The U.S. White Supremacist Present

I am often confronted with people’s disbelief at the continued entrenched and embedded character of white supremacy in this nation’s present. Here is a palpable example of it in its everyday form.

240,000 dollars awarded to man forced to cover Arab T-shirt

NEW YORK (AFP) – An airline passenger forced to cover his T-shirt because it displayed Arabic script has been awarded 240,000 dollars in compensation, campaigners said Monday.

Raed Jarrar received the pay out on Friday from two US Transportation Security Authority officials and from JetBlue Airways following the August 2006 incident at New York’s JFK Airport, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced.

“The outcome of this case is a victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of racial profiling,” said Aden Fine, a lawyer with ACLU.

Jarrar, a US resident, was apprehended as he waited to board a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland, California, and told to remove his shirt, which had written on it in Arabic: “We will not be silent.”

He was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like “wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'” the ACLU said.

Jarrar eventually agreed to cover his shirt with another provided by JetBlue. He was allowed aboard but his seat was changed from the front to the back of the aircraft.

Last week, nine Muslims, including three children, were ordered off a domestic US flight after passengers heard what they believed were suspicious remarks about security.

Although the passengers, eight of them US citizens, were cleared by the FBI, they were reportedly still barred from the AirTran flight.

Security has been at a high level in US airports since the September 11, 2001 hijacked airliner attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

However, rights groups and representatives of the Muslim community say the security measures have led to frequent discrimination and harassment.


The result of the court case is a sign of hope that there are remedies for people who have to suffer the effects of a white supremacist culture, but the ability of a group of people to be able to violate a person’s (and far more than one person’s) ability to travel based on nothing other than a fear of racial/cultural difference is the embodiment of white supremacy. Which standard is given the “right” to socially police others? Which is seen as the potential threat? How incomprehensible would it be for a group of people of color to get an airline official or an FAA employee to keep a person off a flight for looking suspiciously white?

Is this racism? Yes. This is the kind of racism that runs deep in our culture. Are the people on those flights who complain about Arab-looking passengers racists? Yes. They are reflection of this culture and its values and practices. Are they evil? Well, no. They probably don’t intentionally do anything bad or purposefully racist at all. They merely have to reflect “common sense” standards as taught to them in this culture. But, in these cases, the maintenance and support of the status quo becomes the maintenance of a racist present.


2 thoughts on “The U.S. White Supremacist Present

  1. Tom, this seems a bit of an overreach on a number of levels.

    First, “white chauvinist” would be a better way to describe what you mean here rather than “supremacist”.

    Second, you’re making some very broad generalizations here that no doubt you would object to if they were made about latinos or some other ethnic group. Is it a sign of white supremacy that when I flew over the holidays I was patted down at security and they performed an explosives test on my kid’s stroller? There’s far more complexity here than you seem willing to admit.

    Third, isn’t it possible that the reaction of the (handful of?) passengers, however misguided, had more to do with the way people overestimate risk than it does any serious racial motivations. Remember, there have been some fairly high-profile terrorist incidents involving airplanes in the past decade. And how are the actions of a handful of people in any way representative of the culture as a whole?

  2. First, thanks for the comments.

    Before we can really engage I think the first question would be what is it about the term “white supremacy” you find inappropriate or unsettling? I don’t see your suggested replacement as any different other than its avoidance of the inertia of the past? Do we not agree this is what the U.S. was by design (at least until the mid-20th century)? This doesn’t have to be an either/or. White supremacy can be (and has been) coexistent with (limited) democracy.

    I don’t choose words lightly but rather out of intellectual need. I’m looking for the concepts that can illuminate the present moment in a way that at least regards the past. That isn’t always about continuity (most often, it is not), but neither is it about dislodging the present from the past for the sake of making analysis pleasant. That said, I also employ this choice in concept out of a respect for other examples that also illuminate it.

    I know there is a complexity here, and that is often my point. For example, the seeming sameness of the case you give obscures the difference that is the point here, no? It is not about the process of checking, or even detaining for the time being, but the fact that there are people EVERY WEEK who are being kept off planes and who are not known to be criminals of any sort merely for (most often according to the tidbits released by the TSA) being Muslim-looking and (again, most often) wearing some watered down version of hijab.

    Finally, I don’t mean this to be proof that there is but an example of it, a window into the way it works. The point is that racism is not a pathology but a way of acting that appears common sense. (There’s a lot in this point, I know). That they are representative is from the symphony of other cases that happen everyday.

    Again, thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s