I remember speaking about the global rise of white supremacy with a community member who lives near Oxford. A sad note crept into her voice as she described her grandson’s interactions with his white South African stepfather, specifically about the automatic weapon that the South African man gave to her grandson for his sixteenth birthday. “It had the words ‘White Power’ written on it,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.
This encounter with the community member is seared into my memory, especially in the wake of the shootings that occurred in New Zealand last week. For far too long, white supremacy has been disregarded as a legitimate domestic and international security concern. Decades, if not centuries, of global intimidation and terrorism committed in the name of “white power” must be accounted for if future shootings are to be prevented. People across the globe must realize that white supremacy is not a specter of a contextualized and distant past. Instead, individuals and groups within modern society find new ways to resurrect it in violent forms with long-lasting impacts on communities, governments, and global relationships. It is time that white supremacy is treated like what it truly is – an ideology synonymous with terrorism.
Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist who filmed himself shooting over fifty Muslims in New Zealand, unapologetically stated that his actions were those of a terrorist. Despite condemning the attacks, some international leaders attempted to blame Brenton Tarrant’s decisions on the global migration of minorities. One such leader is Fraser Anning, an Australian senator and strong advocate for anti-immigration policies. Although he has become a recent internet sensation for being egged on live television, Mr. Anning’s beliefs are normalized rhetoric in many political spheres across the globe. During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump frequently attacked both Mexican immigrants and openly propagated Islamophobia within his voter base. President Trump is viewed as a hero within many transnational white supremacist groups. In fact, Brenton Tarrant identified Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Politicians, especially leaders of Western governments, have a responsibility to acknowledge white supremacy as a guise of terrorism. Arguments that blame immigrants only complexify the violent nature of white supremacy, thus allowing it to disseminate and evolve in clandestine spaces. For example, many white supremacist groups take advantage of online forums and meme pages to appeal to internet users and recruit members. Here, groups provide legitimacy to claims of white superiority, normalize violence against minorities, and instill fear that white people are threatened by communities of other ethnicities. Brenton Tarrant was a part of an online white supremacist group, and labeled Muslim immigrants as “invaders,” thus allowing him to justify the killing of all Muslims, even children.
In order to acknowledge white supremacy, politicians and leaders must first recognize atrocities committed against minority groups. The Trail of Tears in the United States, the Jim Crow era, modern police brutality, the horrors of the Belgian Congo, the Apartheid, and the displacement of countless of indigenous peoples by colonial governments are just a few examples of violence that politicians in these regions must recognize as acts of ideologically-driven violence. Although these historical periods may seem far removed from our daily lives, we are living in a world shaped by them. White supremacy is insidious in many of the institutions and structures that dictate our reality and constitutes the basis for hatred and violence against minorities. Without politicians who make undertones of white supremacy visible, it will continue to be replicated by arguments that blur the lines of violence and unfairly place blame on marginalized communities.
To conclude, the story that the Oxford community member told me supports the growing belief that white supremacy is a global ideology of terror. Lessons of hatred from the Apartheid have been transmitted to a vulnerable American teenager in 2019, proving the transnational nature of white supremacy. Politicians and citizens everywhere must be held accountable for identifying sub-texts and ingrained messages that promote white superiority and normalize radical violence. After the tragic loss of life in New Zealand, it is more critical than ever to hold white supremacists to the same standards that we subject all other terrorists to. How can some politicians react with outrage towards Islamic extremists, yet attempt to legitimize violence when white supremacists kill innocent Muslim families?
Image by Tayfun Salci