008). White Supremacy. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Retrieved from:
4.    Wikipedia, (2012). History of Colonialism. Retrieved from:
5.    Hossain, Shah Aashna (2008). "Scientific Racism" in Enlightened Europe: Linnaeus, Darwin, and Galton. Retrieved from:
6.    Kailin, Julie, (2002). Antiracist Education‬: ‪From Theory to Practice‬. Rowman & Littlefield‬, ‪240 ‬pages. ISBN 0742518248, 9780742518247. Page 29.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
7.    Wikipedia, (2012). Scientific Racism. Retrieved from:
8.    Washington University Law, (2011). Faculty: Barbara Flagg. Retrieved from:
9.    Flagg, Barbara J., (2005). Foreword: Whiteness as Metaprivilege. Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 1-11. Retrieved from:
10.    Allen, Ted, (1967). Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized? White Blindspot: The Original Essays on Combating White Supremacy and White-Skin Privilege, Lost Writings of SDS, page 169. Retrieved from:
11.    Allen, Ted, (1967). A Letter Of Support. White Blindspot: The Original Essays on Combating White Supremacy and White-Skin Privilege, Lost Writings of SDS, page 169. Retrieved from:
12.    PBS, (1998). The Virginia Company of London. Africans in America. PBS, October 1998. Retrieved from:
13. (2012). Joint-Stock Companies. (sic) Richard Hakluyt, "Reasons for Raising a Fund to Settle America On the Value of Colonies to England" (January 5, 1607). U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium. Retrieved from:
14. (2012). Joint-Stock Companies. U.S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium. Retrieved from:
15.    PBS, (1998). The Virginia Company of London. Africans in America. PBS, October 1998. Retrieved from:
16.    Open Computing Facility (N.D.). History of Slavery in America. University of California at Berkley. Retrieved from:
17.    PBS, (1998). From Indentured Servitude to Racial Slavery. Africans in America. PBS, October 1998. Retrieved from:
18.    Bennett, Lerone, Jr., (1993). Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America; Sixth Revised Edition. 736 pages. Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. ISBN: 0874850916, 978-0874850918. Pages 29-45.
19.    McGehee, Stephen (2010). The Anthony Johnson Story. Confederate Colonel: The New Life of The Old South. May 28, 2010. Retrieved from:
20.    Rothbard, Murray N., (1975). Bacon’s Rebellion. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Thursday, March 29, 2012. Retrieved from:
21.    Gisolfi, Monica R., (2004). Slavery and Freedom. Columbia American History Online, Columbia University. Retrieved from:
22.    Campbell, John (1851). Negro-Mania: Being an Examination of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Various Races of Men. Phildelphia, Pennsylvania 1851. Retrieved from:
23.    Paine, Buckner, H., (1867). The Negro: What is His Ethnological Status? Is He the Progeny of Ham? Is He the Descendant of Adam and Eve? Has He a Soul? Or is He a Beast in God’s Nomenclature? What is His Status as Fixed by God in Creation? What is His Relation to the White Race? Second Edition, The Proprietor. Retrieved from:
24.    American Anthropological Association (2008).  1870s-1930s: Immigration, black migration. May 27, 2008. Retrieved from:
25.    PBS (2000). United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind
261 U.S. 204 (1923). Retrieved from:
26.    American Anthropological Association (2008).  1910s-1920s: Immigration, defining whiteness. May 27, 2008. Retrieved from:
27.    California Newsreel (2003). Race: the Power of an Illusion. American Sociological Association. Retrieved from:
28.    McIntosh, Peggy (1988). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies. Retrieved from:
29.    Kidport (2009). The Statue of Liberty. Retrieved from:

Originally posted to Will Smith on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:11 PM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, White Privilege Working Group, Black Kos community, and History for Kossacks.

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