In a recent detailed conversation with Dr. Yassir Morsi, commenting on the opening paragraphs of Charles Mills’ book the Racial Contract, Dr. Morsi elaborated and unpacked the three terms: white, whiteness & white supremacy.
Mills’ book begins with the following,
White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today. You will not find this term in introductory, or even advanced, texts in political theory. A standard undergraduate philosophy course will start off with Plato and Aristotle, perhaps say something about Augustine, Aquinas, and Machiavelli, move on to Hobbes, Locke, Mill, and Marx, and then wind up with Rawls and Nozick. It will introduce you to notions of aristocracy, democracy, absolutism, liberalism, representative government, socialism, welfare capitalism, and libertarianism. But though it covers more than two thousand years of Western political thought and runs the ostensible gamut of political systems, there will be no mention of the basic political system that has shaped the world for the past several hundred years. And this omission is not accidental. Rather, it reflects the fact that standard textbooks and courses have for the most part been written and designed by whites, who take their racial privilege so much for granted that they do not even see it as political, as a form of domination. Ironically, the most important political system of recent global history—the system of domination by which white people have historically ruled over and, in certain important ways, continue to rule over nonwhite people—is not seen as a political system at all. It is just taken for granted; it is the background against which other systems, which we are to see as political, are highlighted. This book is an attempt to redirect your vision, to make you see what, in a sense, has been there all along.
Relating this to the experience of growing up in Australia as people of colour, children of Muslim immigrants, or whatever other title used for the ‘other’ Dr. Morsi refers to there always being a distinction and difference of what it means to be Aussie –
The fact is, as I grew up, when people said Aussie, they weren’t referring to me, they were referring to white people. That’s because there’s a racial assumption of what the citizen ought to look like; in a contest between you who carries a passport, i.e. the citizen, and you who carries a racial body and cultural, linguistic aesthetic, spiritual, religious history; and that contest between the two is inevitably one that continues to happen. Now Mills comes and resolves that contest by arguing well, that’s because partly the social contract is also a racial contract; and it is placed within people globally through colonialism and otherwise various different relationships, positions, expectations and so forth. So one way of reiterating this, is that the citizen or the “human” in “human rights”, the main subject of the liberal order… is actually White… and the rest of us are trying to be white when we’re trying to be human.
The fact is, as I grew up, when people said Aussie, they weren’t referring to me, they were referring to white people. That’s because there’s a racial assumption of what the citizen ought to look like; a contest between you who carries a passport, i.e. the citizen, and you who carries a racial body and cultural, linguistic aesthetic, spiritual and religious history.
Now Mills comes and resolves that contest by arguing well, that’s because partly the social contract is also a racial contract; and it is placed within people globally through colonialism and otherwise various different relationships, positions, expectations and so forth. So one way of reiterating this, is that the citizen or the “human” in “human rights”, the main subject of the liberal order… is actually White… and the rest of us are trying to be white when we’re trying to be human.
Mills refers to the unnamed system that has shaped the world for the past several hundred years. What is this unnamed system? White supremacy, racism.
There are two key terms we have to understand to understand this book, “the unnamed” and “white supremacy”. What Mills is doing is bringing back the unnamed, bringing back a system of dominion and domination upon which white people were both constructed, placed and ordered in such a way that they were the drivers and vehicles of modernity – and various others were placed accordingly beneath them in a hierarchy.
So what is white supremacy? What’s the difference between white supremacy and whiteness?
White supremacy is the advocacy, advancing, the institutionalising, the repeating, the colonising of the world according to its standards, and advancing of its standards, that has created and built the modern world.
Imagine whiteness as the Aqeedah (core belief system), and white supremacy as the military, the economy, the culture and the political institutions that advocate and advance this creed. When we speak of white supremacy we are speaking about the materialising and concretising of whites.
What is the difference between white and whiteness? Let’s take the example of a Muslim and Islam. A Muslim is the subject, the acceptor, as the believer, submitter to a creed. White was a construction of an identity and a personhood and a people, do not shy away from the fact it was biological, but not exclusively; it was about the way you looked, it was also about the way you spoke, but it was also about the heroes, history, lineage and the blood that you carried. It was about where you came from more than all else, like all national stories it was a myth about who you were.
White is a construction of a people. Whiteness is the thing that they constructed… the belief systems, the philosophies, the ideas, the details of the myth. The mythologies do a couple of things; they tell us who we are, they tell us where we come from, and they tell us where we’re going; and one who internalises they belong to that mythology, creates an identity, entrenched, grounded, raised within that mythology. So when we say you are white, we are talking to the people who are drowning in belief of whiteness, the ideology. So think of whiteness as the Aqeeda, culture, soft power… whilst white supremacy is the hard power that advances it, and white as the idea of a personhood.
In my experience in the Muslim community that has raised, haunted, celebrated & traumatised me, I have had Turks, Albanians, Turks, Lebs & others flash me their forearms and told me, “hey! Look, I’m white”. Okay, what’s really important to understand about white and its people is that it is a historical term that typically spoke about North Western Europe and its Atlantic offshoots and its colonies, like the bastardised daughters of north-western Europe: the Americas (North-America), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so forth. Eventually it expands, how white evolves, changes its boundaries, its borders, and adopts more and more different things… but historically that’s what it meant… we’re not talking about just your skin colour, we’re talking about your language, lineage, belief, your religion.
It’s often been said Islam is not a race, which is total nonsense; Islam is raced, and Islam is not a white religion, Islam is predominantly the religion of Asia and Africa, Christianity was predominantly the religion of Europe, even though it was born in the Middle East. Depending on which Church you’re looking at, particularly the Catholic one and the Protestant one, it was a religion of North-western Europe, hence Christianity, as the famous images of Christ with blue eyes and blonde hair is often a white religion, a white God, a white people, a white story… it’s whiteness. Whiteness therefore overlaps with Christendom, it overlaps with Enlightenment Philosophy, it overlaps with Capitalism, democracy and the European story that has inevitably become the standard for all other stories.
We cannot separate, and you should never separate, nor should you begin to separate any history-telling about the expansion of whiteness, politically, militarily, economically in Europe. So whether it be the scramble of Africa, whether it be the world wars, whether it be the evolution of mercantilism into capitalism; whatever it may be, whether it be Shakespeare, the whole point of Charles Mills is to argue that we cannot be colour-blind, or remain neutral, and we must name the unnamed; that this thing that was borne out, the civilisational project of Europe through its colony, through its expansion, through its military successes, also carried within it the expansion of its racial creed, the expansion of whiteness as the standard for all other human beings.
But this standard, was unachievable. It’s not like the peoples of India, Africa, South America, the Indigenous peoples – quote unquote of the “fourth world” – could become white – so when we say the standard in many ways for many of them was unachievable… but it was the standard upon which we were to be measured, the standard upon which we were to be judged, the standard upon which we were to be violently executed and displaced, or tried to be reformed, shaped and inevitably institutionalised in the service of whiteness.
So white, whiteness and white supremacy: it’s really important to understand these terms, and we find on the social media debates, they become interchangeable – and just like race, racism and racists are different terms, and racialising and raced are different terms – these three different terms have a relationship, and it’s important to understand it.
So as a way of clarifying in summary:
- White is the personhood, the subject, the identity, the construction of an idea what it means to be a human and in this imagination, the leading human, the best example of human, that’s white.
- Whiteness is the belief, the Aqeedah, the cultural aspects that inevitably make this human: it’s the mythology, time, the story, where it’s come from, where it’s going, and inevitably how it is if you will, the standard of all else.
- White supremacy, the military, political, economic, cultural soft and hard power, mostly hard, advancement and institutionalising of whiteness for the benefit of white people, and for the disadvantage and enacting institutional violence against all non-whites.
Those three terms when you understand them, you’ll understand what Mills is saying about the construction of the modern world: we people in order to succeed today, have to be fluent in whiteness: I work at an Islamic school, I have to be fluent in whiteness, even if 90% of the school is non-white, we are training them to be successful in whiteness, even though they’re not white, and in some cases for the benefit of white people, because the curriculum, the education system, the State, the economy is a white supremacist one… [unfortunately] we are not working for the establishment of the Khilafah or the bringing back of an Islamic order upon which we are all inevitably liberated, we’re not working for that.
So way back in the day when I used to criticise and attack certain Muslim leaders for being white or white aspiring and so forth, I was inevitably suggesting this: here is an important recognition of the power that racism has; we are continually aspiring to be white – not because of the trash the museums are telling us or the proud leaders of the Mashaykh are telling us, not because we don’t want to hold on to our culture or grow our beards or wear our hijabs; this is irrelevant… we are aspiring to be white because in this system, success & power & material well-being is synonymous with white, it’s synonymous with whiteness, you cannot do any of these – it’s rare – even like the Saudi oil Kings or whatever, they inevitably – look what, Saudi owes 7% of the American economy, it has to create technology & partnerships with various different markets – so one way to understand this is that whiteness becomes centred at the heart of this economic and global system – so that you are working for its success, even if you get rich in the process, you are still working for its success. So “white aspiring”, “being white” means that you are working for a white supremist order, and that my friend, is Mills’ point about the Racial Contract – we are all in an unnamed, unsaid, unstated contract, whether you like it, agree with it, recognise it or don’t… to continue in our day jobs and in our consumption, we are the builders, you and I, brown and black Muslims, we are the builders of white supremacy.