Updated: Apr 1, 2020
The world is in the midst of another health crisis -- a pandemic of the virus with the names, "Covid-19," "Coronavirus," and "CV," from the category of Corona viruses of which the common cold is also a member. It portents a staggering mortality rate not unlike earlier pandemics.
The nation and the world grappled with its last pandemic back in 2009, when H1N1 Influenza aimed itself at its populace. According to the Centers for Disease Control, before this pandemic was declared under control, it claimed between about 150,000 and 575,000 lives worldwide. Certainly not the worst pandemic in world history or the United States, it stands in history as a lethal legacy of the power of nature to exact itself upon humanity however it pleases, whenever it pleases. However, this is not an essay on the flu or CV. It is about pandemics, and one in particular, white supremacy.
In order to make this essay make sense, there needs to be some understanding about pandemics. According to Dictionary.com, a pandemic means: "prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world; epidemic over a large area," largely associated with disease or illness. But what constitutes an illness or disease if discussing white supremacy and racism? Are the terms, white supremacy and racism really synonymous within the lexicon of the language we use to describe, define and associate ourselves? In order to make this essay make sense, these two terms must finally take their place as separate but equal, distinct and purposeful, and made unique in their own particular right.
There is no argument and indeed no debate should exist at this point about the pervasiveness of Racism, or its definition as "the systematic subjugation within established institutions in the U.S. through structurally designed denial and limited apportionment of opportunity, equity, equality and justice, to control the formerly enslaved and their descendants after the Enslavement ended," or that it "operates as power plus prejudice and bigotry in the form of White and Whiteness as 'superior,' and the "Black" formerly enslaved and their descendants as 'inferior'." What is still up for grabs in terms of intellectual debate is the ideology of white supremacy, what it means, what it does, how it operates, and why it is easily conflated with Racism.
By contrast, there doesn't seem to be any true scholarly acknowledgement as to any pathology of white supremacy or the association of mental processes which have been ingrained for centuries in people who identify as white in order to sustain and support the beliefs and subsequent behaviors that arise out of the ideology. In other words, white supremacy is not even considered a sickness of the mind. In fact, most scholars dismiss the idea of white supremacy as a pathological ideology altogether. Given that the ideology over the generations has glued itself into the subconscious as well as the unconscious places in the minds of white people, creating behaviors from subtle biases to full on aggression and violence, the absence of any correlation between the behaviors borne of the ideology and the notion of these behaviors is notable. It is telling that the study of white supremacy as a mental disorder is not pursued as possibly being due to a pathology of the mind, and is in itself, most likely because of the same construct of "superiority" already inherent in the ideology, in essence, why study what is already perfect?
According to Chauncey DeVega, writing for Alternet:
White supremacy is a complex social phenomenon. It is also a relatively new invention that was created to make Europe’s efforts to colonize and conquer the world seem like a “natural” process wherein “superior” white races would dominate “inferior” non-whites.
The Transatlantic slave trade was pivotal for the invention of race by creating a sense of group stigma and a belief in the concrete biological differences between white Europeans and Africans.
Mr. DeVega alluded to white supremacy as a complex social phenomenon and invention. I would disagree to the extent that the ideology, while complex and social, was an "invention," but that the system of racism was itself the "invention" created to sustain the ideology created by the wealthy landowners, and which, today, has morphed into a pandemic of narcissism and pathological aggression among people who identify with the whiteness ideology.
Two scholars, Christopher Petrella, Ph.D., and Justin Gomer, Ph.D., who coauthored a piece entitled, "White Supremacy Is Not an Illness," for the "African American Intellectual History Society's (AAIHS) segment on Black Perspectives, were adamant in their assertions that white supremacy is not an illness. Absent from the discussion, however, was the distinction of white supremacy as fundamentally separate from the system of racism, and the conflation of both as one and the same. While acknowledging that prior to the 1950s both terms were considered synonymous, it is clear that the ideology had to exist well BEFORE the system that supports it. What these two white scholars missed is the whiteness-centered nature of their argument.
Nevertheless, under their rationale in discussions with white people on the subject in an attempt to justify their assertion that white supremacy is not an illness, they referenced racism as their argument for or against, and only casually referred to white supremacy, not even within the same context. They then blithely acknowledged systemic racism as being ignored in favor of individual, "bad apples," and as a "misdiagnosis." It was obvious these two white scholars, albeit with Doctoral degrees in African American studies, and writing for a segment on Black Perspectives, lacked the Black perspective necessary to understand the difference between the terms.
"The presumption that one can eliminate racism by snuffing out a few “bad apples” misses the mark. In fact, such a paradigm misdiagnoses the systemic and ideological production of race itself which is squarely centered in white supremacy. "
By implicitly conflating the terms white supremacy and racism as the same, they completely dissolve the systemic structures built into all of the institutions of human activity. They dismiss the very system of racism itself, and relegates racism as ONLY individual bad, and bigoted behaviors of people, while not allowing for exactly what caused the behaviors. Anyone who can critically think about these behaviors will soon come to the conclusion they are more attributed to white supremacist attitudes and the aggressive pathologies associated with them, rather than what was developed to uphold those behaviors. Moreover, while they described the term, "racism" as not being a disease and not an illness, this can only be ascribed as true because Racism is really NOT the behavior itself, but the system upon which the behavior is supported and sustained, and white supremacy is the catalyst which spawned and imposed a spectrum of mental disorders on an entire race of people with no desire to cure them.
Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, a psychiatrist and scholar, was one of a very few, if any, who acknowledged white supremacy as a "neuroses." Although she used white supremacy and racism interchangeably, she understood that the ideology of white supremacy itself was the overarching substance of any rational argument on white supremacy as a disorder, and therefore having a pathology. I would add that it is actually the separation of the two terms: one as the ideology which formed the negative, aggressive and malevolent behavioral pathologies among the masses of people who identify with it, and the other as the system designed and developed to sustain these behavioral pathologies and the ideology that spawned the behaviors in the first place, and provides the legitimacy and justification for the ideology to have contributed to generations of white narcissists and sociopaths of varying degrees of illness.
It is important to begin to see each of the terms, white supremacy and racism for their own unique place and order to properly engage in meaningful discussions of each and to understand which term came first. Had it not been for the creation of the ideology of white supremacy, there would never have been a need for a structural system to sustain it, and millions of people would never have been stricken through this neverending pandemic.