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White gunmen, white supremacists and white supremacy

August 5, 2019

The most recent shooting that took place in El Paso, Texas, is just another example of a white male engaged in an awful act of gun violence, violence that targeted innocent victims.

A great deal of coverage in the past 24 hours is calling this most recent act of gun violence by a white male, domestic terrorism. This is an appropriate way of naming what happened.

In addition, there are other sources that are calling the gunman a white supremacist, since he has posted statements about what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Calling the white gunman in Texas a white supremacist is also appropriate terminology for who Patrick Crusius is.

Identifying Crusius as a white supremacist is accurate, but it is also problematic in the current political climate for two important reasons. First, there has been a great deal more discussion and public discourse on white supremacist groups, a reality that began during the Obama administration and has only increased under the Trump administration. The public discourse is good, but many of these groups have been around for decades, while others like the KKK have been around for more than a century.

One of the reasons white supremacist groups have felt emboldened in recent decades has a lot to do with the push back against the gains of black, indigenous, latinx and other communities of color since the 1960s. This push back has primarily been because of the structural racism within the US and is not a direct result of what are identified as white supremacist groups. The political push back by the systems of power in the US – from Reagan’s push for de-industrialization and the War on Drugs, to the Clinton administration’s expansion of the prison industrial complex and the reduction of the welfare system, to Bush’s War on Terror to increasing the surveillance state, to Obama’s deportation policies and the increase police killings of black people, to Trump’s escalation of all of the previous policies – has benefited what are identified as white supremacist groups, since the rightward policies have provided more political space for the more visibly white supremacist organizations.

The second reason why calling the El Paso shooter a white supremacist is because it has the potential of hiding or even dismissing the white supremacist nature of the US systems of power. In other words, we can easily call the El Paso shooter a white supremacist, but we have a hard time calling police departments as an instrument of white supremacy.

Part of the reason why many of us have a hard time calling law enforcement agencies as white supremacist is because of how we have talked about race in the US. We primarily focus on individual acts of discrimination as opposed to thinking about structural racism. Many people also struggle with naming US systems of power as white supremacist, because white people don’t want to acknowledge that white people have been in control in the US since its founding. Whiteness and white power are the dominant cultural narrative, which is why we need to name US systems of power as systems of White Supremacy.

Longtime anti-racist educator, Elizabeth Martinez, provides a very important definition of what White Supremacy is. She says: 

White Supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.

When we are able to name White Supremacy as more than just klan members, then we can come to terms with why there are so many structural injustices. For example, the amount of harm that is done to communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC) – cops, judges, prosecutors, prison guards, county jails, state prisons, federal prisons, private prisons, detention centers and the hundreds of businesses that make products or provide services for the PIC – overwhelmingly surpasses the harm done by lone white gunmen or white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys.

We must come to see that the wealth gap between white and black people is the result of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the federal government’s bailout of Wall Street was necessary to support the system of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the gentrification of our cities is a result of White Supremacist policies.

We must come to see that the US military is essentially a mechanism of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our food system is rooted in White Supremacy.

We must come to see that the ecological devastation that we wage on the planet is a result of White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our media system – both news & entertainment – produces and benefits White Supremacy.

We must come to see that our electoral system is fundamentally a system of White Supremacy.

If we are not seeing how White Supremacy is part of the very fabric of our society, then we are not paying attention.

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