Beyond Hoods: White Supremacy in the 21st Century


If I were to ask a random sample of Americans what White supremacy looks like, chances are most would include the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). This easily recognizable group is known for its white hoods, cross burnings, Confederate flags, and other symbols of White supremacy. To be clear, the KKK is a White supremacist organization with a history of racial terror in each of its three iterations. But while all members of the KKK are White supremacists, most White supremacists have nothing to do with the KKK.

Some White supremacists are a part of the alt-right movement, which includes various nationalist and militia groups. In addition, White supremacy is broad enough to include the average red-blooded, American flag-waving American. Elected officials, educators, business owners, laborers, professionals, and/or the neighbor down the street could each subscribe to White supremacy. White supremacy is insidious as some individuals may not even be aware it has become a guiding principle of their lives.

White supremacy is the belief that white people are superior to other races, and therefore, should dominate them. White supremacy is fully invested in maintaining White power and White privilege in all aspects of society. White supremacy is prominent throughout all major systems and institutions that exist. This includes education, law enforcement, criminal justice, health care, child welfare, and local churches.

For instance, I graduated from a White-run “conservative” evangelical seminary. At no time were seminarians expected to read a text by a Black theologian. The only time the work of a Black theologian was presented was to serve as an example of heresy. All of my required texts were written by White males, some of whom were slaveowners. To add insult to injury, none of the professors highlighted the African identity of “church fathers,” such as Augustine and Tertullian.

Here, I’d like to briefly examine four types of people who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate White supremacy in the 21st Century:

1. Color Deniers

There are many who say we should strive toward a “color-blind” society. I call such people color deniers. They often misappropriate the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote regarding not judging people by the color of their skin. “I don’t see color,” they say, not realizing to deny color is to ignore a major part of a person’s identity. Also, denying color minimizes the social and political consequences of being a non-white person in a racialized society. At the same time, these individuals expect people of color to assimilate into the mainstream of a society in which whiteness is held up as the ideal. 

This is what White supremacy looks like!    

2Bootstrap Believers

Bootstrap believers are those who believe if people just pull themselves up by their own “bootstraps,” they would be successful. However, Dr. King said, “… it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” A bootstrap believer fails to see how systemic forces like racism can hinder a person’s progress in life. According to a 2017 poll from The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of white evangelicals believed that a lack of effort is generally to blame for a person’s poverty. 

This is what White supremacy looks like!

3History Concealers

Most American history curricula have been developed and taught from a Eurocentric perspective. The plundering of indigenous land, the brutality of chattel slavery, and the like have been whitewashed. Therefore, scholars of color have advocated for accurate and complete teaching that accounts for the historic impact of systemic racism. However, history concealers are doggedly committed to outlawing such teaching, mischaracterizing all of it as Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT has been weaponized in the interest of maintaining the status quo and promoting the ideology of American exceptionalism. In fact, at the time of this writing, five states have passed strict laws to prevent true American history from being taught.

This is what White supremacy looks like!

4. Voter Suppressors

On March 7, 1965, John Lewis and others got into “good trouble” as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what is known as “Bloody Sunday.” The precious blood of many Black bodies was shed that day in the interest of voting rights for all Americans. This culminated with the passing of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. A major victory was won! However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a key part of the Voting Rights Act, cracking open the door for a new generation of voter suppressors to attack voting rights. Now, riding the wave of Donald Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, the voting rights of Black and Brown citizens are being attacked more methodically than ever before. States around the country are passing restrictive voting laws which are intended to result in voter disenfranchisement. 

This is what White supremacy looks like, and it must be resisted at every turn!

By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.

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