Breaking White Solidarity: Fear of Replacement

On Saturday, May 14th, 2022, a white man named Payton Gendron opened fire in a Tops supermarket located in a predominately black part of Buffalo, New York. He killed ten people while injuring three others. Eleven of the thirteen people shot were black. Prior to carrying out this act of terrorism, Gendron posted a quasi-manifesto stuffed to the brim with white supremacist ideologies, including an idea known as “The Great Replacement”. Gendron’s actions are being investigated as hate crimes by multiple agencies.

A Word on This Series
As we come to terms with the white supremacist beliefs that influenced these horrific acts, it becomes more imperative than ever that white people learn to break white solidarity. White solidarity is defined by Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, as “the tacit agreement that we [white people] will protect white privilege and not hold each other accountable for our racism.” (Beacon Press, 125) It can be as simple as letting racist jokes slide and as extreme as calling the police when feeling threatened by a non-white person. In the case of the Buffalo shooting, it can be remaining silent about the news. Every time a white person fails to call out privileged or racist behavior, it reinforces white solidarity on some level.

It is imperative that white people confront white supremacism in their lives at all levels. This article is the second in a series about breaking white solidarity. It is intended for white audiences, to investigate the ways in which we tolerate individual and systemic racism in our lives, and to investigate methods by which we can work effectively to remove individual and systemic racism to the best of our ability. Hopefully, there will also be an adjacent non-white audience here as well, seeing white people trying to engage in hard discussions with other white people about the racists and supremacists among us.

The Power of Ideology
Our lives are influenced and shaped by ideologies, those various systems of ideas and ideals that guide our political, economic, social, and, for many, their spiritual lives. Sometimes we embrace those ideologies, using them to make the right choices or maintain the correct outlook or engage in social change. Sometimes those ideologies are forced upon us, such as economic or political systems built upon ideologies. Ideologies have come and gone and even reappeared throughout humanity’s existence, in various shapes and forms, with some standing the test of time for thousands of years, collected in spiritual, philosophical, and scientific texts.

Because ideologies influence our lives and the choices we make, we oftentimes look to an individual’s ideologies to understand their character and their choices. In the case of Payton Gendron, the ideologies which influenced his actions are largely related to white supremacism and one particular idea called “The Great Replacement”, which posits that white people are being demographically and culturally replaced by non-white people. This theory is one of many that guide white supremacist ideologies, but nearly all of these ideologies are based on a concept of whiteness based in genetic purity. Before we talk about “The Great Replacement”, we should begin with racism and this particular concept of whiteness.

Racism is nothing new to humanity. Racial prejudice has been used throughout human history to justify land and resource seizures, slavery, genocide, and other atrocities. It is a collective stain on humanity, but it is a particular stain for white people given the course of human history for just over five hundred years. As European colonization spreads throughout the expanded world, Christian doctrine combines with European racism and military advancements to justify the subjugation and exploitation of two new continents, along with large chunks of the previously known world. It includes the genocide of indigenous populations and the enslavement of African populations.

Racism in the United States is largely based on the same racism that motivated European colonialism, based largely on skin color, nationalism, and antisemitism. Our constitution formalized the slave trade and our founding fathers called for the genocide of natives. Eventually the Civil War is fought in large part over slavery, resulting in the deserved freedom for a subjugated population, although given almost nothing in return. It was a major if incomplete step forward for our country and was part of a growing trend towards the abolition of slavery throughout the world. Over four million black people were freed in the United States, who became part of the larger population of around twenty-seven million white people, creating one of the most diverse nations in the world.

The Paradox of Whiteness
After the end of formalized slavery in the United States, many of those four million people began migrating north to escape the cruelty of their former masters and the communities which upheld them. This mass migration causes a competition for resources within a rapidly industrializing society in the North. Competition was previously broken along national lines, between so-called “natural born” Americans and the growing population of European immigrants, seen in plenty of signs like “No Irish” and “No Italians” and other not so kind phrases. With the influx of free black people putting further strain on competition, and with the larger diversification of the United States happening, a new concept of race begins to emerge, one based almost entirely upon skin color. Over time, Greek, Italian, Irish, Polish, and other formerly undesirable white immigrants were brought into the larger “white” population, although the United States would largely keep its social and political antisemitism.

What are the consequences of creating a social concept of whiteness based solely upon a genetic factor like skin color? Initially, it was a convenient means for anti-abolitionists to organize against former slaves, pushing them into ghettos and reserving the best work for their new “white” allies. White Americans begin to change their relationship to their national origin, identifying with any and all accomplishments of other white cultures, while deftly reverting to national origin when discussing any and all transgressions by those same white cultures. Massive funding went to junk science and racist research meant to prove the genetic superiority of white Europeans to the rest of the world, a major part of white supremacist ideologies today. Governments and organizations today still group and track individuals based upon this narrow conception of race, struggling to adapt to the growing number of multi-racial individuals within society.

Perhaps more fundamental to this social concept of whiteness based almost entirely upon skin color is that it necessitates genetic purity for white people from every other group. White people can only continue to have white children if they procreate with other white people. White people who have children with non-white people generally produce children with different and/or darker skin tones than what is considered genetically white. Even if the child identifies as white, the larger white society will not see the child as one of their own because of this narrow definition of race based largely on skin color. Short of social and cultural ideologies that reinforce this notion of genetic purity, white skin color will eventually grow darker and darker over generations in populations with a range of skin tones.

I’m reminded of the movie Bulworth, in which fictional California Senator Jay Billington Bulworth muses on live television that “Everybody just gotta keep fuckin’ everybody ’til they’re all the same color.”. It’s crude, but when you make skin color the sole basis for social identity, there’s no other way to move past racism. And that’s the paradox of whiteness: we define ourselves by a genetic trait that will eventually disappear over time as our populations diversify. For those who are desperately clinging to their whiteness, whether to keep their identity or the privileges that come with it, there comes a subconscious fear of replacement within society.

Fear of Replacement
White supremacism isn’t confined to this country. The same junk research into the supposed superiority of white Europeans would culminate into the brutality of the Nazi Regime in the mid-1900s. We may have defeated the Nazi Regime as an expression of white supremacy, but we haven’t done much to defeat the ideologies that drove the Nazis, which explains the rise in far-right national and white supremacist political parties and candidates throughout Europe right now, and especially in France. As each European country continues to diversify, this concept of whiteness based upon genetic purity grows stronger.

France has had a complicated relationship with its former colonies, who like many European countries, believed themselves to be a civilizing force within the world, a sentiment that still echoes today within many European intellectual circles. With each new colony founded, France became more and more diversified as immigrants relocated to France for work and established their own families and communities. As the French empire began to collapse in the mid-1900s, many feelings of racism and xenophobia began to foment among white people towards those naturalized immigrants within France, as former colonies forced the French out of their countries of origin.

One such individual who has capitalized on these feelings is Renaud Camus, a French writer and conspiracy theorist, who formalized an idea known as Le Grand Remplacement, or The Great Replacement. Camus theorizes that white populations are being demographically and culturally replaced by non-white populations within European countries, through immigration, breeding, and political control. His ideas have grown in popularity among other European nations, where xenophobic citizens blame Jews, immigrants, and other “impure” cultures for social or economic issues. Camus’ own actions have included creating a far-right political party advocating the forcible removal of non-white people to their countries of origin. Unsurprisingly, he supported far-right xenophobic candidate Marine Le Pen in the most recent election.

The Great Replacement is one of many ideologies referenced in the online rantings of Payton Gendron, but it isn’t confined to the murky recesses of the dark web. The Great Replacement has also received lip service from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, among other far-right news stations on television and radio, in the United States and around the world. The relationship between news stations championing this theory and the most recent rise of white supremacism in the United States should be obvious. White commentators telling a largely white audience that their identity is based upon their skin color (which, as discussed, requires maintaining genetic purity with other white people) using another, non-white population as a bogeyman for their current problems and future concerns. Carlson tries vainly to make it about some fictional American culture and value system, but those ideas only exist in the minds of conservative white people and do not conform to the experience of non-white people within the United States.

The result is creating a fear of replacement within society for white people based on their identification. This fear of replacement creates an obligation to act in many white people, whether that’s subconsciously living in predominantly white areas, or only dating/marrying other white people, or in the most extreme cases, shooting up a supermarket to prevent this perceived replacement. It doesn’t matter if Camus or Carlson or any other commentators condemn these individual expressions of white supremacy as acts of terrorism. The ideology itself, based on a concept of whiteness based upon genetic purity, is the cause of these acts. The Great Replacement becomes a major means of reinforcing white solidarity by presenting a common threat for white people and what is perceived to be white culture.

It’s not just the fear of losing one’s identity at play here; it is also a fear of retribution. Many white people may not acknowledge their privilege, preferring to adopt an individualist attitude about their accomplishments especially when they have suffered hardships in life. But I think deep down we, as white people, understand that society is stacked in our favor, and came at a cost of genocide, slavery, segregation, and discrimination. When you combine this subconscious understanding of privilege with a fearmongering idea like The Great Replacement, it stokes a fear of retribution among white people, the same fear that drove the formation of the KKK after the Civil War, along with every other white supremacist organization that followed around the world.

Breaking White Solidarity
For white people today, it is important to remember that some ideologies are imposed, some are embraced, and some must be resisted. Whiteness as a social concept, based on genetic purity, is one ideology that reared its head in the United States and has spread throughout Europe as a response to the diversification of populations in the post-colonial world. It has been imposed upon white people by previous generations of white people and maintained by the current generation of white people in power. It is an ideology so powerful that many white people have grown up in an environment where it is accepted as a scientific fact instead of as a social concept.

Some white people have chosen to embrace this ideology, championing for social and cultural structures to maintain genetic purity. These white people are organizing in our communities, on college campuses, and in online forums, openly calling for white supremacism and funding politicians to push their agendas, sometimes even running for office directly. Every white supremacist believes they are speaking for the good of all white people and for some larger idea of white culture, seeing all non-white people as a threat to genetic purity and/or personal wellbeing.

When white supremacists speak on our behalf, and we stand by silently going about our daily lives, then we are engaging in a profound act of white solidarity. Our collective silence in response to Buffalo, and to ideologies like The Great Replacement, speak volumes to non-white individuals within this country and around the world. We will talk about poor upbringing or mental illness or violent video games or just about anything else but the white supremacist ideologies that drove these attacks. Remaining silent only reinforces our solidarity with white supremacist beliefs. If we are not actively resisting white supremacism, and separating ourselves from their ideologies, then we are embracing those ideologies with our silence.

We have a social responsibility to respond to what is happening, to acknowledge and condemn white supremacy in all its forms as terrorism. Actions must also be taken to counteract the actions taken by white supremacists within our society. We should be disassociating with any news outlet, political party, or social organization that gives even lip service to white supremacist ideologies, especially The Great Replacement. Companies should stop advertising with media outlets that provide a platform for white supremacy. Plenty of Internet out there to post white nationalist garbage that doesn’t need the help of billion-dollar media companies for promotion.

Republican voters and the Republican Party must remove ties with the white supremacists within their ranks. The Republican Party has an obligation to purge this element from the party or they are tacitly accepting their direct association with white supremacism. Liz Cheney, of all people and with all her problems, has either begun this effort within the GOP or is fulfilling the role of Rotating Villain as a principled smokescreen for party goals.

Republican voters should make sure their primary candidates aren’t far-right nationalists or perhaps consider leaving the party. As mentioned in my last piece, three out of five white men and one of every two white women voted for Trump in 2020, who unabashedly supported white supremacism. Every voter has a political responsibility to vote for the candidate to represent them in government. If you vote for a candidate who espouses white supremacist views, or for a party that tolerates white supremacist views, then you are endorsing someone to represent those views in government. We are responsible for the leaders we elect to government.

Democratic voters don’t get a pass here, either, as long as the Democratic Party continues to support center-right candidates that promote white supremacist policies, like police militarization and keeping immigrants seeking asylum in cages at the border. Democratic Party representatives who espouse a spirit of bipartisanship are particularly aggravating while the Republican Party continues to stand with white supremacist politicians and voters. This fetishization of bipartisanship among white Democrats is yet another form of white solidarity.

Finally, if you know someone in your life that is a white supremacist or espouses white supremacist views, then you need to take one of two actions: confrontation about their views or disassociation from them entirely. White people have this knack for believing they can be friends with people who have different political opinions, as if it were something as trivial as pizza toppings or sports teams. But when you make space for a white supremacist in your life, you are tolerating their views and reinforcing this notion of white solidarity.

Breaking white solidarity is a necessary step for white people to confront the ideologies of white supremacy in our lives. Confronting these ideologies enables us to begin understanding what drives them, to begin dismantling this paradox of whiteness based on genetic purity, and to repair the damage of this concept to non-white individuals within society. We cannot make excuses for confronting these notions, because the price of our delay is measured by acts like Christchurch and El Paso and Buffalo. If we are not actively speaking out against white supremacism, then we are allowing white supremacists to speak for us. It is time to break our silence.



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