No longer fringe: How white supremacy is becoming mainstream

No longer fringe: How white supremacy is becoming mainstream
8 min read
22 Nov, 2018
Comment: That the language is softer and less violent only makes it more dangerous, writes Ruby Hamad.
Neo-Nazi groups are finding growing acceptance around the world [Getty]
Three years ago, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture to university students on my experiences of racism as a journalist from an Arab Muslim background.

I began with a slideshow sharing extracts from blog posts written about me by neo-Nazis who'd downloaded images of me from the internet and captioned them with such charming epithets as "disfigured Arab mongrel" and "hideous pig-faced dune coon".

"It's okay," I reassured the horrified students. "This kind of stuff doesn't worry me too much. It's so ludicrous, so fringe, I can't take it seriously." What was more important, I told them, was to ensure these fringe elements stayed that way by focusing on breaking down the unconscious racial biases of the mainstream.

I'm sad to say I no longer feel this way. Nowadays, not only do I take abuse like this very seriously, I don't think these views are as fringe as we'd let ourselves believe. I'm currently writing a book on the construction of race and gender in settler-colonial societies, and in reading about the history and discourse of white supremacist organisations, I have been struck by just how much of their rhetoric is now replicated - although in less hostile and explicit terms - in our mainstream discourse.

Overt white supremacists are extreme in their hatred but the premise from which their views grow - that white people are superior to non-white people - is far from fringe.

Twenty years ago, Jewish-American sociologist Abby L Ferber published
White Man Falling, an analysis of the rhetoric of white supremacist literature. Many of the words and phrases she dissected now permeate our media and are key sites of the so-called culture wars.

White supremacists, she wrote then, are preoccupied with the idea of "restoring" western civilisation. An article from one supremacist newspaper, for example, called for the "elimination of non-Western influences from the culture and society of Western nations and the restoration of a healthy interest in and love of the achievements of the white, Western man".

Twenty years later, the formal study of the achievements of western civilisation has sparked a fierce public debate in Australia over a proposed university degree funded by the Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation. Set up in June 2017 with a donation from late conservative philanthropist Paul Ramsey, the Centre describes its purpose as "to advance education by promoting studies and discussion of western civilisation".

The Australian National University in Canberra walked away from a lucrative funding deal for a proposed Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation due to interference from the Ramsey Centre
regarding the syllabus. The Centre is now negotiating with Sydney University amid vehement opposition from much of the university's staff.
White supremacist literature borrows heavily from and perpetuates scientific racism

The Ramsey Centre is chaired by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and includes fellow-conservative former Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the board; both vociferous champions of western culture. In an April 2018 article, Abbott lamented the current state of university education where "every element of the curriculum (is) pervaded by Asian, Indigenous and sustainability perspectives".

The Ramsey Centre's vision for the degree, he wrote, is "not merely about western civilisation but in favour of it".

The similarities don't end there. White supremacist literature borrows heavily from and perpetuates scientific racism, biology is king and the long-standing obsession with "protecting" white women is mirrored in the language they use to "defend" their countries' borders.

"America is being invaded by a deluge of legal and illegal non-white intruders: swarms of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Negro, Oriental, and Jewish scum who are thronging across our wide open borders," thundered one newsletter back in 1979.

Four decades on, President Donald Trump described a migrant caravan, heading to the US through Mexico on foot,
as an "invasion". His rhetoric was repeated with relish by Australian Murdoch-owned media, including Australia's most-read columnist Andrew Bolt, the same columnist who earlier this year described Jewish and Muslim communities as "colonisers".

When Trump said he wanted to protect women from the migrant caravan, he was again demonstrating the mainstream relevance of formerly fringe supremacist discourse. "Border security is very much a woman's issue,"
he said in the lead-up to the mid-term elections. "Women want security. They don't want that caravan."

This linking of women's bodies to the policing of borders is no coincidence; the white supremacist worldview seals itself off biologically and geographically. The blog posts created about me, for instance, denigrated my looks in comparison with white, and specifically "Nordic" women, declaring that beauty, like everything from brains to creativity to reason, was a fundamentally white, European-derived domain.

Arabs are particularly despised as a "mongrel" race, a grotesque vision of what awaits the pure, white race if multiculturalism is allowed to continue on its course. For white supremacists, the white race must be protected by ensuring white women are available only to white men and western civilisation defended by ensuring "white lands" are reserved for white people.

The recent moral panics over "
rapefugees" have their origins in white supremacist warnings that "catastrophe will devastate our United States unless the unarmed invasion of the inferior and unassimilable is… stopped".

The acceptable face of white, western supremacy is all around us. That the language is softer and less violent only makes it more dangerous. It's easy to distance ourselves from white supremacists when they are openly hateful. No one wants to be associated with such violent vitriol - hence the lengths so many white people go to deny institutional racism exists.

But racism and white supremacy, as many people of colour have explained so many times, is about systems and structures. It need not be about physical violence and explicit hate. It can - and does - manifest in widely read media that positions western society as physically, ethically, and intellectually superior.

Quillette, an increasingly influential online "classical liberal" website linked to "the Intellectual Dark Web", bills itself as the home of free thought and heterodox views, as unafraid to publish unorthodox opinions in the spirit of open debate.

But like white supremacist literature, albeit in a markedly different tone and style aimed at a different, and largely unsuspecting, audience, Quillete's published works often betray a a preoccupation with asserting western civilisational superiority and an obsession with the Enlightenment. Or more accurately, with their appropriation of the Enlightenment intellectual tradition.

(White) Reason. (White) Objectivity. Sex difference. Race and intelligence. Biology and personality. These are topics many of the articles in Quillette share with white supremacists, but where white supremacists state their monocultural agenda openly and crudely, contemporary "classical liberals" couch theirs in quasi-academic, almost benevolent, language - only to end up with a remarkably similar conclusion.

Whereas, for instance, white supremacists openly declare that "diversity is white genocide", classical liberals ask, "Is there room for white people in diversity?" Rather than state that black people are less intelligent, Quillette articles on race and intelligence claim no underlying agenda but nonetheless include lines like, "The reality of racial variation cannot be hidden behind a veil of pleasant myths in perpetuity."
White supremacy is already normalised. The open calls for violence and explicit hatred may not be shared by those mainstream and 'classical liberal' commentators, but the motivation is the same

In a recent public lecture, former Australian race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane
warned against normalising white supremacist rhetoric. His warning has come too late. The views that as recently as three years ago I considered to be fringe are already shared to various degrees by some in the mainstream.

This is why "civility" is imposed on people of colour and we are warned to be "grateful" - lest we risk alienating white people who will go running to the far-right to escape our apparently intolerably oppressive demands for liberation. It is why white people consider being called a racist worse than actually being a racist; white supremacist rhetoric is so ugly, no-one who considers themselves a good person would wish to be associated with them - even as some white people reserve the right to become racist if people of colour are not "nice" to them.

It's why media commentators in Australia can
call for a new Stolen Generation (forced indigenous child removals) and an end to all Muslim immigration on commercial television, whereas a brown Muslim woman will be literally bullied out of the country because she dared mention Anzac Day and Palestine in the same breath.

It is why so many white men are obsessed with how Arab men treat women; the angry presumption that Arab and Muslim men apparently have the kind of tight grip on "their" women that white men feel they have "lost" over theirs, betrays a fury with feminism and postmodernism and all those other -isms that this worldview regards as having wrongly deprived western men of what is "rightfully" theirs, of what the Enlightenment bestowed upon them.  

Yes, white supremacy is already normalised. The open calls for violence and explicit hatred may not be shared by those mainstream and "classical liberal" commentators, but the motivation is the same: the unwavering belief in - and maintenance of - the superiority of the West and inferiority of the Rest.

Everything else is just different means to the same end.

Ruby Hamad is a writer and Phd candidate in media and postcolonial studies at the University of New South Wales. Born in Lebanon and raised in Australia, she splits her time between Sydney and New York. 

Follow her on Twitter: @rubyhamad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.