Pages -- horizontal menu

White Supremacy, Anyone? American Supremacy, Everyone?

By John K. Stoner (September 15, 2017)

Speaking at the Riverside Church in April 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. upset many of his supporters.

“Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this [poverty] program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

Why upset?  Because King had included more in his condemnation of supremacy thinking than many of his contemporaries and supporters wanted him to include. King had undertaken to address America’s reach for global hegemony as well as its practice of white supremacy.

The purpose of this post is to critique the label and identity “American” in the same way we are critiquing (rightly, of course) the identity of "white" supremacy.

We cannot condemn “white supremacy” and give “American supremacy” a pass.

But it is popular, almost universally acceptable, to do just that.

King said it was time to break the silence on America’s war in Vietnam. Today it is time to break the silence on America’s “war on terror,” justified, legitimized and sanctified by 9/11 (did you celebrate that this week?), America’s war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, America’s endless wars, drone wars, preemptive wars, propaganda wars, wars that make the war profiteers rich (Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatamala, Texas, West Virginia, Korea, Iran, Lebanon, Vietnam,  Laos, Cambodia, Detroit, South Dakota). See Zoltman Grossman’sessay on US interventions written a month after the Twin Towers bombing in 2001. 

“The white supremacy that some of us see as more insidious is not reflected in the simple, stereotypical images of the angry, Nazi-saluting alt-righter or even Donald Trump. Instead, it is the normalized and thus invisible white supremacist ideology inculcated into cultural and educational institutions and the policies that stem from those ideas. That process doesn’t just produce the storm troopers of the armed and crazed radical right but also such covert true believers as Robert Ruben from Goldman Sachs, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Blair and Nancy Pelosi -- 'decent' individuals who have never questioned for a moment the superiority of Western civilization, who believe completely in the White West’s right and responsibility to determine which nations should have sovereignty and who should be the leaders of 'lesser' nations.”    

Tom Engelhardt has been speaking to this in his, publishing people like Ariel Dorfman and his essay, “How to Read Donald Trump.”

“Perhaps more crucial today is the cardinal, still largely unexamined, all-American sin at the heart of those Disney comics: a belief in an essential American innocence, in the utter exceptionality, the ethical singularity and manifest destiny of the United States.

“Back then, this meant (as it still largely does today) the inability of the country Walt was exporting in such a pristine state to recognize its own history. Bring to an end the erasure of, and recurring amnesia about, its past transgressions and violence (the enslavement of blacks, the extermination of natives, the massacres of striking workers, the persecution and deportation of aliens and rebels, all those imperial and military adventures, invasions, and annexations in foreign lands, and a never-ending complicity with dictatorships and autocracy globally), and the immaculate Disney worldview crumbles, opening space for quite another country to make an appearance.”

Anyone who has been reading this blog has seen reason enough to rest uneasy with the identity of “American.”  The behavior of the Empire which is condemned here cannot be condoned overseas.

American supremacy is in a class with white supremacy, and we will not get far toward a sustainable world until this is widely understood and acted upon.


  1. Against Ariel Dorfman, I insist that the United States were indeed exceptional and are now (again) exceptional - the only country in the world which has something like a First Amendment. If the United States fail to uphold this exception, the whole West (and above all, my country - Germany) will follow them; and freedom of expression will soon be unthinkable.
    I don't condone imperialism or supremacy as a kind of behaviour. But I accept that there are states whose constitution is superior to other countries.

    1. I agree with your point. It is an important one and I thank you for making it. Countries, like people, are more than one thing.

  2. Parallels between white supremacy and American supremacy take on another level of importance when one considers that whiteness and the US arose together, neither one being able to exist as they do without the other. It may not be what you're trying to talk about but in this case I think that more historical context (we gave up much of our ethnic culture to create the lie of whiteness as we formed this country etc.) would be very valuable.