[Marxism] White-Collar Supremacy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 25 08:17:02 MST 2016

NY Times Op-Ed, Nov. 25 2016
White-Collar Supremacy

Tallahassee, Fla. — Richard B. Spencer is one of the main figures of the 
alt-right movement, a former doctoral student from Duke whose movement 
supports the creation of “an ethno-state” for white Europeans and 
“peaceful ethnic cleansing.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes 
him as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old, a kind 
of professional racist in khakis”; a recent Los Angeles Times profile 
ran with a photo of him in sunglasses and a black shirt, looking more 
like a hipster academic than a Klansman.

This sort of image makeover is a big part of the alt-right’s game. They 
want to convince the media that they are a “new form” of white 
nationalism that we’ve never seen before: clean-cut, intellectual, far 
removed from the unpolished white supremacists of the past. But the 
alt-right is not as new as we might think. In fact, efforts to dress up 
white supremacy in ideas and middle-class respectability have been 
around since the first organized movements emerged in the late 19th 
century — and once again, people are falling for it.

Part of the problem is a lack of historical awareness. When white 
supremacist organizations crop up in tellings of American history, they 
appear and recede from the story quickly, a footnote about racism to be 
overlooked, not a central component of the American story. Hence, the 
alt-right appears novel only if we ignore the continuum of 
“intellectual” white supremacy from which it emerged: scientific racism 
in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the national Ku Klux Klan of the 
1920s, and the Citizens Councils of the 1950s and ’60s.

While the first Klan emerged among Confederate Veterans in the 
post-Reconstruction South, by the end of the 19th century some white 
supremacists had begun to move into more respectable circles by using 
science and Darwinism to explain their views. These ideas had proponents 
across the country, from Southern Bourbons to Boston Brahmins concerned 
with influxes of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Madison Grant, a lawyer, eugenicist and the author of “The Passing of 
the Great Race,” wrote that the American “stock” would be jeopardized by 
these particular European immigrants. Grant established the idea of a 
superior Nordic race, claiming that immigrants from England, Scotland 
and the Netherlands founded America, a Nordic nation.

His book became one of the most popular works on scientific racism to 
originate in the United States; in “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott 
Fitzgerald reflected the way the ideas of Grant and other scientific 
racists worked their way into mainstream thought. “Have you read ‘The 
Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?” Tom Buchanan asks, in 
a thinly masked allusion to Grant. “It’s a fine book, and everybody 
ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will 
be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been 

The book went through multiple printings and translations into different 
languages. Adolf Hitler relied on Grant’s ideas about the supremacy of 
the Nordic race to support sterilization and horrendous medical 
experiments. He called the book “my bible.”

Middle-class white supremacy had another wave of popularity in the 
1920s, when the second Klan, which had a nationwide following, drew on 
the ideas of Grant and others to sell white supremacy to both the rural 
and urban middle classes. It printed newspapers and books, held seminars 
as well as rallies, and even tried to establish a Klan university in 

Along with drumming up racial fears, the 1920s Klan relied on scientific 
and theological racism in The Imperial Night-Hawk, its national 
newspaper. Writing for the paper in 1923, a Louisiana Klansman and 
minister, W. C. Wright, outlined the Klan’s intellectual position on 
white supremacy, in which white people were “the leading race,” America 
was “a white man’s country, discovered, dedicated, settled, defended, 
and developed by white men,” and the distinctions between the races were 
scientific and divinely created.

The 1950s saw another surge of “respectable” racism, this time in the 
form of the Citizens Councils, founded in Mississippi by Robert B. 
Patterson in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education 
decision. Rather than the vigilantism and terrorism of the 1950s and 
’60s Klan, the councils relied on more middle-class methods of opposing 
civil rights: boycotting black-owned businesses and denying mortgages to 
black people. The sociologist Charles M. Payne describes them as 
“pursuing the agenda of the Klan with the demeanor of the Rotary Club.”

While it might seem newsworthy that today’s alt-right members wear suits 
and profess academic-sounding racism, they are an extension of these 
previous white supremacist movements, dressed up in 21st-century lingo, 
social media and fashion. We ignore that continuity at our peril: 
Focusing on their respectability overlooks their racism, but more 
pressingly, by convincing ourselves that they are taking a new, 
mainstream turn, it makes white supremacy appear normal and acceptable.

The alt-right is not an example of white supremacy marching toward the 
mainstream; this has always been the case. It is an example how white 
supremacy went from an unarguable fact of American culture to a 
debatable and offensive reality. That’s not novel; it’s American history.

Kelly J. Baker is the author of “Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s 
Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930” and the editor of Women in 
Higher Education.

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