White Supremacy, Systemic Racism, Violence, Mass Incarceration, Culture of Firearms Equals Perpetual Injustice
By Warren J. Blumenfeld
The United States, with its foundation of white supremacy and systemic racism, in addition to its overarching climate and promotion of violence and mass incarceration, and its deeply seeded culture of firearms, has since its inception resulted in perpetual injustice, especially for people of color.
White Supremacy and the Climate of Violence
White supremacy stands as a philosophy of racial(ized) Protestant Christian nationalism in which “race” is defined in relatively narrow binary terms of “white” versus racialized “others.”
The legacy of the effects of white supremacy from the time European colonial expansionists first stepped onto what today is commonly known as “the Americas” benefits not only those who fully embrace this racist philosophy, but clearly advantage those who fall into definitions of “white” whether they perceive or accept their unearned privileges based solely on their socially-constructed racial designation.
Europeans on the North and South American continents established their domination based on a program of exploitation, violence, kidnapping, land theft, and genocide against indigenous populations. For example, the “Puritans” left England to the Americas to practice a “purer” form of Protestant Christianity.
They believed they were divinely chosen to form “a biblical commonwealth” with no separation between religion and government. They tolerated no other faiths or interpretations of divine precepts. In fact, they murdered and expelled Quakers, Catholics, and others.
The “American” colonies followed European perceptions of “race.” A 1705 Virginia statute, the “Act Concerning Servants and Slaves,” read:
[N]o negroes, mulattos or Indians, Jew, Moor, Mahometan [Muslims], or other infidel, or such as are declared slaves by this act, shall, notwithstanding, purchase any christian (sic) white servant….
In 1790, the newly constituted United States Congress passed the Naturalization Act, which excluded all nonwhites from citizenship, including Asians, enslaved Africans, and Native Americans, the later whom they defined in oxymoronic terms as “domestic foreigners,” even though they had inhabited this land for thousands of years.
The Congress did not grant most remaining Native Americans rights of citizenship until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, though Asians continued to be denied naturalized citizenship status.
An example of “cultural genocide” can be seen in the case of Christian European American domination over indigenous peoples, whom European Americans viewed as “uncivilized,” “godless heathens,” “barbarians,” and “devil worshipers.”
White Christian European Americans attempted to destroy indigenous peoples cultures through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people.
Though whites needed no rationalization for their terror, they later justified their brutality on the newly constructed “science” of “race.” Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (whom we call today the “Father of Scientific Racism”), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, developed a system of scientific hierarchical classification (1758).
Within this taxonomy under the label Homo sapiens, (“Man”), he enumerated five categories based initially on place of origin and later on skin color: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Americanus, Monstrosus, and Africanus.
Linnaeus asserted that each category was ruled by a different bodily fluid (Humors: “moistures”), represented by Blood (optimistic), Phlegm (sluggish), Cholor (yellow bile: prone to anger), Melancholy (black bile: prone to sadness).
Linnaeus constructed his taxonomy in descending order: Europeanus: sanguine (blood), pale, muscular, swift, clever, inventive, governed by laws; Asiaticus: melancholic, yellow, inflexible, severe, avaricious, dark-eyed, governed by opinions; Americanus (indigenous peoples in the Americas): choleric, copper-colored, straightforward, eager, combative, governed by customs; Monstrosus (dwarfs of the Alps, the Patagonian giant, the monorchid Hottentot): agile, fainthearted; Africanus: phlegmatic, black, slow, relaxed, negligent, governed by impulse.
The “founding fathers” of the United States took Linneaus’s constructions not only to reinscribe and revalidate the institution of slavery — many of these “founders” themselves enslaved large numbers of kidnapped Africans — but they also wrote into the U.S. Constitution the so-called “three-fifths clause” counting enslaved Africans as equivalent to three-fifths of a full human being for census purposes. As we can see, then, black lives certainly did not matter.
Throughout U.S. history, rather than characterizing refugees and refugee issues in humanitarian terms, many conservative and nationalist activists use narratives representing refugees as invading hoards, as barbarians at the gates who, if allowed to enter, will destroy the glorious civilization we have established among the “lesser” nations of the Earth.
On a more basic and personal level, the rhetoric of invasion taps into psychological fears, or more accurately, terrors of infection: our country, our workplaces, and more basically, our private places in which “aliens” forcefully penetrate our bodies, into our orifices, and down to the smallest cellular level.
Modern day white supremacists/neo-Nazis believe that only white Anglo-Saxon Protestant heterosexuals have been granted a soul by God. Everyone else they refer to as “mud people,” those without a soul and without meaning, value, or worth.
As hundreds of white nationalists lined the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia (August 12, 2017) to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from downtown Lee park, some waved Confederate and Nazi flags, brandished shields, and marched with burning torches. They shouted racist and anti-Semitic slurs repeating “JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US!” At one point, they loudly chanted in unison: “FUCK YOU FAGOTS!”
What these white, mostly male, presumably heterosexual protesters have in common is a belief in a “white ethno-state” according to Southern Poverty Law Center Research analyst Keegan Hankes. He referred to the so-called “alt-right” or far-right movement as a “grab bag of right-wing ideologies.”
“They believe that white people are being systematically replaced and that inheritance to their homeland is being taken away from them,” Hankes told NBC News. “There’s this belief that basically white people are being replaced faster than they can reproduce.”
The Realities of Mass Incarceration & Killings by Police
The United States leads all other so-called “industrialized” or “richer” nations in the rate of police killings per capita. The United States in 2018, for example, killed 1,348 people setting a rate 12 people per 100,000 arrests. This compares to the rate of 5 or a total of 21 deaths in Australia, and the rate of 2 or a total 13 deaths in the United Kingdom.
Police are four times more likely to use force on black people (273 per 100,000 arrests) compared to white people (76 per 100,000 arrests).
The watchdog group Mapping Police Violence identified 1,099 police killings in 2019. It found that black people are three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white people while 1.3 times less likely to be armed than white people. Between 2016 through 2019, 99% of killings by police resulted in no criminal charges.
While approximately 4.3% of the world’s population resides in the United States, that country incarcerates approximately 25% of the world’s total prison population with a rate of 655 per 100,000 residents. In comparison, per 100,000 residents, the United Kingdom imprisons 140, Canada 114, France 100, Italy 98, Germany 75, and Japan 41.
While black people constitute 12-14% of the U.S. population, fully 33% of the total incarcerated population in that country are black, while in the U.K. 3% of the population is black with 12% of those incarcerated, and Canada whose black population is 4% with black people representing 9% of those overall incarcerated.
Though Latinx represent 16% of the adult population in the U.S., they accounted for 23% of inmates in 2017.
A Culture of Firearms
A primary reason why the United States suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of police shootings is because the United States has one of the highest rates of private firearms ownership in the world.
The number of people killed by firearms in 2017 extended to its highest level since 1968 with 39,773 deaths, of which 23,854 were by suicide and 14,542 were homicides. The rate of firearm deaths per 100,000 people increased from 10.3 per 100,000 in 1999 to 12 per 100,000 in 2017, with an average 109 people dying every day. Between 1968 and 2011 alone, approximately 1.4 million people died from guns in the United States.
The United States leads all other countries in the rate of private gun ownership with 120.5 of civilian guns per 100 people, followed by the Falkland Islands with 62.1, Yemen with 52.8, and New Caledonia with 42.5.
“Mass shootings at predominantly white schools draw the most attention from journalists and lawmakers, but The Post has found that children of color are far more likely to experience campus gun violence — nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times for black students.”
The Washington Post, March 23, 2018
While black people comprise 12-14% of the U.S. population, however, they are victims of more than 50% of all gun homicides. Of the average 13,000+ people murdered each year with guns, black men are 13 times at higher risk than are white men.
White supremacy and systemic racism, the climate and promotion of violence and mass incarceration, and the culture of firearms continue to conspire in denying justice under the law to people of color in the United States.
Maybe with the recent brutal high profile murders by police officers of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, the United States and its people have reached an inflection point to usher in real, deep, and lasting systemic change between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are meant to serve, changing police from warriors over the people into guardians of peace, safety, and equality for all.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of The What, The So What, and the Now What of Social Justice Education (Peter Lang Publishers),Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).