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An African-Centered Perspective on White Supremacy

Author(s): Mark Christian


Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2, 13th Cheikh Anta Diop Conference Selected
Proceedings (Nov., 2002), pp. 179-198
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
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AN AFRICAN-CENTERED
PERSPECTIVE ON
WHIlTESUPREMACY
MARK CHRISTIAN
Miami University,Ohio

This articleengages the idea of White supremacyand its ideological com-


panion, racism, from the standpointof critical analysis. What this article
seeksto do is to revealthenatureof Whitesupremacy as it hasoperated
in
theUnitedStatesandin theUnitedKingdom.UsinganAfrican-centered
paradigm, thearticledemonstrates thattheexistenceof Whitesupremacy
marginalizes African people within bothsocieties.Onlyby utilizingan
agencyanalysiswhereAfricanssee themselvesas subjectscan White
supremacy be overcome.

White nationalismwas the basis of [European]slavery,andeventu-


ally, when slavery reached a saturationpoint, white nationalism
inventedanotherformof slaverycalled colonialism.And aftercolo-
nialism they computerizedcolonialism with a form of racism.
-Clarke (1991, p. 268)

Throughoutthe last four and a half centuries, racism and white


supremacyhave continually threatenedthe existence of African
people before, during, and after enslavement.These threatshave
forced Africans to modify their beliefs, thoughts,and behaviorin
orderto surviveon a planetwheretheyareregardedas "ThirdWorld"
people. Those who now claim to be membersof "FirstWorld"are
actually late comers to the humanfamily.
-Browder (1996, p. 3)

JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES, Vol. 33 No. 2, November2002 179-198


DOI: 10.1177/002193402237224
? 2002 Sage Publications

179
180 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

Both JohnHenrikClarkeandAnthonyBrowderconceptualized
the domination of White Europeans over peoples of African
descent, their particularfocus within a historical frame of refer-
ence. For both these African-centeredscholars,White supremacy
is inextricablyinterwovenwith the notion and practice of White
racism.Therefore,White supremacyis not somethingmerelyto be
associated with White hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan of
North Americaand the BritishNationalPartyof the United King-
dom. On the contrary,White supremacymanifests in the social,
economic, political, and culturalhistory of Europeanexpansion
and the developmentof the New World.It is a history and experi-
ence thathas a life span of more than5 centuries.At the dawn of a
new millennium,it can be confidentlystatedthatthe worldcontin-
ues to be largelymaintainedby variousformsof Whitesupremacy.
In consideringthe notion of White supremacy,this article will
focus on fourmainquestions:One, whatis Whitesupremacy?Two,
how does it manifestitself? Three,can peoples of Africandescent
overcome it? And four, is therehope for a futurebeyond the con-
fines of White European cultural, political, and socioeconomic
hegemony?These four questions form the basis of the discussion
that will be framed within an African-centeredepistemological
perspective.
First,althoughClarkeandBrowdereach makereferencesto the
social realities of White supremacyand the concomitantracism,
thereis still a need to grapplewith the extentto which it has nega-
tively affected the lives of peoples of African descent throughout
the world. Indeed,White Europeansupremacyhas many layers to
it, layers that manifest in macro and micro terms. The outset of
EuropeanWhite supremacyis not necessarily fixed, but Browder
(1996, p. 10) suggested that its origin can be associated with the
arrivalof 12 kidnappedAfricans,presentedas a "gift,"at the court
of PrinceHenry of Portugalin 1441.
The subsequentdevelopmentof the Europeanenslavement(first
underthe PortugueseandSpanish,laterto be followed by Holland,
France,Britain,andotherWesternEuropeannations),based on the
economic plantationsystem, led to whatcan be deemed as a global
affront on African humanity-an African Holocaust. It is this
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 181

social history that is still plaguing contemporaryhumanrelations


between peoples of African and White Europeandescent (Robin-
son, 2000). Indeed,seriousscholarswouldnot divorcethe legacy of
Europeanenslavementandcolonialism from fully comprehending
the presentproblemsof racializeddiscriminationthatis blighting,
for example, urbanBlack communitiesacross the Westernworld.
The negativeeffects of White supremacyandracismareubiquitous
and manifold.Crucially,White supremacywas bornevia the birth
of the New World,andits ramificationshaveleft culturalandsocio-
economic scars throughoutthe world where people of African
descent reside (we could add otherpeoples of color, but the focus
here is on African descended peoples in all their complexity).
White supremacyis inextricablyinterwovenwith the global cul-
turalexpansionof Europefrom the 15th centuryto the present.

UNITEDNATIONS(UN) CONFERENCEAGAINSTRACISM,
AUGUST 31 TO SEPTEMBER 7, 2001

The recent UN conference on world racism, held in Durban,


SouthAfrica, is testimonyto the destructiveand divisive natureof
globalized racism. Sadly, the UN conference was deeply divided
regardingissues thatattemptedto discuss, among otherthings, the
legacy of WhiteEuropeanenslavementof Africansandthe call for
reparations.At the outset some of the majorEuropeannations,led
by Belgium, were open to the idea of formallyapologizingto those
victimized by the enslavementprocess. However,Britain,backed
by three other former enslavement nations, Holland, Spain, and
Portugal, officially objected to a formal apology, stating that it
could leave the governmentopen to a lawsuit. An extractfrom the
official UN conferencedeclarationagainstracismreads:

We acknowledgethatslaveryand the slave trade,includingthe


trans-Atlantic
slavetrade,wereappallingtragediesin thehistoryof
humanity,notonlybecauseof theirabhorrent barbarism,butalsoin
termsof theirmagnitude,organizednatureand especiallytheir
negationof theessenceof victims.(citedin TheObserver,UK,Sep-
tember9, 2001,p. 10)
182 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / NOVEMBER2002

AlthoughEuropeannations,led by the UnitedKingdom,did not


yield to individuallyapologizing for theirrespectiveinvolvement
in the enslavement process, mainly due to avoiding being
criminalized,thereis still an indirectacknowledgementto its dev-
astatingeffect on Africanpeoples andherdescendants.This can be
consideredas progress,howeversmall, given the many decades of
official denial. Indeed, historical amnesia in regardto European
racismthatwent hand-in-handwith enslavement(Fryer,1984) has
been a regularcompanionin the debatefor Africanreparations(we
will returnto the reparationsdebate,from an African-centeredper-
spective, in more detail below). At least now thereis global recog-
nition for the inhumanitythatencompassedthis form of European
expansionism.This is the essence of what is often deemed White
supremacyand its ideological companion:racism.

CONTEMPORARY MANIFESTATIONS
OF WHITE SUPREMACY

What the UN conference againstracism indicatedis the deep-


rooted and multifacetedcompliance in White Europeanexploita-
tion of Africanpeoples. We arein the embryonicstagesof reconcil-
ing this historical reality. There is much more debate needed in
regardto not only the historicaloppressionof African descended
peoples but also the contemporaryplight of so many millions
caughtup in a relativepauperizationprocess. In the United States,
for example, Andrew Hacker, a political scientist, deemed the
North American experience in the 1990s as essentially having a
"two nation"social structure:nationsthat are "Black and White,"
"separate,hostile and unequal."Hacker(1992) maintained:

Black Americansare Americans,yet they still subsist as aliens in


the only land they know. Other groups may remain outside the
mainstream-some religious sects, for example-but they do so
voluntarily.In contrast,blacks mustendurea segregationthatis far
from freely chosen. So [North]America may be seen as two sepa-
rate nations. (p. 3)
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 183

Again, the endemic realityand longevity of racializeddiscrimi-


nation are apparent.Althoughthe conditionof any social groupis
usually more than complex, there is ample evidence that African
Americanshave faced and continue to face the legacy of enslave-
ment. Along with Hacker, but in a socioeconomic and cultural
sense, RandallRobinson (2000) poignantlysurveyedthe contem-
porary African American experience that is rooted in historical
oppression:

[North]America'ssocioeconomicgapsbetweentheracesremain,
liketheagedredwoodsrootedin a forestfloor,goingnowhere,seen
butnotdisturbed, simulatinginfinity,normalcy.Static.
High infantmortality.Lowincome.Highunemployment. Sub-
standard education.Capitalincapacity.Insurmountable creditbarri-
ers.Highmorbidity. Belowaveragelife span.Overrepresentation in
prison-and on deathrow.Eachcauseand/ora consequenceof a
disablingpoverty-of meansandspirit-that has shackledall too
manyentireblackfamilytreessincethe Emancipation Proclama-
tion,as if thepainfulfateshadbeenpaintedontosomeantebellum
canvasthathaddriedmeanduringslavery.Modemobserversnow
lookatthecanvasasif its subjectswereto beforeverfixedin a fore-
ordainedinequality.
Of the manyreasonsfor this inequality,chief of courseis the
seeminglyvirusof defactodiscrimination thatcontinuesto poison
relationsbetweentheracesat all levels.(pp.61-62)

Robinson's assessmentof the contemporaryAfricanAmerican


experienceleaves one in no doubtaboutthe seriousnessof the cur-
rentplightfacing mainlyurban-basedBlacks. Even AfricanAmer-
icans who find themselvesin a middle-classstatusarenot immune
to the realitiesof White supremacyandracism.Studiescontinueto
show that there is a correlationbetween being of African descent
andmiddleclass andsufferingracializeddiscrimination(Feagin&
Sikes, 1994). Indeed,those AfricanAmericansfortunateto have a
middle-class standardof living are usually achievingmateriallyin
spite of racializeddiscrimination.This atteststo the spiritof Afri-
can Americanresistanceratherthanthe absence of racismin their
everydaylives.
OFBLACKSTUDIES/ NOVEMBER
184 JOURNAL 2002

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND, AND THE LEGACY OF RACISM

Along with the African American experience, there are many


other examples of African Diasporacommunitiesgrapplingwith
the legacy of White supremacy;Liverpool, England, offers one
suchcase. Due to the city's involvementin the enslavementof Afri-
cans, it grew rich andbecame a majorplayerin the developmentof
the plantationeconomies in the Caribbeanand North America.
That is, specifically in the traffickingand distributionof enslaved
Africans,in the exploitationof Africanlaborfor the productionof
rawmaterials,andin the developmentof industriesandcommerce
directly connected to ships that carriedenslaved Africans to their
destinationsin the New World.The city of Liverpoolcouldnot have
grown into prosperity without its central involvement in the
enslavementof Africans (see Christian,1998; Fryer,1984; Small,
1991; Walvin, 1992).
As a way of providinga platformfor reconciliation,in Decem-
ber 1999 the LiverpoolCity Council formally apologized for the
city's participationin the trans-Atlanticenslavementeraandissued
the following statement:

As its last formal act of the second Millennium,the City Council


acknowledges Liverpool's responsibility for its involvement in
three centuries of the slave trade, a trade which influenced every
aspect of the City's commerceand cultureand affectedthe lives of
all its citizens.
Whilst bequeathingthe city a rich diversityof people and cul-
tures,learningarchitectureandfinancialwealth,it also obscuredthe
humansufferingupon which it was built. The untoldmisery which
was causedhas left a legacy which affectsBlack people in Liverpool
today.
On behalf of the city, the City Council expresses its shame and
remorsefor the city's role in this tradein humanmisery.The City
Council makes an unreservedapology for its involvement in the
slave tradeandthe continualeffects of slaveryon Liverpool'sBlack
community.
The firststeptowardsreconciliationwill be the basis uponwhich
the city, and all its people and institutions,can graspthe challenges
of the new Millenniumwith a fresh and sustainablecommitmentto
equality andjustice in Liverpool.
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 185

The City Councilherebycommitsitself to workclosely with


Liverpoolcommunities andpartners andwiththepeoplesof those
countrieswhichhavecarriedtheburdenof the slavetrade.
TheCouncilalso commitsitselfto programmes of action,with
of Liverpool'sBlack communities,whichwill
full participation
seekto combatall formsof racismanddiscrimination andwillrec-
and
ognize respond to the city's multi-racial andcele-
inheritance
bratethe skillsandtalentsof all its people.

Again, the Liverpool apology for its role in the trans-Atlantic


enslavementerais an open civic acknowledgementof how the past
still affectsthe present.It endorsesa positionthatAfrican-centered
scholars and commentatorshave been espousing for many, many
decades.However,arguablyit is only in the pastdecadethatofficial
acknowledgementsfrom a Europeanperspectivehave emerged.
Paradoxically;in relationto the city of Liverpool,the council has
historicallybeen a key factorin the widespreadracial discrimina-
tion practices against the various Black communities. Moreover,
this historical discriminationhas led to the deeply rooted social
exclusion of Liverpool-bornBlacks in the contemporarysense
(Christian,1998; Gifford,Brown, & Bundy, 1989; Nelson, 2000;
Small, 1991). Indeed, in a 1989 reporton the extent of racialized
exclusion in the city, Giffordet al. stated:

Thethreeof us havebetweenus longexperiencein London,Leeds,


Bradford andManchester. Whileracismis commonin allthosecit-
ies,wefindthesituationinLiverpooltobeuniquelyhorrific.(p.22)

More recently (LiverpoolCity Council, 2000), an equal oppor-


tunitiesreviewpanel madeup of seven councilorsandseven Liver-
pool residentsmet betweenMay 1999 andJanuary2000. Theirtask
was to gauge how well equal opportunitieswere in practice in
regardto the LiverpoolCity Councilas a majoremployerandsocial
service provider.Some of the key findings in the equal opportuni-
ties reportwere:

LiverpoolCity Council'spracticesare discriminatory.


Liverpool
City Councilcontinuesto excludemanypeoplein its workforce.
Individualsandcommunitiesdo not receivea fairequalservice.
186 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

LiverpoolCity Councilhas an appallingrecordon equalopportuni-


ties, with its image, its ethos and its culture.LiverpoolCity Coun-
cil's day-to-day practices do not match its equal opportunities
policies.

This latest reporton equal opportunitieshas very familiarfind-


ings from that of past reports.Yet racial discriminationin the city
continuesto have an almost insuperablequalityto it. It againtesti-
fies to the longevity of direct and indirect racism and legacy of
White supremacy.Whetherit is in Liverpoolor Cincinnati,we find
racializeddiscriminationagainstBlack people of Africandescent
apparentin all walks of life. Even in the presentage of reconcilia-
tion, racism appearsto be a ubiquitousrealityin the social world.

WHI'TEPRIVILEGE IN
WHITE MINDS AND EDUCATION

Interestingly,in line with the currentWhite apology perspec-


tives, a numberof mainstreamstudies have emerged in the past
decadethatfocus primarilyon the meaningof Whiteprivilege(e.g.,
Allen, 1994; Berger, 1999; Delgado & Stefancic, 1997;
Frankenberg,1997; Rothenberg,2002). Whatis particularlyinter-
esting aboutthese studies is that they collectively speak aboutthe
day-to-day subtle realities of White privilege. However, collec-
tively these studiesfail to specificallyconsiderthe legacy of White
Europeanintellectualracism.
Althoughthis relativelynovel interrogationof Whiteprivilegeis
commendableand useful, it still does not go far enough in high-
lighting the way in which it has, for example, affectedthe produc-
tion of knowledgein highereducationalinstitutionsin the Western
world. What is more, there is little criticaldialogue relatingto the
continuedmanipulationof minds to the ultimatebenefit of White
privilege and Europeanculturalhegemony. This is a majorover-
sight within the literaturecovering White privilege, and it is an
oversightthatought to be consideredmore thoroughlyby the pre-
dominatelyWhite scholarsproducingthis research.
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 187

Indeed,makingWhitenessvisible andsignifyingit as being con-


comitant with power and privilege may help us understand,for
example, why it is rareto get African-centeredperspectivesheard
in mainstreamacademiccircles. Surelyit has somethingto do with
powerandculturalrelationsin the academy?Indeed,the gatekeep-
ers of mainstreamknowledge are still very much White and privi-
leged persons. This is something not openly discussed, but it is a
social fact. In regardto the issue of the generalinvisibilityof White
privilege,two contemporaryWhiteacademics,WildmanandDavis
(2002), had this to say:

Theinvisibilityof [White]privilegestrengthens
thepowerit creates
andmaintains.The invisiblecannotbe combated,andas a result
privilegeis allowedto perpetuate,regenerateandre-createitself.
Privilegeis systemic,not an occasionaloccurrence.Privilegeis
invisibleonly untillookedfor,butsilencein the face of privilege
sustainsits invisibility.(p. 89)

Wildmanand Davis (2002) raised an importantpoint relatedto


how White privilege is invisible to those who do not look for it. A
main theme in our discussion relates to the importanceof African
agency throughthe concept of African centeredness.Often those
who have privilege fail to comprehendwhy those on the receiving
end of it may protestaboutnot havingtheirshareof culturalspace.
With this relatively new discussion surroundingWhite privilege
developing more and more in the academy,it is only a matterof
time before those who areblind to it will begin to see whatthe aca-
demics, WildmanandDavis, pointedout in regardto theirprivilege
of being White professionalsin the academy:

Generallywhitesthinkof racismas voluntary,


intentional
conduct,
doneby horribleothers.Whitesspenda lot of timetryingto con-
vince ourselvesandeach otherthatwe arenot racist.A big step
wouldbe forwhitesto admitthatwe areracistandthento consider
what to do aboutit. (p. 95)

It may suggest abovethatthese authorswere actuallyalludingto


themselves as being consciously racist, but this would be wrong
188 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

andone would miss the crucialnuancein theircontention.They are


simply acknowledgingthatjust because one considersoneself not
to be a racist does not necessarily mean that one does not benefit
fromthe fact thatone is deemed a "Whiteperson"in a society built
on hierarchicaland racialized social groups. White privilege is
thereforeinterwoveninto the social fabricof Westernsocieties. It is
evidentin all areasof society if one actuallytakesthe time to see the
social realityof it. To comprehendthe past andpresentcontoursof
racism and White supremacy is to follow the trail of White
privilege.
However,White privilege does not negatethe relevanceof con-
scious racisms.Indeed,systematicracismis still an importantfac-
tor in comprehendingthe manifold social inequalitiesin Western
societies. But White privilege is somethingthat is also a relevant
factorwhen it is consideredwithin, for instance,highereducation,
and particularlysurroundingthe issue of cultural diversity and
multiculturalism.
Anotherkey issue in the role of Whiteprivilegein highereduca-
tion has been the denialof andthe centralityof otherculturalhisto-
ries besides thatof the WhiteEuropean.A responsefrommulticul-
turalism has been to try and correct the historical record via a
revisionistapproach.This has involvedthe promotionof othercul-
tural histories to be taught and researchedwithin the academy.
More importantis thatthese culturalhistoriesandperspectivesare
taughtandresearchedfromthe standpointof the Africans,Chinese,
NativeAmericans,Mexicans,andso forth.In a responseto the crit-
ics of revisionist multiculturalismand African-centeredperspec-
tives, a Washingtoncorrespondentfor National MinorityPolitics,
RaynardJackson (1994), stressed the importanceof coming to
termswith the past, andthe exclusion of variousculturalhistories,
for the long-termbenefit of all:

Correctingmistakesmade in this country's[U.S.] recordedhistory


(whetherintentionalor unintentional)is not revisionism,but rather
is merelyacknowledgingone's errors.I encouragethe opponentsof
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 189

multiculturalismand Afrocentrismto join me in the call to tell the


truth.I dareyou. (p. 12)

White privilegeis certainlyhelping to unmaskthe hiddenlayers


of power inherent in the interactionbetween designated White
Europeanculturesand the variousBlack/African,Asian, and His-
panic culturesin the United States.
In this sense, the standardWhite Europeanimage of othershas
come into focus in a historical and contemporarysense. There
needs to be moreresearchdone by the Whiteprivilegetheoriststhat
can highlightthe destructivenessof the Europeanintellectualheri-
tage thatsoughtto elevate its culturalworthwhile denigratingcul-
turesoutside of its domain(Ani, 1994; Asante, 1999). This is how
White supremacyis often a latentforce within the confines of the
academy.Latentin the sense thatit appearson the surfaceto offer a
liberal, broad-ranged,epistemological approach,but often con-
cealed is a Eurocentricframe of reference for everything worth
studying(Asante, 1999).

AN AFRICAN-CENTERED ANALYSIS OF WHI'TENESS

An African-centeredscholar,MarimbaAni (1994), contributed


a majorworkin the issue of unmaskingWhite privilege and Euro-
centric supremacistideas masked often in liberal education. Her
study offers more than 600 pages of analysis covering Western
epistemology,as it relatesto the variedintellectualracismespoused
by many of the leading scholarsof Europeanthought.In following
up a numberof ratherracistcitationsfromthe 19th-centuryFrench/
German scholar, Joseph Gobineau, deemed the "fatherof racist
ideology" (see Biddiss, 1970), Ani maintained:

Whitenessis centralto the Europeanself-image,just as theirimage


of othersnecessarilyinvolves "Blackness"or "non-Whiteness,"as
it is put negativelyin Europeanterms.This aspect of the European
aesthetichelps to define the contentof Europeanculturalnational-
190 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / NOVEMBER2002

ism, andwhite supremism,in this way, becomes identifiableas one


of its most significantcharacteristics.(p. 284)

Ani contendedthatthe Europeanintellectualmindsethas func-


tionedin anethnocentricmanner,culminatingwiththe exclusionof
African and other culturesfrom the role of contributorsto world
civilization.For her,the White Europeanintellectualnarrativehas
ingrainedwithinit the notionof White supremacy.Ani viewed this
as a false idea, yet one thathad devastatingconsequencesfor Afri-
can descendedpeoples in particular.
Molefi Asante (1999) also recognized the consequences of
Whiteracismvia intellectualdiscoursethatfailed to give peoples of
African descent and other non-Africanstheir place at the table of
contributorsto world civilization. Even White writers, such as
Peter Fryer(1984, pp. 133-190), extensively have delved into the
legacy of British/Europeanintellectual racism. Fryer poignantly
stated,

Long afterthe materialconditionsthatoriginallygave rise to racist


ideology had disappeared,these dead ideas went on grippingthe
mindsof the living. They led to variouskinds of racistbehaviouron
the partof many white people in Britain,includingwhite people in
authority.(p. 190)

Regardlessof the volumes of worksavailableon raceandethnic-


ity thatclearlyindicatethe longevity of racistthoughtandpractice,
there continues to be a great amount of denial on behalf of the
power structuresto effectively deal with the cancer of racism that
blightsthe lives of so manyin so manysocieties acrossthe globe.
In short,all indicatorspoint to the social fact thatracismis alive
andkicking in most societies andmost Westerninstitutions.Sadly,
it seems thatas a societaldisease, racialintolerancewill continueto
be a problemfor the 21st century(Christianera).As such, those on
the receivingend of it will no doubtcontinueto resist racismin all
its variousforms:from the subtle to the brutal.
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 191

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WHITE SUPREMACY

African-centeredpsychologists, such as the late Bobby Wright


(1992) andFrancesCressWelsing (1991), focused on the psychol-
ogy of White supremacy.To put it anotherway, they attemptedto
more fully understandthe illogical behavior and inhumanness
associated with White racism. Bobby Wright was particularly
forthrightin his analysis of collective White Europeanbehaviorin
relationto peoples of color.In a radicalcritiqueof historicalWhite
Europeanculturalbehavior,he maintainedthat Black people of
African descent are in mortal danger.In polemical style, Wright
contended that White EuropeanbehaviortowardBlack people is
akinto the psychopath.A crucialaspectin his analysisrelatedto the
historicaldenialto accept,at times, the overtlyoppressivebehavior
of White European power structurestoward peoples of color.
Wrightstated,

Psychopaths'inability to accept blame and inability to learn from


previousexperiencecan be easily proven.They neveracceptblame
for Blacks' environmentalconditionswhich areclearlythe resultof
White oppression.On the contrary,Blacks areheld responsiblefor
the deteriorationof theircommunitieseven thoughall of the prop-
erty is White controlled.(pp. 7-8)

Bobby Wrightproduceda candid and controversialcritiqueof


White European behavior; although unashamedlypolemical, it
deserves to be debated for its originality and boldness. I cannot
endorse the notion of biological distinctiveness among human
groups,butthereis somethingtangiblein the notionof specific cul-
turalbehavior.In this sense, Wrightwrites right. It is hardto dis-
agree with the key themes in his argument,given the condition of
Black males in inner-cityenvironmentsand in termsof theirtreat-
ment in Westernprisons.Many otherscholarsagreewith Wright's
assessment, too, even though they may articulatethe issue in less
polemical fashion (Robinson,2000).
Frances Cress Welsing (1991) also produced radical essays
grapplingwith the notion of White supremacistbehavior.As with
192 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

Wright, Welsing turnedthe key tenet of White supremacyon its


head, which espoused the notion of Black inferiorityto contend
thatthe behaviorof White supremacistsis relatedfundamentallyto
a fear of their global numericalminoritystatus.For Welsing, this
was the reason people of color were largely excluded from posi-
tions of power throughoutthe Westernworld. Welsing stated,

The difficulty whites have in accordingnon-whites socio-political


and economic equalitywithin the white supremacystructurestems
neitherfrom a moralissue nor frompolitical or economic need, but
from the fundamentalsense of their own unequal condition- in
regardsto their numericalinadequacyand color deficiency. They
can compensatefor their color inadequacyonly by placing them-
selves in socially superiorpositions. (p. 9)

Albeit controversial,this analysisreferredto the idea of a latent


fearof extinction,creatinga normalessnessin the behaviorof many
White people in positions of power.This in turnengenderseithera
passive or overtly aggressiveand often abnormalbehaviortoward
peoples of color. Both Wright and Welsing approachedWhite
supremacyas a behavioralinadequacy.How farfetchedis such an
idea?Canit be arguedthatthe overallpracticeandlegacy of White
supremacyhas been a positive good for humanity?Indeed, where
in the worldhas the realityof Europeandominationbeen of benefit
to people of color?Questionssuch as the aboveoughtto be consid-
ered by those critics who would ordinarilydismiss the theoretical
positions of Wrightand Welsing as essentialistposturing.
Regardlessof the impliedbiological determinisminherentin the
works of Wrightand Welsing, thereis somethingtangible in their
collective works when it is juxtaposed with the history of White
Europeanexpansionism and the creation of the New World that
caused so much humanmisery for peoples of color.
Moreover,whatcan be gleanedfromboth the studiesbeing pro-
ducedby White academicsandthose alreadycreatedby numerous
African-centeredscholarsis thatWhite supremacyis andhas been
a permanentfixturein the Westernworldfor a numberof centuries.
It has also created a legacy of social exclusion among people of
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 193

color that has no place in genuine and authentichumanrelations.


How we move on beyondthis era of WhiteEurocentricdomination
of the globe will determinethe futureof positive racialized rela-
tions. One thingis certain,reparationsas an issue will not disappear
from the vocabulary and critical thinking of African-centered
scholars.Indeed,no doubtit will be at the forefrontof the debates
for many years to come (Karenga,2001; Robinson,2001). If repa-
rationscan be resolvedas an issue thatsuits those who were victim-
ized by White supremacyand racism,then it will signal a brighter
futurefor humankind.

AFRICANREPARATIONS

At the heartof the recent UN conference on world racism was


the issue of Africanreparations.The United States chose to leave
the conference prematurelydue to, inter alia, not supportingthe
contentiousdebateon domestic enslavementreparations.Yet how
can therebe a conferenceon worldracismthatdoes not considerthe
effects and legacy of the Europeanenslavementera? It does not
make sense to anyoneconnectedto Black communitiesto logically
ignore such a vital issue. At bottomthe reparationsdebateis argu-
ably the major issue of concern for Black communities globally.
One can ignoreit anddenyit, butit will not go away.It is now on the
agenda of Black communitiesin a global sense. The sufferingof
Africanpeople has gone on for too long withoutadequatelydealing
with the negative and deep-rootedeffect that enslavement,colo-
nialism, and neocolonialism have had on the peoples across the
African continent and its African Diaspora. Until this issue is
resolved, there will continue to be vociferous protest.
Thereis much thatneeds to be consideredregardingthe debate
on Africanreparations.Thereis still a need to gatherfacts thatwill
strengthen the argumentfor reparations.For example, it is not
widely known that when the British abolished enslavementin the
Caribbeancolonies between 1834 and 1838 that the plantation
proprietorswere given a compensationpackage that amountedto
194 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

20 million in English sterling(Fryer,1984, p. 43). One may con-


sider,Whatwould that20 million sterlingamountto in presentcur-
rency?Many,many,many millions of dollars,I can assureyou.
Interestingly, it is important to note that the emancipated
enslaved Africans of the Caribbeanreceived not a penny in com-
pensationin 1838. Factssuch as this coincide with the U.S. govern-
ment's unfulfilled promise of "Forty Acres and a Mule" to be
awardedto AfricanAmericansat the end of the U.S. enslavement
era in 1865. Takinginto accountjust these two historicalfacts, it
seems likely thatthe strugglefor reparationswill grow ratherthan
diminish.Regardlessof the intransigenceof the establishedorder,
descendents of enslaved Africans have a moral right to continue
theirquest for social justice on this pivotal issue.
In relationto the need for moralencouragementin the debatefor
Africanreparations,the formerPresidentof TransAfrica,Randall
Robinson, is optimistic about the prospectof African Americans
successfully winning the struggle for compensation.In a recent
interview,Robinson (2001) stated:

I'm very optimistic [of African Americansgaining reparations].I


put no clock on these things,you see. I don't know if it will happen
in my lifetime in the same way I didn'tknow if apartheidwould end
in my lifetime.... But you fight preparedfor the long term, and if
yourlife won't coverthe termof the struggle,thenyou handoff your
progressto the next generation.(p. 31)

RandallRobinsonespoused an optimismthathas aidedthe sur-


vival of AfricanAmericansthroughouttheirhistoryin fightingthe
forces of racismanddiscrimination.It is, however,a global concern
for African-centeredscholars on the continent and Diaspora to
ensurethatthe moralargumentfor Africanreparationsis madelog-
ically and forcefully.
Maulana Karenga(2001) maintainedthat the African repara-
tions debate is foremost an ethical issue. Moreover,he suggested
that it is imperativeto frame and define the issue on the terms of
peoples of African descent, and not by employing the definitions
used by the establishedorder.Terms such as slave trade or trade
Christian/ AFRICAN-CENTEREDPERSPECTIVEON WHITESUPREMACY 195

merely "sanitizethe high level of violence and mass murderthat


was inflicted on Africanpeoples and societies" (p. 1).
Karengarightlycontendedthatif the issue of reparationsis to be
won, it must be on the ethical groundsthat what has occurredto
peoples of Africandescentamountsto a Holocaustof Enslavement
and its legacy is profoundlylimiting the life experiences of many
millions of Africans aroundthe world. Withoutcarefullydefining
this importantdebateon the termsandconditionsthatrelateto Afri-
cans, it will be a lost cause. That is, peoples of African descent
should keep the debate centered within their worldview, and this
will not be achievedusing the termsandconditionsset by the estab-
lished order.

CONCLUSION

We need to understandfurtherthe depth and breadthof White


supremacyand its ideological companion, racism. The extent to
which peoples of Africandescent have sufferedunderthis system
has been discussedin historicalandcontemporaryterms.Racismis
alive and kicking in Westernsocieties. How nations individually
respondto it and come togetherto deal with this ubiquitouscancer
will be crucial in combating the problem. Freedom from White
supremacyand racism is something peoples of African descent
havebeen fightingfor for centuries.Presently,we still cannotconfi-
dently statethat"we arefree"in our societies (I am speakingof the
United States and United Kingdomspecifically,yet am awarethat
this point could be extendedthroughoutthe world).
Crucially, we are still not free from racialized oppression
throughoutthe world. It has been and will continueto be an ongo-
ing struggleto overcome the manifoldforces: cultural,economic,
and political. For peoples of African descent, an importantaspect
of our struggleis the struggleto define our worldviewfrom within
the various African-centeredschools of thought. In this sense it
should be our collective mission to keep alive the struggleof our
ancestorson the continent of Africa and its Diaspora.We have a
196 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / NOVEMBER2002

massive task in terms of keeping our minds focused on simply


keeping our minds.
Even though there are signs that progressiveWhites are now
beginning to consider issues such as White supremacyand privi-
lege, generallythe strugglewill fall to Africanpeoples to overcome
the legacy of racializeddiscrimination.Whatis encouraging,how-
ever, is in the fact thatprogressiveWhites are now acknowledging
the often invisibility of their individual and collective privilege.
Withcontinuedresearchanddebate,this will proveto be a produc-
tive exercise.
African-centeredscholars will no doubt spearheadthe repara-
tions debate.Thereis still muchresearchto do andfacts to marshal
in orderto strengthenwhatis alreadyarguablythe strongestcase on
the world stage for reparations.By framing the debate within
Karenga'ssuggestedethics of the Holocaustof Enslavement,it will
furtherstrengthenthe moral argumentand eliminate the opportu-
nity to sanitize this horrifichistoricalcrime againsthumanity.
Most important, White supremacy/privilege still prevails
throughoutthe world. Sadly, the recent UN conference suggests
thatthe establishedorderwill not yield to the benefitof humankind.
Yet that should not deter those who are committedto social jus-
tice-it shouldin factheightenthe resolveto eventuallyovercome.

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Mark Christian,Ph.D. (Universityof Sheffield,UK), is a professor of Black world


studies and sociology at Miami University,Ohio. He is a native of Liverpool,Eng-
land, and a senior Fulbrightrecipient.He holds a master's degree in Black studies
from Ohio State Universityand has published a numberof articles relating to the
Black British and AfricanAmericanexperiences,such as in the WesternJournalof
198 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

Black Studies,Journalof Black Studies,and the InternationalCommunityDevelop-


ment Journal.His main researchinterestis in the social constructionof racialized
identities.His latest book is an editedvolumeentitledBlack Identityin the Twentieth
Century:Expressionsof the US andUK AfricanDiaspora(London:Hansib,2002).