linguistics professor John McWhorter is a specimen of that very rare creature, a rational liberal. Prof McWhorter had an article in Time magazine,
November 29th, chewing over the use and misuse of the term "white supremacist."
I'm going to leave you to read the article for yourselves — it's
on the internet at time.com. Here in this segment I'm just going to
indulge myself in a short rumination on that same term, "white supremacist."
says that the phrase "white supremacist" was unknown until the 1940s, then underwent a leisurely rise in frequency through to the mid-1980s,
then took off like a rocket and is still climbing fast.
I've always been annoyed by the term because of its ambiguity. What is a white supremacist supposed to be, actually? I know a lot of
people who regularly get called "white supremacists," and they believe different things.
So here's what I'll do. I'll take a stroll along the spectrum of opinions the holding of which will get you called a "white
supremacist" by somebody, somewhere. Ready to stroll? Let's stroll.
The least racialistic of those opinions just argues, with no prejudice to any other race, that the U.S.A. has all the people it needs, and should
have a complete moratorium on immigration until the huge intakes of the past fifty years have been assimilated into a common American identity.
The accurate term for such a person would be "strong immigration restrictionist"; but
Bouie, probably the New York Times, and likely the Wall Street Journal too, would call him (or
her) a "white
Proceeding along the spectrum, there are people who deduce from basic principles of biology, perhaps falsely, that localized groups of humans that
have bred mostly among themselves for many, many generations will have distinctive group characteristics on heritable traits. That would include traits like
intelligence and the various dimensions of personality, which are
all heritable to some degree.
These people get called "white supremacists," too, even though few of them — none at all, to my knowledge — think
that white Europeans cornered all the most desirable traits. If you ask them about intelligence, for example, they'll tell you that East Asians come out
on top, with Whites next, West and South Asians next, then Amerindians, then Africans, then Australian aborigines.
A better descriptor for these people would be the one I tried to float in
There's a subset in that group that I think fairly can be called "white supremacists." Those are people who argue that, yes,
East Asians may come out best on raw smarts, but they are short on some of the personality traits that help people cohere into stable, free societies.
Whites, these folk argue, are in a "Goldilocks" position: enough smarts to build modern civilizations, and the right mix of personality traits to
keep them open and free, at least most of the time, or at very least more of the time than is the case with other races.
For this "Goldilocks" view, I think "white supremacist" is not an unfair descriptor. It loses some of its vituperative power
in this case, though, because the "Goldilocks" view belongs to the category of things that might be true. We don't know anything like
enough about the underlying science to say whether or not it is true, but it's not illogical or preposterous.
Believing things in that category doesn't make you a bad person, though it may turn out that you are honestly mistaken.
Some other people will eschew biology, or have no interest in it, but just appeal to simple empirical observation. At the present stage of human
development, they'll say, nations that are established, mostly populated, and mostly run by people of white-European extraction are the best nations to live
This opinion is "white supremacist" at least implicitly. The problem here is that it is an opinion very widely held by nonwhites. Those
boatloads of black Africans and brown west and south Asians heading north across the Mediterranean all seem to believe it, on the
Revealed Preference principle. Likewise American blacks, vanishingly few of whom display
any desire to flee from the horrid racism of U.S. society to Haiti, or Ghana, or Chad.
A lot of East Asians believe it, too. The current issue of The Economist has
an article on the Chinese
Communist Party's efforts to shut down so-called "international schools": that is, private high schools teaching an international curriculum for
kids planning to study abroad.
The angle is of course that these schools are poisoning the minds of Chinese youngsters with Western liberalism. The problem for the
government campaign against them is that they are very popular with China's big and fast-growing middle class. Quote from The Economist:
It is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57 percent of
Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
End quote. As always in matters of race, the level of hypocrisy here is very high. The next sentence is this one, quote:
Even [Chinese President Xi Jinping] sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.
If you head out further along the spectrum of opinions that regularly get called "white supremacist" you get to people who, without
necessarily holding any opinions at all about the distribution of traits in different races, would just like freedom of association restored so they could
live among their own kind, without being forced by law into contact with other races. I can't see any necessary notion of supremacy in that. "White
separatist" would be the better term.
Then there are people who are fed up with Western society beating up on white people all the time and blaming them for all the world's ills. Like
white separatists, they don't necessarily hold any negative views of other races; they're just tired of hearing their own race insulted. That's
white advocacy, not "white supremacy."
Further out on the spectrum you meet people who want a homeland for white people, with other races excluded. The definition of "other
races" needs a lot of lawyering there. Jews? Muslims? How about Christian Arabs? … etc., etc.
Leaving the lawyering aside, we're talking here about white nationalists.
They want a white nation. They're white nationalists. That's what it means. I can't see any logic in calling them "white supremacists."
And then way further out on the spectrum you get to people who actually wish ill to nonwhites, who would oppress, enslave, or massacre
them if in power. These are generally called Neo-Nazis,
although that's not very accurate as the actual Nazis counted a lot of whites — notably Jews and Slavs — among the outgroups to be
In the fevered imaginations of liberals, all the groups I've worked my way through here nurse malice towards nonwhites. A liberal who's
listened to this segment of the podcast probably thinks I do, notwithstanding I've been married for thirty years to a nonwhite; but that just shows
you how stupid and immune to reason most liberals are.
Is it fair to call this last, most extreme group "white supremacist"? I'll grudgingly allow that it might be; grudgingly, because I've
already passed the phrase as a descriptor for other groups who don't wish any ill to nonwhites. We really need a separate term here. I suggest
"white dominationists" for whites who want to boss other races around, or worse.
The opinion categories I've been enumerating are not mutually exclusive. We all hold lots of opinions. An individual might, without
contradiction, be both a strong immigration restrictionist and a white separatist; or both a white advocate and a white
dominationist. The common thread is that holding any of these opinions will, in today's America, get you tagged as a "white
supremacist," whether or not you also hold any of the others.
Well, those are my ruminations — the ruminations of a guy who, like Prof McWhorter, loves language and cares about the precise meaning
of words. Hi there, Prof. Do you feel as lonely as I do?