Solidarity is not enough – white people need to take responsibility for white supremacy

A Jewish man in New Zealand stands with a sign – ‘we are all Muslims’ – in solidarity with the Muslim community in Christchurch. This image might seem at odds with the common media and political discourse that often place ‘Jew’ and ‘Muslim’ at odds with each other, yet solidarity between marginalised groups runs deep. It was the Muslim community who first came out in support of the Jewish community after the deadly massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, with Muslim groups raising thousands of dollars. Muslim and Jewish groups were at the forefront of efforts to raise money for the rebuilding of Black churches in the wake of the devastating Charleston Church shooting, a massacre enacted by a white supremacist targeting a Black church.

We Jewish, Muslims, Black, Arab, and Brown people know that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. As Frantz Fanon succinctly puts it ‘the anti-Semite is inevitably negrophobe.’ We know that when one of us is targeted, violence is coming for the other. We know we face the same enemy—white supremacy. An enemy that has been dehumanising, demonising, massacring, and delegitimising us for centuries.

The prevalence of white supremacist violence we see now in the world is alarming, but it’s not a surprise. As Jews and Muslims, as Black, Arab, and Brown people, we are consistently the target of racist rhetoric and politics. As such, we are not surprised by these attacks. After all, our lives are shaped by everyday racism: veiled Muslim women are spat on and forcibly unveiled, Muslims are labeled as terrorists, Jews are attacked for being Jews, and Black peoples’ experience of state sanctioned violence and police brutality are common, daily, occurrences.

Our experience tells us that white supremacy is not marginal; it is at the heart of our political systems. It is structural. Antisemitism, Islamophobia, negrophobia, and xenophobia have not emerged out of nothing. We should be alarmed that perpetrators of such violence are emboldened in the current political climate, but let us not for a moment forget that this violence underpins political, legal, and social system.  We live in a country built on the genocide of Indigenous peoples – on a racial desire for a pure white polity and on a desire to sustain it as such. We live in a country where the core of our political structure – the state, the law – are based on white supremacy.

The Christchurch Mosque massacres illustrate to us that white supremacist ideology has become mainstream. This violence is the product of post September 11 global Islamophobic discourse, the mainstreaming of racist rhetoric, and the legitimisation of white supremacy by political leaders globally. This violence is a result of having a white supremacist in the White House, of a political system in which the political instinct of the Australian Liberal ruling party is to support an ‘it’s OK to be white’ motion raised by a far-right party. In Israel, the successors of Baruch Goldstein – a member of Meir Kahane’s Kach’s party and the man who committed the Ibrahimi mosque massacre at Hebron in 1994 – now enjoy the legitimacy of Israel’s Prime Minister and have joined the Likud, Israel’s ruling party. We ought not forget that Israel has been a major producer and benefactor of global Islamophobia and an ally of antisemitic white supremacists around the world for their anti-Muslims sentiments.

In an act of utter hypocrisy, Donald Trump and Scott Morrison rushed to condemn the terrorist attack on Muslims in Christchurch. In his statement, Trump did not even mention the word ‘Muslims’. Meanwhile, Morrison called on Australians to unite against the ‘real enemy … hatred and intolerance’as if there was no ideology behind them. This is blatant erasure of racial white violence on marginalised communities. What we need is not condemnation but accountability.

Racist rhetoric, anti-Muslim and anti-migrant legislation, and the delegitimisation of the ‘non-white other’ translate into actions. They produce an environment that makes our bodies a target. When you label Muslims as a threat to national security, when a sitting senator blames Muslims for being murdered by white supremacist simply because they exist, when you tell the public that migrants and refugees don’t fit with Australian values, when you allow neo-Nazis to protest freely and to express antisemitic discourses in the name of freedom of expression, you produce the conditions that make racialised violence not only possible, but desirable and ultimately inevitable.

Contributing to the normalisation of racial violent ideologies are the discourses of the media and politics, which create a false equivalency, demanding that ‘both sides’ of any issue have the right to an equal platform. This equates white supremacists – whose ideology views non-whites as inferior – with the radical left, which stands for equality and humanity, against white supremacy and racial bigotry. The two are framed as opposite extremes. They are not.

The liberal commitment to the freedom to express hate speech is part of the problem. It makes targets out of us, the racialised. It is our bodies that pay the price. And when we stand against the Nazis and Fascists, it is us who are labelled as ‘violent’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘angry’. It is us who ‘disturb the public order’.

The Christchurch mosque attacks have conjured waves of support and solidarity and shame. These are important and heartwarming, but they are not enough. Every attack of this kind opens floodgates of racialised violence. It legitimises and emboldens. White people need to take responsibility for white supremacy.

Until white people start to dismantle the structures of white supremacy that are embedded in the state and in the politics of empire, nothing will change.



Image: Muhammad Ashiq / flickr

Lana Tatour

Dr Lana Tatour (PhD, Politics and International Study) is a Palestinian scholar. She is an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales and specialises in postcolonial/settler colonial studies, indigeneity, and civil society and resistance.

More by Lana Tatour ›

Na'ama Carlin

Na'ama Carlin is sociologist, writer, and academic. A dual Israeli-Australian citizen, she writes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ethics, identity, and violence. You can follow her on Twitter as @derridalicious

More by Na'ama Carlin ›

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  1. What you say about oppressed peoples often supporting each other is true, but how do you square that with the ugly attitudes many Muslims have towards gay people, all over the world?

    Just as all Muslims are unfairly asked to take responsibility for a terrorist attack committed by a Muslim, nor are white people entirely responsible for Christchurch. Only some.

    1. Dave, comparing all Muslims being wrongly accused of terrorism with all white people being told they are responsible for dismantling white supremacy is a bad analogy. It kind of plays into the ‘false equivalency’ that is one of the more salient points of the article as well. A crucial difference is that all white people (including me) benefit from white supremacy and therefore DO have a responsibility to challenge it. This doesn’t mean that all white people are literally responsible for what happened in Christchurch. But it DOES mean all white people have a responsibility to challenge the systematic racism that allows and encourages certain racist ideologies to flourish, inevitably leading to this kind of violence. Doing nothing is the same as being complicit. It’s not just the outspoken bigots who need to change their behaviour.

      I’ll also point out that almost all of the people in any positions of power and/or influence, with the ability to ‘dismantle the structures of white supremacy’ are white – politicians, policy makers, owners of newspapers, owners of television stations, journalists, film-makers, etc – therefore it is up to white people to break the circuit. Let me quote something from the book White Fragility by Robyn Diangelo to make the point. ’Take women’s suffrage. If being a woman denies you the right to vote, you ipso facto cannot grant it to yourself. And you certainly cannot vote for your right to vote. If men control all the mechanisms that exclude women from voting as well as the mechanisms that can reverse that exclusion, women must call on men for justice.’ Now replace women with people of colour. Given white people control everything, the only way forward is for people of colour to call on white people to dismantle white supremacy. White people need to spend more time listening to people of colour when they explain what racism is and how it operates. Race is an incredibly complex issue – it isn’t just a matter of opinion. It’s important to listen to people who do understand the many nuances and intricacies of race, in order to eradicate racism. Perhaps ask yourself why you feel the need to defend white people and point out that only ’some’ are responsible. It is untrue, and is not a helpful sentiment in any case.

  2. Leo,

    I get your point about false equivalence.

    What I dislike about concepts like “white fragility” and even “whiteness” / “people of colour” is that these categories are extremely slippery and often are not a particularly useful way of looking at very complex situations.

    I think it leads to assumptions like the one stated by the authors “We Jewish, Muslims, Black, Arab, and Brown people know that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”, which belie the complexity of, for example, anti-gay attitudes prevalent in Muslim communities across the world. I made that point above, which you didn’t address.

  3. Thank you so much for this article. It really is about time that what we generally refer to as “racism” is called predominantly what is is – WHITE SUPREMACY.

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