The death of racism and the myth of white supremacy

(NI) – Your new graphic novel, The Ruins of Empire, deals, in part, with the decline of the West’s global domination. Is this – and its corollary, the rise of the BRICS1 powers – a positive development?

There’s no guarantee that a new power will be just. But I think it guarantees a different world. I don’t know if humanity is going to wipe itself totally off the planet. What I do know for certain is that the current system, which enables a few individuals in Europe and elsewhere to amass greater wealth than that of entire countries, is just not tenable. And whether or not Europe and the US would rather destroy the entire planet than have a world that is bipolar, a world that is negotiable, a world in which the US and Britain, in particular, don’t just get to do whatever the hell they want – only time will tell. But that world is certainly emerging.

How do you think these developments might impact racism and white supremacy?

Whiteness only means something vis-à-vis others. The very idea of whiteness is: ‘I am, because you’re not’. It infers superiority: the whole invention of the idea was about other people being inferior. Two hundred years ago white people could argue, on some level, that they were superior, and people might swallow it. India was in disarray, China was in disarray, Africa was completely colonized; the idea of white supremacy had some credence, because in all practical senses Europe had all the power. Today it’s so obvious that this isn’t the case, that only a complete idiot can believe white people are superior to anyone else.

How do you think white people will respond to this?

‘Whiteness’ protected, for a period of time, people from the worst aspects of human behaviour. Now when white people die [through conflict or violence or terrorist acts] it’s no longer a bigger deal simply because they are white and from a Western country. So that’s going to feel almost like persecution. And then in the US, with the Tea Party and others, you hear: ‘We’re losing the country, they’re taking over our country.’ The same kind of rhetoric is used in Britain, with Muslims and African migrants being referred to as ‘swarms’. All of this is a legacy of the idea that some people don’t belong here. I think you’re going to see a crisis in white identity. No people are white! Their skin isn’t actually white. ‘White’ is an idea to do with purity, separatism and supremacy. But in a world where your economic existence requires you to trade with non-Europeans as equals, that philosophy isn’t going to work.

Image Credit: Ben Shahn

Image Credit: Ben Shahn

How will white people fare without white supremacy?

I think it will be good for white people. We talk about ‘white privilege’, but we don’t talk about the burden of being born into a culture that tells you you’re innately superior – yet having to go to school with some kid from Ghana who’s top of the class. What do you do when that’s your scenario? If you’re born in a culture that tells you that you’re special, that’s a problem. If you’re born into a culture that tells you that you’re a human, one among many, and that you’re not particularly special, actually, and you’re going to have to work just as hard as everyone else – that’s a more spiritually and theoretically nourishing culture to be born into. So from a spiritual and cultural point of view, the death of white supremacy is going to be very good for a lot of white people – but economically and politically it’s going to be very difficult. If racism, which has been one of the most, arguably the most, unjust idea humans have ever invented, dies it will be a victory for all of humanity.

  1. The BRICS countries are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

This report prepared by Dan Glazebrook for New Internationalist. 

This column was published in the January 2016 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.