There is much talk these days about white privilege and white supremacy. As my readers know, I am vehemently opposed to these forms of oppression. However, the truth is most people who bandy about these terms have little idea just how to employ them. In fact, their attacks usually wind up facilitating the further widening of the normative gap between the white and black community on racial issues.
Before one can cogently discuss white supremacy, they must be aware that a small minority of elites, in this country white, generally created and direct racial discriminatory programs. The average black and white person has never truly been able to exercise wholesale power over members of the other group.
Here is some historical evidence.
Elite whites promulgated the New South ideology after the Civil War and Reconstruction. They wanted and needed capital from the North to survive. Without this influx of cash, the planter class would have wound up having to sell property in lots to the remainder of the whites and blacks. Also, the rising industrial class would not have had money to build factories and pay workers until profits began to accumulate.
To win over the Northern capitalists, the boosters, especially Henry Grady of Atlanta, articulated a vision of a South that now comprehended that slavery had been wrong, blacks should be paid for their labor, the races should be separated spatially, and elite whites should control politics. Peace and prosperity would reign as never before, they postulated.
Segregation laws came about in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to bolster this New South program. Trust me, no average white person wrote these laws. For example, the Louisiana streetcar law that became the source of contention in Plessy vs Ferguson (1896), was clearly the creation of white elites and for white elites.
First, recall that Homer Plessy, the man classified as black under state law, bought a first class ticket, not a white ticket, as your HIstory teacher probably mistakenly told you. He was claiming to be an elite, which in this instance meant white. That was his real crime.
The average white individual did not sit in the first class section, either. Plessy skipped over them into this elite space.
Second, the same law allowed some blacks to sit in the first class car (but not the regular white car). A black servant could sit there whenever needed to attend to a traveling white person of elite status.
Obviously, no average white person would ever be this concerned about a black nurse or butler to codify their rights in state law. These laws were for and by elite whites.
Brown vs. Board (1954)
This case ended legalized racial segregation in public schools. The evidence that most moved the court was the belief that black children were damaged psychology by having to attend schools with each other. Going to a white school would somehow uplift their spirits. Black pathology undergirded most of the Brown decision.
Perhaps more importantly here, is when Brown came about. The Russians had engaged in a major campaign to discredit the nation throughout the Third World. Just think about Africa, Latin America and Asia. The Russians treated these black and brown people each day to images of black Americans hanging from trees in Mississippi and Georgia. Which Superpower do you think they would rather have come into their nation to help build the infrastructure?
The American government made it plain that eradicating racial segregation was a top Cold War objective (see Cold War Civil Rights).
As Derrick Bell has stated in his Interest Convergence Thesis, black (and average white) social gains come only when their interests align with those of the white elite power structure. Brown was more about white elites protecting the national image abroad than about blacks. Think about it. Did you ever attend a primarily black or white school? Bet you did. They still exist.
A blatant white supremacist move. Poor blacks got transported across town to schools dominated by average whites to be spit upon, hit, kicked, stoned, and, for more than a few, ultimately flunked out! On the other hand, private academies, which require lots of money to attend and wealthy school districts with their large tax bases remained lily white.
That was what those so-called racist whites in Boston were protesting. Yes, they got it wrong by beating blacks kids who had no real choice but to do as directed. However, just take a moment and think about the position of these whites, often just a generation out of abject poverty. They understood that nobody asked their opinion on the situation. They understood that rich whites did not have to send their kids to inner-city schools or accept blacks into their private academies.
This initiative benefited white elites more than most expect. The rules for entry to schools, employment and access to other societal resources remained the same.
We could have changed things, creating new paradigms to achieve social justice in the 1960s. Perhaps even develop new, equitable ways to distribute our resources. All of this would have led, of course, to the demise of the current white elite. So, instead, the government allowed them to retain control by letting a few minorities, initially blacks, who were making the most noise about redistribution of wealth, into positions of power.
Poor whites had their interests ignored totally because they did not align with those of the elite.
In reality, white women, usually fairly educated, benefited most from affirmative action. Go to any law firm, investment bank, mainstream university or government agency and it is white women who are now “manning the floor” along with white men. Few racial minorities can ascend to these levels. Affirmative action was for white elites!
So, while you blacks scream white supremacy and white privilege, understand why the average white person just doesn’t get it. You are lumping them in with elites who at times seemingly support you and other times them. In reality, the laws always favor the most powerful, who are the real minority. The rest of us just get played against one another like so many pawns on a chessboard.