Historically, “white supremacy, the belief that American or European whites are culturally [superior], has justified invasion, resource appropriation, exploitation, and military and political interventions” (Weiner 336). One striking illustration of the effectiveness of “white supremacy” as a means of justifying “invasion” and “intervention” is deeply embedded into the legacy of Massachusetts. Prior to 1692, the first Seal of Massachusetts Bay Colony depicted a Native American, with exaggerated features such as those described in Gilman’s Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. The Seal also depicted the Native impotently petitioning white British colonists to, “Come over and help us” (Chomsky). Unfortunately, the employment of white supremacy remains a self-fulfilling ideology continued into the modern era (Stern).
The appalling legacy of white supremacy resulted in a decrease in the “targeted Indigenous populations of the Americas from one hundred million to ten million” (Dunbar-Ortiz) in addition to the enslavement of at least “12.5 million Africans [in the New World prior to 1866]” (Gates). Philosopher Cornel West appreciates the way in which the idea of white supremacy was constituted as an object of modern discourse in the West, without simply appealing to the objective demands of the prevailing mode of production, the political interests of the slave-holding class, or the psychological needs of the dominant white racial group (West 91).
West succeeds in achieving an original analysis of “the emergence (Entstehung) [sic] or the ‘moment of arising’ of the idea of white supremacy within the modern discourse in the West” (92). Nevertheless, West’s thesis is insufficient. This inadequacy involves the non-racist components of modern supremacy; those centering on the dichotomies of Western Enlightenment versus barbarity, and civilization versus the non-Western world. In short, Western supremacy has supplemented and absorbed the white supremacy documented by West and other scholars.
David Moore, writing in 2015 for The Huffington Post uncovers this untold narrative.
We rightfully call it white supremacy, but it is more accurately Western supremacy. People of color occasionally excel within this system. Some of them, after benefiting from the struggle of their kinsmen, turn their backs on the struggle. Like religious converts, they proselytize others to a worldview of rationalism, hyper-capitalism and imperialism, while explaining away generations of colonization and justifying slavery in the spirit of Alexander. We in the West are beholden to celebrate our military heroes who subdue our less-civilized, even less-than-human enemies. We are historically and pathologically obligated to replay the dramas of the Spartans and Greeks against the “other.” Feeling superior, we are free to disrespect their ways to sustain our own. In modern times, the “other” continues to include Persians, but not just. “Other” means, among “others,” Haitian, Cuban, Panamanian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Grenada, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakistani and Russian (Moore).
Unfortunately, the continued destruction of Yemen (Prashad) seems to confirm that, “[w]e in the West are beholden to celebrate our military heroes who subdue our less-civilized, even less-than-human enemies.” One needn’t look beyond Congressional chambers to fully appreciate Moore’s observation in practice.
The raid in Yemen that cost Owens his life also killed 30 other people, including “many civilians,” at least nine of whom were children. None of them were mentioned by Trump in last night’s speech, let alone honored with applause and the presence of grieving relatives. That’s because they were Yemenis, not Americans; therefore, their deaths, and lives, must be ignored (the only exception was some fleeting media mention of the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, but only because she was a U.S. citizen and because of the irony that Obama killed her 16-year-old American brother with a drone strike) (Greenwald).
The same goes for other “others:” Iraqi’s, Afghani’s, Pakistani’s, and the entire “world” of non-Yemeni barbarians. With regard to Iraqis, the official American narrative surrounding U.S. occupation, aggression, and invasion is consistently rooted in strictly tactical grounds, rather than the ethical or moral. For example, during the 2008 Democratic Primary, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton countered criticism of the invasion of Iraq by framing the preemptive attack as a principled response to Saddam Hussein’s criminal aggression against Kuwait. Nevertheless, each favored a pragmatic assessment of the war in terms of strategic blunders and cost-benefit ratios. Thus, the analytical language of international relations reflects an ideology that sees the West as a victim and the other as a problem requiring a technocratic solution. This reveals the difference between how the West applies standards of comparative analysis, to establish a divide between “us,” the supreme, and them, the “other” (Chomsky: 2008).
Nevertheless, the divide between supposedly benevolent Western humanitarian interventionists and the forces of evil is not limited to the realm of U.S. government officials. More sinisterly, the role Western supremacy plays in shaping worldviews, as offered American mass media, is institutional in scope. The institutional embedding of Western supremacy into the press and trend-setting media is illuminated in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In its introduction, the authors assert that
This book centers in what we call a “propaganda model,” an analytical framework that attempts to explain the performance of the U.S. media in terms of the basic institutional structures and relationships within which they operate. It is our view that, among their other functions, the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well positioned to shape and constrain media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy (Herman & Chomsky XI).
The “powerful societal interests” of the leading Western power are reflected in the way the internalized “priorities and definitions” express themselves throughout the writings of “right-thinking personnel… and working journalists” (Chomsky: 2015). A recent Reuters Top News tweet offers an illustration: “BREAKING: Iranian vessels came within 600 yards of U.S. Navy ship in Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, forcing it to change direction – official” (Reuters).
Reuters conscientiously informs readers of the escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. (Sadjadpour), but they should also provide the context in which the “U.S. Navy ship in Strait of Hormuz” was “forced” to changed direction. Reuters’ institutionalized “priorities and definitions,” evade a historical context regarding the West’s long maintenance of a militarized presence off the coast of Iran. In contrast, USA Today published, in 2014, an article with a more honest subtitle: “Iranian vessels sail for U.S. coast to protest U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf” (Dorell). This earlier glimmer of hope for unbiased reporting, freed from Western “powerful societal interests,” faded over the three years since the article’s publication.
Beyond the Reuters’ coverage of the Iran conflict, two additional circumstances come to mind. The first is the brewing escalation between the Western world and China in the South China Sea (Pilger). The second is the current religious fanaticism surrounding the unsubstantiated, hypocritical, and deceitful claim that Russia “hacked” our elections (Mook) and longs to undermine elections in other enlightened states (Osborne).
The agenda-setting media – the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others – present the conundrum in the South China Sea in a manner that is similar to the aforementioned case of Reuters and Iran. For example, a New York Times contributor stated, “China has been rapidly piling sand onto reefs in the South China Sea….It is straining geopolitical tensions that were already taut.” Certainly, China is “creating seven new islets in the region” (Watkins). But is China the main actor straining geopolitical tensions? Certainly not. Rather, the rapid buildup of islands in the South China Sea is currently a defensive reaction to Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” if viewed outside of the ruling “Western prism” of supremacy (Sanwal). However, the dominance of Western exceptionalism persists, leading “right-thinking” people to exclaim that China’s actions within the waters off of their own coast “are anchored by Beijing’s grand ambitions to secure an unrivaled commercial empire throughout Eurasia and Africa” (Kuo).
Chaput, C. “Regimes of Truth, Disciplined Bodies, Secured Populations: An Overview of Michel Foucault.” Science Fiction Film and Television, vol. 2 no. 1, 2009, pp. 91-104. Project MUSE, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/269115.
Cheadle, H. “New Atheism’s Nasty Streak of Islamophobia.” Vice, 8 Apr 2013, https://www.vice.com/en_se/article/new-atheism-needs-to-get-out-of-its-old-rut. Web 15 Mar 2017.
Chomsky, N. “Can a Democrat change US Middle East Policy?” Khaleej Times, 3 Apr 2008, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20080403/ARTICLE/304039949/1098. Web 14 Mar 2017.
—. Hopes and Prospects. Haymarket Books, 2010.
—. “One Day in the Life of a Reader of the New York Times.” Chomsky.info, 6 Apr 2015, https://chomsky.info/20150406/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Dorell, O. “Iranian Warships Heading to USA to Show Reach.” USA Today, 10 Feb 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/02/10/iran-warships-threat-to-usa-coast/5365335/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Dunbar-Ortiz, R. “Yes, Native Americans were the Victims of Genocide.” Truthout.org, 4 Jun 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36257-yes-native-americans-were-the-victims-of-genocide. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Gates, H. “How Many Slaves Landed in the US?” The Root, 1 Jun 2014, http://www.theroot.com/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us-1790873989. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Gilman, S. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. Cornell University Press, 1985.
Gray, J. “Steven Pinker is Wrong about Violence and War.” The Guardian, 13 Mar 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Greenwald, G. “Trump’s use of Navy SEAL’s Wife Highlights all the Key Ingredients of U.S. War Propaganda.” The Intercept, 1 Mar 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/03/01/trumps-use-of-navy-seals-wife-highlights-all-the-key-ingredients-of-u-s-war-propaganda/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Hale, C. Himmler’s Crusade: The True Story of the 1938 Nazi Expedition in Tibet. Bantam Books, 2004.
Harris, S. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.
Hedges, C. America’s New Fundamentalists: When Atheism Becomes Religion. Free Press, 2009.
Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon Books, 2002.
Hoelscher, D. “New Atheism, Worse than you Think.” CounterPunch, 29 Jan 2016, http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/29/new-atheism-worse-than-you-think/. Web 15 Mar 2017.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the “War on Terror.” IPPNW, 2015.
Kuo, F. “Why China won’t stop Island Building in the South China Sea.” The Diplomat, 2 Jul 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/why-china-wont-stop-island-building-in-the-south-china-sea/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Lears, J. “Same Old New Atheism: On Sam Harris.” The Nation, 27 Apr 2011, https://www.thenation.com/article/same-old-new-atheism-sam-harris/. Web 16 Mar 2017.
LeDrew, S. The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement. Oxford University Press, 2016.
Mook, R. “I ran Clinton’s Campaign, and I fear Russia is Meddling with more than Elections.” The Guardian, 7 Feb 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/07/russia-hacked-us-election-democracy-vladimir-putin. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Moore, D. “Call it Western Supremacy.” Huffington Post, 29 Apr 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidmoore/call-it-western-supremacy_1_b_6746140.html. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Osborne, S. “UK Political Parties at risk from Russian Cyber-Attacks, GCHQ Warns.” The Independent, 12 Mar 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/gchq-russian-hacking-cyber-attack-threat-uk-political-parties-general-election-threat-kremlin-a7625226.html. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Prashad, V. “Why the World is Ignoring the War in Yemen.” The Wired, 18 Oct. 2016, https://thewire.in/73882/why-the-world-is-ignoring-the-war-in-yemen/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Pilger, J. “The Coming War on China.” New Internationalist, 1 Dec 2016, https://newint.org/features/2016/12/01/the-coming-war-on-china/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Real Time with Bill Maher. “Ben Affleck, Sam Harris and Bill Maher Debate Radical Islam.” YouTube, 6 Oct 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vln9D81eO60. Web 15 Mar 2017.
(Reuters). “BREAKING: Iranian vessels came within 600 yards of U.S. Navy ship in Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, forcing it to change direction – official.” 6 Mar 2017, 7:51am. Tweet.
Sadjadpour, K. “How America could Stumble into War with Iran.” The Atlantic, 9 Feb 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/02/iran-trump-nuclear-deal/515979/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Sanwal, M. “A Pivot to China?” The Hindu, 17 Nov 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/A-pivot-to-China/article16643845.ece. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Savage, L. “New Atheism, Old Empire.” Jacobin, 2 Dec 2014, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/new-atheism-old-empire/. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Stein, J. and Dickinson, T. “Lie by Lie: A Timeline of how we got into Iraq.” Mother Jones, Sep/Oct 2006 http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline. Web 16 Mar 2017.
Stern, M. “The Electoral College is an Instrument of White Supremacy – and Sexism.” Slate, 11 Nov 2016, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/11/11/the_electoral_college_is_an_instrument_of_white_supremacy_and_sexism.html. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Watkins, D. “What China has been Building in the South China Sea.” New York Times, 27 Oct 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea.html. Web 14 Mar 2017.
Weiner, M. “Towards a Critical Global Race Theory.” Sociology Compass 6.4 (2012): 332–350.
Werleman, CJ. The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists. Dangerous Little Books, 2015.
West, C. “A Genealogy of Racism.” Race Critical Theories, pp. 91-112. Blackwell, 2002.
Zinn, H. A People’s History of the United States. HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.