Current Events

The Enduring Effects of White Supremacy in American Culture

Jarvis Williams

Dylann Roof, a white male with a white supremacist ideology, shot and murdered 9 African-American Christians gathered for a Wednesday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church—a historic African-American church in Charleston, SC. This evil act supports that the sin and evil ideology of white supremacy still holds a grip on parts of American culture. The Charleston shooting is the recent, most violent expression of white supremacy in America. The constructs of race and racism are very complicated, but white supremacy is basically an ideology that believes the European/white race is biologically superior to the black/African-American race. White supremacy had its racist fangs in the ideology of American culture from this country’s beginning.

Thomas Jefferson, one of American’s founding fathers, believed that blacks have a natural inferiority to whites. In his day, Jefferson suggested that the black “race” was inferior to whites. In his Notes on the State of Virginia in the 1700s, Jefferson stated “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” (Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 138-143). To be fair, Jefferson’s notes do not state that he believed his views of blacks were scientifically verifiable. It is clear, however, that he thought blacks were nevertheless inferior to whites. Jefferson is the same man who signed the Declaration of Independence, which affirmed that “all men are created equal.” He, along with many other founding fathers, embraced a white supremacist ideology that believed the white race was superior to the black race. But from where did the American construct of race and white supremacy come and why does current American culture both consciously and subconsciously continue to affirm this construct?

The English term “race” first referred to human beings as a term of classification in English literature in the 16th century. In the 18th century, the term “race” was applied broadly to the diverse populations of Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans in England’s American colonies. In this historical context, the term “race” developed into a hierarchal ranking system, which reflected the dominant English attitudes toward the diverse groups of people. The conquered Indians were segregated from Europeans, exploited, or expelled from their lands for new colonists. The enslavement of Africans and their offspring was eventually institutionalized in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By then, many Africans were identified as property and sources of wealth.

In the 18th century, European scientists collected data and arranged materials about the newly discovered people in the New World, Asia, and Africa. Scientists like Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and Johann Blumenbach (1752-1850) thought that different groups represented variants within a human species. As a result, they constructed “racial” categories based on skin color and other physical characteristics. However, their method often included anecdotal data from travelers, missionaries, merchants, and sailors instead of depending on hard science. Eventually, these descriptions and classifications of diverse people entered the learned communities in Europe and America, and these communities eagerly appropriated these classifications to folk ideas about human differences. Eighteenth century anti-slavery sentiments threatened the system of American slavery. Advocates of slavery developed new and stronger rationalizations for the institution than previous arguments by focusing on the slaves’ nature and by hyperbolically explaining the differences between Africans and Europeans. Defenders of slavery linked behavior with Negro biology and constructed a description of Africans that suggested they were innately wild, uncivilized, inferior to whites, and whose natural state was slavery (Audrey Smedley, “Race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

The earliest and most sustained arguments of black inferiority arose in this period. Edward Long, a Jamaican jurist and a plantation owner, and Charles White, an English physician, employed an ancient model of a racial taxonomy in order to argue for the natural inferiority of Africans. By the 19th century, as abolitionism increased, folk images of Indians and blacks as inherently inferior became increasingly popular. The scientific writings of Samuel Morton, a Philadelphia physician who collected and measured skulls, Louis Agassiz, a Harvard zoologist, Josiah Nott, an Alabama physician, and others within the scientific community identified the Negro as “a separate human species.” Scientific debates eventually emerged in the middle of the 19th century about the Negro’s place in nature. “On one side were polygenists who, using cranial measurements and archaeological measurements, asserted that blacks had been created separately and were a distinct species.” Using equally pseudo-scientific racism, monogenists argued for a single creation. Yet, they likewise maintained that Negros had degenerated. Both of these so-called scientific communities accepted an image of the Negro that was tantamount to distinctions within species. These racist classifications became widespread throughout Europe and America during the 18th-19th centuries (Audrey Smedley, “race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

In its modern form, then, white supremacy is a racist social construct that emerged in modernity in the 18th-19th centuries, influenced by scientific racism—eventually called pseudo-science. The category of “race” as we use it today in America emerged out of this racist context. Those in the 18th-19th centuries basically defined race as fixed, immutable, determined, biological characteristics that classified a group as superior or inferior to others without allowing for individual differentiation within a particular group. An element of this modern race theory suggests that certain “races” are biologically more beautiful than other races. For example, in his Outline of the History of Mankind, Christoph Meiners (1747-1816) stated “one of the chief characteristics of tribes and peoples is the beauty or ugliness of the whole body or face” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation from German original Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 43). He classified blacks as “ugly” people “distinct” from the “white and beautiful peoples by their sad lack in virtue and their various terrible vices” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation of Meiners, Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 116).

Racism, therefore, as an American social construct is an ideology of hate and particularly an ideology of hatred directed toward black or dark skinned people. And it refers to “any attitude towards individuals and groups of people which posits a direct linear connection between physical and mental qualities. It therefore attributes to those individuals and groups of people collective traits, physical, mental, and moral, which are constant and unalterable by human will, because they [are believed by the racist] to be caused by hereditary factors or external influences, such as climate or geography” (Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 23) (bracketed emphasis mine). One thing that makes racism so evil and potentially deadly is that racists consider individuals “as superior or inferior because they are believed to share imagined physical, mental, and moral attributes with the group to which they are deemed to belong, and it is assumed that they cannot change these traits individually” (Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Race in Classical Antiquity, 23).

In fact, many racists in the 18th-19th centuries and racists today believe that it’s absolutely impossible to change these fixed, biological traits because they are predetermined by their physical, biological makeup. This is why many of our founding fathers believed racist ideas about blacks. This view of race is why racist Nazis sought to exterminate the Jewish people, why the KKK has historically committed hate crimes against African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, and the above racist view of race explains why Dylann Roof, and other white supremacists like him, believe that blacks are evil and are inferior to whites: namely, because these racist groups embrace a white supremacist view of the world, a view which by definition requires them to classify groups based on perceived, illusory, fixed, immutable, and inferior physical, mental, and moral traits for the purpose of advancing a white supremacist ideology.

However, although the racism of white supremacy has often historically manifested itself by means of violence and terror—as we’ve seen with the Nazis, slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and the devastating Charleston shooting—the ideology of white supremacy is still present in America even when unaccompanied by violence. For example, when white parents refuse to let their kids date or marry African-Americans, they do so because of an inherited white supremacist worldview. White supremacist ideology is the reason why many make racist statements like “why do black people act that way” or “black people want to rape our women” without any evidence or scientific proof. A white supremacist worldview is present when teachers and professors make their students read only white authors or when they ignore black, brown, or African-American voices in history. A white supremacist worldview is present when whites naturally suspect blacks as being intellectually inferior because they are black. A white supremacist worldview is present when political leaders in Southern states, once divided by slavery and still affected by racism, refuse to take down the Confederate Flag—a symbol of white supremacist, racial hatred. A white supremacist worldview is present when the media reports crimes committed by blacks and people of color against whites as normal and crimes committed by whites against blacks or people of color as abnormal. A white supremacist worldview is present in churches when members refuse to pursue racial reconciliation or leave when their churches diversify or when the church’s leadership diversifies. A white supremacist worldview is present when people choose to isolate themselves from people of color because of race and associate themselves with their racial homogenous group.

Unfortunately, white supremacy showed its ugly face in Charleston, SC when Dylann Roof executed a premeditated and calculated massacre of 9 African-American Christians at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, this methodical act of racist terror should remind every single American and every Christian that Dylann Roof’s racist actions were the result of his sin, and his personal and willful participation in and compliance with his choice to sin resulted in a massacre of 9 innocent African-American Christians in a sacred place—a church that has been a symbol of African-American freedom in this country for decades. Sin continues to use the racist ideology of white supremacy in many different aspects of American culture, even though we are now living in a post-segregation age, for there are those Americans who consciously and subconsciously often assume that whites are superior to blacks and people of color. And neither new laws nor a resilient enforcement of old laws or government restrictions will change a white supremacist’s racist heart. Only the life giving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will turn white supremacist hatred, and all racist hatred, into Christ-centered love.

The Church of Jesus Christ must in fact state loudly and clearly that God has provided redemption from the evil ideology of white supremacy and from all forms of racism. God’s provision is the bloody and resurrected gospel of Jesus Christ who died and resurrected to unify all things and all people in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-3:8). And the only way white supremacy and all forms of racism will be overcome is by multi-racial partnerships of gospel believing Christians and churches scattered throughout the world faithfully proclaiming and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ and pressing the claims of the gospel onto racist societies. Jesus’ ability to bring redemption and racial reconciliation through the gospel was so powerfully personified in the Charleston, SC court when the Christian families preached the gospel to Dylann Roof and offered him their forgiveness even as they expressed their grief. As the family has so beautifully demonstrated, Jesus Christ is God’s provision for racial reconciliation and the solution to racism. The gracious response of love from the beautiful African-American Christian family members directly affected by Dylann Roof’s racist actions, and the response of many African-American and white Christians in Charleston, also prove that the ideology of white supremacy is based on a racist lie. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that Dylann Roof, and all racists in both church and society, must repent of the sins of racism, embrace Jesus by faith, and live in pursuit of racial reconciliation in the power of the Spirit.

12 thoughts on “The Enduring Effects of White Supremacy in American Culture

  1. Billy Bob

    I really don’t see much racism. What I see is reactions to behavior that is non European. What we have is a clash of civilizations. The more European a black person acts, the more acceptable they are into white or European society. Conversely the more gang, rap, drugs, guns and non European behavior the more people even blacks want to move to white neighborhoods just look at all the black celebrities and politicians they almost all live in nearly exclusive white areas this is partly because of wealth but they are emulating European culture. I never see any of these people moving to the South Side of Chicago. Its class but also culture. People want to be with people with similar values so its easy to for whites to hang out with whites, blacks with blacks so there is no white supremacy in that. Some of these issues might be related to IQ. Many black countries have very low average IQ’s which is unfortunate so if we could somehow raise IQ thru better nutrition, clean water and prenatel care then that would help.

  2. PermReader

    One supremacy can`t be destroye by the creation of the other one.White supremacy is built on the ignoring the role of ancient non European Semito-Hamitic civilizations,though non blacks.The Idea of leading role of blacks in ancient history is fals and makes harm to black people future.

  3. Ginger

    Hello Jarvis,
    This is a wonderfully written article and I appreciate the structure and validity of its content. Thank you for sharing your time, work, and efforts to write this post with reliable cited sources to refer back to.

  4. Ginger

    Hello Johnathan, what a thought-provoking response. Perhaps, Abraham Lincoln would have been a good example for this article. Thank you for sharing and setting me out to research more about the points you mentioned here. Very interesting and surprising… we learn something new everyday. This is what intrigues me about life most, there are overwhelming amounts of history to be discovered.

  5. Ginger

    Kraig, are you serious? I am certain that Jarvis used the term “African-American” simply as an identifier to illustrate which group of people he is referring to in this article, nothing more or less. To express offense at that causes me to question your sincerity. Implying that Jarvis is “lumping” you into an unfair category by identifying people as “white” is petty and ridiculous. Is it so difficult to just leave a compliment and sign off or is criticism in some form necessary when Jarvis does so well at articulating facts? To be quite honest, I could pick a fight with you too, mainly because your argument failed to include “African-Americans” right to be identified properly, too. Or do you assume that all black people came from one small corner in Africa? Well guess what, black Americans are also multi-dimensional and are from all over the world. They can be referred to as Jamaican, Bahamian, Cuban, Puerto-Rican, Haitian, Dominican, Parisian, Ghana, English, Brazilian, Namibia, Angola, and the list goes on and on and on. We too are born all over the world, just 3 generation ago. If we all required an exact categorical description it would be very difficult for the journalist to do. It is a rare occasion when we can simply look at a person and assume we know where they are from, unless we are playing into biases or white-supremacy. Science has already proven that all mankind originated in Africa so if you want to be technical we are all African whether we realize which part we are from or not. Do not assume that the term African-American reaches the full spectrum and true identity of each individual people of color, that would be very close minded and inaccurate. There are many “African-Americans” who scoff at that term and resent it for the same reasons I have mentioned. Unless a writer has good reason to, he usually identifies people in the simplest way so the reader has a general idea of who he is referring to, and then he moves on with his point or subject. Hopefully, you have learned something from my comment and will be more thoughtful and less critical in the future.

  6. Ginger

    I came across this article while researching a certain topic, and in doing so ran across your comment. I could barely contain myself and so here is my response, since the author chose not to bother (understandably so). Did you read the article at all or was your response simply left to promote dispute or create ill feelings? Do you really expect Jarvis to be responsible for the political choices of the black men you mentioned here, or are you just being cynical? That would be like me asking you to be responsible for the behavior and choices of your adult family members, extended and near, just ridiculous and senseless. God-fearing pro-life candidates? I doubt that, but even if it were true, I’d say people have free will and can exercise either end without your or my interruptions and influences. Perhaps, in this imperfect world a woman should have the first right to choose what she does with her body, not some extreme imperfect political bible thumper (no disrespect intended toward Christians). Who are you to decide that for them? As far as blacks mostly being murdered by other blacks, were you not aware that whites are also mostly killed by other whites, and so on? That statement meant nothing, nor did it prove anything except what we already knew, perpetrators of crimes typically commit acts of violence within their own communities/homes/etc. It is just a fact of ordinary convenience and psychological culture that has been proven by reliable producers of statistics/psychological proofs. Now, with regards to how long the “negro” can blame “dead white men” for their problems, I’d say for however long dead and breathing white men cause those problems. Just in case you weren’t aware, long-term systematic racial issues die slow. Here’s a metaphorical example: I piss on your carpet without it being cleaned for 20 years straight. For lack of money you cannot simply throw the carpet away, how long do you think it will take for the smell of urine to finally be gone? I’ll let you figure it out, but I can almost guarantee you that by ignoring or making excuses for it, it still won’t go away. You would have to put the work in and start cleaning as often as necessary to remove the stench!

    Years and years of systematic racial abuse – bias – and white supremacy – does not just cease to effect because you lose your cool, it takes effort, openness, and acceptance to break up and dismantle the culture that set this rotten ideology in motion. If you are still not convinced, use yourself as an example of how hard it is to change. Being better is not easy, staying the same always is less challenging. Your rambling comment is certainly proof of this.

  7. xRVAx

    Interesting overall read … especially tracing the development of “race” as a “scientific” concept… but i have a bone to pick with part of your analysis. While I agree that much of the scientific establishment formed a tiered, “white supremacist” view of race, that view was not entirely accepted. Many Christians in that era rejected this racist racial view on account of the Biblical belief that all humankind are descended from Adam. Indeed, most Christians today believe that in Christ there is no east or west, greek or jew, male or female… and we are called to be ministers of holy reconciliation. So yes, there is a legacy of pseudoscientific “white superiority” in American that Christians today must help to fix, but there is also a positive legacy of unity, integrity, action, missional cooperation, and racial reconciliation that Christians of all races can claim and reinforce in American history

  8. Tom Marshall


    Your thought provoking article


    The Apostle Paul instructed slaves to obey their masters as a necessary means of salvation. Col 3:22. Unfortunately white supremacist “Christians” have used this scripture to promote and justify slavery in the Name of Jesus.

  10. Jonathan Cigary

    I agree with everything you said in this article. However, I wish to point out that using Thomas Jefferson as your example of a racist or a white supremacist, while not exactly untrue, was unfair. We have a much more wonderful example in our history as a country, Abraham Lincoln. To quote our 16th president…“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This is a man who, in his first inaugural address, supported the Corwin Amendment, which would have enshrined slavery forever in the Constitution. This same speech gave his reason for invasion of the south as, not about slavery, but about “collecting duties and imposts…” (taxes). He supported Black Codes laws in Illinois as a state legislator, and until his dying day pushed for colonization of blacks back to Africa because he didn’t believe the white and black races should mix in society. So this is your shining example of white supremacy, not a man who supported individual liberties and keeping government restrained by having the federal govt follow the law of the land, the Constitution. One more small criticism… you mention southern society being racist and you are correct. But back in the 1800’s, the north was perhaps even more anti-black than the south. So, as much as I appreciate and wholeheartedly embrace your calls for racial reconciliation, lets give the people the entire truth about why our country was as racist and white supremacist a society.

  11. Kraig


    I always appreciate your reflections on race issues. I’m curious as to why you and others are careful to use the term “African-American” to refer to Americans (or Christians!) with ancestral roots in Africa, even as you use the generic term “white” to refer to Americans with ancestral roots from many different European countries — in the same sentence!

    As someone with ancestral roots from the Netherlands just three generations ago, I could take offense at being lumped in with the English, Irish, and Germans under the generic “white” category, or insist that I be called Dutch-American, or even better, a Dutch-American Reformed Christian. But I don’t. Because I’m an American–a citizen of the USA. More importantly, I’m a Christian–a citizen of the Kingdom of God. While I would accurately be described as white–my skin is quite fair–I don’t think that has any bearing on those two citizenships, and therefore should not be used as a formal qualifier for either. In other words, there are no white (or black) Americans/Christians, but there are Christians/Americans who are also considered black (or white) under a different categorical description. And while it would be good to ask how skin color or culture or ancestral heritage might affect a person’s experience of being an American or Christian, I wonder if the use of formal racial qualifiers of citizenry helps perpetuate the problem.

  12. Earl

    So, why are virtually all black politicians (many of them preachers) supporting Obama’s push for same-sex marriage, leftist ideology, and anti-Christian bigotry in general? Why do black politicians and ministers support liberal candidates who favor abortion over conservative, God-fearing pro-life candidates in virtually every election? Most blacks are murdered by other blacks. Did the Confederate flag make them do it? For how long can you blame the Negro’s problems on dead white men? Your rambling post fails to convince.

Leave A Comment