restricted access 98 White Supremacy (And What We Should Do about It)
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98 White Supremacy (And What We Should Do about It) FRANCES LEE ANSLEY Civil rights scholars have offered various analyses to explain the development of the civil rights movement, civil rights litigation, and civil rights legal doctrine. Implicit in these analyses are different ideas about the nature of racism. In asking how and why the existing system of racial dominance and subordination has survived the powerful waves of opposition and resistance that have broken upon it, scholars have necessarily confronted , directly or indirectly, the question of white supremacy's origin and why it has such staying power. According to an approach that I will call here the "race model" (and in contrast with the explanation that would flow from a"class model"), racial hierarchy is its own explanation. [See Chapter 54 for Professor Ansley's discussion of the "class mode!." Eds.] In the following discussion of "white supremacy" I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic , and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread , and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings. White supremacy produces material and psychological benefits for whites, while extracting a heavy material and psychological price from blacks. It assures the former greater resources , a wider range of personal choice, more power, and more self-esteem than they would have if they were forced to share the above with people of color, and deprived of the subjective sensation of superiority they enjoy as a result of the subordination of non-whites.1 According to this"race model," this is the reason whites resist an end to white supremacy: they have a stake in the system and they will fight to defend it. The explanation, then, for the halt of the civil rights movement is the entrenched power of resistant whites who refuse to give up further privileges. Several elements of our experience suggest the power of the race mode!. White supremacist regimes are, in fact, not confined to any particular political economy. They can be shown to exist in non-capitalist economies, including socialist ones. The long cycles of American race law lend strength to the supremacy-for-its-own-sake argument. Despite a sequence of dramatic changes in underlying social and economic conditions from colonial times to the present, and despite unparalleled legal upheavals, blacks as a race are still subordinate. Another piece of social experience that suggests we ought to From "STIRRING THE ASHES: RACE, CLASS, AND THE FUTURE OF CIVIL RIGHTS SCHOLARSHIP," 74 CORNELL L. REV. 993 (1989). Copyright © 1989 by Cornell University. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Cornell Universiry and Fred B. Rothman & Company. Copyrighted Material White Supremacy 593 take the race model seriously is the tendency of whites to choose race over class in their social and political allegiances. With disturbing consistency, whites, who would appear to have an identity of interest with oppressed blacks, fail to act on that purported interest, and instead identify and side with fellow whites. Time and again fragile alliances between blacks and whites fall apart when the time comes to take a stand about racism. Too often blacks experience white allies as more opportunistic than reliable. The racism-as-tool model explains this phenomenon as the success of a ploy: the racist system has successfully instilled false consciousness in the white worker, who ends up worse off due to his own ignorance and error. Race model proponents, to the contrary, acknowledge that the bigoted white worker may in some sense be misled in his convictions, but also point to the gains all whites enjoy at the expense of blacks under a regime of racial dominance. What are the implications of the race model of white supremacy? For one, a race model thinker would want to preserve a conscious focus on race and white supremacy as the subjects to be addressed. A focus on race in the world of political action suggests resistance to doctrines, attitudes, or coalitions that distort or distract from efforts to end white supremacy. John Calmore , for instance, advocates that blacks should even resist too easy an alliance with other people of color, that they ,/get off the minority bandwagon."2 Although he acknowledges that competition for scarce resources "unduly sets various groups against each other," he...