3. The European Superiority Complex
In Module 1, we explored how colonialism and race are foundational to capitalism and are required to sustain today’s global capitalist economy. In Module 2, we explored the climate crisis and how those on the frontlines around the world (Black, brown and Indigenous communities) are both disproportionately affected by the crisis, while also leading movements for change based in Indigenous sovereignty and the return of land.
In Module 3 we focus on the imposition of a Eurocentric worldview and the hierarchies of worth that are produced and imposed globally based on this particular knowledge system. The notion of white Western superiority has been used to justify cultural, racial, gendered and other forms of oppression.
In this section we are going to focus on white supremacy, a system and ideology that is central to all of the topics described above. This term refers to a political and socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantages and rights that racialized people do not. It is also an ideology and belief system, a way of understanding and existing in the world that privileges the lives, voices, needs and wants of white people. It is a system that overvalues white culture and scholarship, while undervaluing the culture, knowledge and scholarship of racialized communities. In a white supremacist perspective, nonwhite cultures, art, foods, and belief systems are there to be consumed by whiteness.
Here’s something important: whiteness is a structure. It does not describe “white people”; it is not about individuals. Whiteness describes a system, from which white people benefit greatly, but anyone can benefit from it if they can access it. It describes structural advantages and belief systems that are directly linked to colonialism, racial capitalism and the imposition of a eurocentric worldview globally.
Western Europeans have been constructed as white (a category that has shifted over time) and have produced a racial hierarchy globally to impose their superiority. White supremacy- alongside other forms of supremacy- is the direct result of these historical patterns and is an ongoing foundational feature of dominant modes of governance, economic production, and culture.
A focus on white supremacy centres those who are benefiting from and perpetuating it. It is not the responsibility of Black, brown, Asian, Indigenous or racialized communities to dismantle white supremacy. And it is no longer possible to deny its existence as an essential component of the very fabric of our society.
Watch bell hook’s 1995 interview below, in particular from 1:10 to 2:06, where she describes why she prefers the term white supremacy to racism.
Watch Michelle Johnson’s TED talk, There is no neutral, below (16 minutes). She defines racism, discusses white supremacy, and shares her understanding of how trauma from these systems and ideologies affect the mind, body, spirit and heart.
Check out the spoken word poets McPherson and Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre below and how they describe the structure and experience of white supremacy.
Check Your Understanding
Recommended further reading
- Ijeoma Oluo, “Confronting racism is not about the needs and feelings of white people,” The Guardian, March 2019
- Robert P Baird, “The invention of whiteness: the long history of a dangerous idea,” The Guardian, April 2021
- Adrienne Maree Brown, “a word for white people, in two parts,” June 2020
- Henry Yu, “The white elephant in the room: anti-Asian racism in Canada,” The University of British Columbia, Beyond: People, ideas and actions for a better world
- Michelle Shephard, Ashley Mak and Kim Kaschor, “White hot hate,” CBC news, November 2021
After completing the section “What About White Supremacy?” consider:
- How does white supremacy shape your experience in the world?
- How do individuals, communities and/or mainstream culture deny the existence of white supremacy?
Note: to access your reflection journal please review the introduction section of the European Superiority Complex module.