For weeks, over and over, people said the election was stolen.
Many of us have been baffled by such assertions. How can so many people honestly believe the election was stolen when there is essentially no evidence of fraud, collusion, ballot tampering? No evidence at all. In what world would someone think the election was stolen?
In what world? In the world of white supremacy.
Let’s understand what white supremacy is. The online Merriam Webster dictionary says that white supremacy is “the belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” Note that the definition is not limited to people who set fire to Black churches or lead vigilante mobs lynching Black men. Anyone is a white supremacist who operates on the conscious or unconscious assumption that white people are better than others and are entitled by virtue of race to exercise control that others don’t have.
Most white people in the United States are white supremacists. Many steadfastly and in absolute good faith deny that they live by those beliefs, but in fact they do. It’s almost impossible to have grown up in America and not learned to be a white supremacist. A white person elected as Secretary of the State is presumed competent; the first Black person elected to that position enjoys no such presumption and may even be presumed incompetent. That’s white supremacy.
White supremacists believe that their superior position in society is a birthright. They believe they are entitled to their superior position, and no law or legal action should take it from them.
And, of course, the belief in white supremacy isn’t limited to white people. The supremacy of white people is drummed into Black people from the earliest days of their lives. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin describes the time that as a teenage Black boy, the terrifying total reality of being subjugated to white authority crashed down on him. Blacks are forced to believe in white supremacy, and once they learn that white people are supreme, it’s nearly impossible to be truly free in this country. It’s almost as difficult for Blacks to get white supremacist notions out of their heads as it is for whites.
Understand what I’m saying: white supremacy is not limited to some lunatic fringe. White supremacy is the American way of life. When confronted with any political question, many (I’d guess most) white Americans start with the understanding that white people run this country, and with the belief that white people deserve to be on top and are supposed to be on top. If I see a photo of a dozen white Congressmen, nothing inside tells me there’s anything wrong with that picture. However, a photo of a dozen Black Congress men and women is immeditately remarkable to me. It’s embarrassing and painful to confront this reality It isn’t easy to see, because we don’t want to see it in ourselves, but it’s there in millions and millions of us.
From the white-supremacist point of view, the election was stolen. White supremacists believe they are entitled to control elections, and it’s natural to believe that the election was stolen if increasing numbers of people of color voted in an election that turned out the “wrong” way.
Suppose a white supremacist couple is selling their house, and they have an open house. Ten potential buyers come through the house, nine white and one Black. After the open house, the sellers notice that a television is missing. What do they presume? The Black buyer stole the TV, right? The white supremacist response to the election is no different. And remember, I’m not talking about just the church-bombing white supremacist – there are millions and millions of people whose belief system tells them what happened to the TV, and to the election.
We know that election laws have been and sometimes still are written to reinforce the white supremacist birthright by prohibiting or substantially restricting meaningful participation in elections by people of color, particularly Blacks. The Voting Rights Act began to change that order of things, culminating in the election of Barack Obama. The white supremacists viewed that election as an existential threat. They responded in 2016 by getting behind a champion who said he would make America great again. Many people understood that to mean that he would give control of the country back to the white people. He did his best to fulfill that promise.
Many white and Black Americans responded to the resurgence of public white supremacy by redoubling their efforts to make the vote available to everyone, by running an election that comported with the spirit as well as the letter of the Voting Rights Act.
White supremacists don’t believe the election was stolen by fraud. They believe their birthright was stolen by the growing hordes of people of color who voted lawfully against the idea that white people are entitled to be on top.
The problem is that American white supremacists (is there any other kind?) believe the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are for them alone. They may believe in a government of laws, not men, but they believe those laws are to operate for the benefit of white people. They resisted true freedom throughout the 19th century, most notably in the Civil War, they resisted it throughout the 20th century, most notably with Jim Crow laws and intense segregation, and they are resisting it in the 21st century by seeking to tear down the American institutions that seem finally to have begun making freedom available to everyone.
Our country must say “no, absolutely not” to those who believe that their skin color accords them any rights whatsoever, and to those who enable them. White people have no birthright. White supremacists who would tear down our world must be stopped. They are grave threats to true freedom and an equitable social order.