What is white supremacy?

Sometimes the terms ‘white nationalism’ and ‘white supremacy’ seem to be used interchangeably and it’s hard to tell if – and how – they differ. Let’s try and clear up the uncertainty.

White nationalism

‘White nationalism’ is a political ideology that advocates a national identity for white people. It includes principles and ideas that provide the framework for white nationalist groups and political parties.

Of course, just because white nationalism has a formal political ideology doesn’t mean the principles are ‘right’. In fact, they’re often based on the unfounded belief that white people are ‘superior’, which is why many white nationalists advocate separation from non-white people.

White nationalist groups range from those that use racial slurs and incite violence to those that present themselves as serious and non-violent organisations using pseudo-academic language to get their ideas across. Using ‘academic’ language can give them more credibility and might allow them to reach a more mainstream audience which would otherwise be put off by the extremism and violence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

But all white nationalists believe in the need for a separate state for white people so they can ‘defend’ themselves against threats like immigration and inter-marriage with non-white people.

White nationalist groups exist in many countries, including Australia (see Do white nationalists exist in Australia?).

White supremacy

In comparison, ‘white supremacy’ is a unifying concept underlying many white nationalist groups.

‘White supremacy’ is a belief in the supremacy of the white race and the inherent inferiority of all other races. White supremacists see white skin colour as meaning they are biologically, physically and intellectually superior to non-whites, which justifies their bad treatment of them.

The idea of white supremacy gained ‘scientific’ footing in the nineteenth century when the wrong methods and flawed principles were applied. For example, white scientists used to measure human skulls to determine levels of intelligence. They concluded that white people had the largest brains and were therefore more intelligent.

Scientists have since disproved these ‘scientific’ differences, but white supremacists still base their belief system on the dated idea of racial superiority of white people plus the argument that white people are facing targeted systematic destruction from non-whites.

These days, some white nationalists actively reject the label of ‘white supremacist’ because they think it’s associated with violence and intimidation. They say things like:

White supremacy is not a movement with goals, it’s just an opinion.

White supremacists want to rule the other races. White nationalists want only to rule ourselves without being overwhelmed by hordes of MUDs (they mean people with dark skin).

However, this distancing from white supremacy is strategic and superficial. White nationalists follow the same basic principles – they just want to be seen as more moderate.

No matter what they say, white nationalists still have white supremacist beliefs. The white nationalist political party, American Third Position (A3P), believes ‘there is a real need to educate European Americans that they have common interests, common values, and common traditions’.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find the party was established by racist Southern California skinheads and ‘aims to deport immigrants and return the United States to white rule’.

As you can see, many white nationalists distance themselves from the negative connotations of white supremacy, but there are still some underlying similarities that just won’t go away:

  • both believe in the superiority of white people and the alleged inferiority of non-white people. It’s just that white nationalists sometimes won’t admit it outright;
  • both believe that racial ‘identity’ must be maintained by all peoples, but only the white racial identity is under threat;
  • both have a common goal of a separate white homeland;
  • both believe that conflict is inevitable if different people are forced to share the same territories.

We use the term ‘white nationalism’ on this website because it’s more encompassing, but it’s still important to recognise the principles on which this political ideology is based.