American Essentialism: White Supremacy and Collective Violence in the United States

By Lancaster, Guy | Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

American Essentialism: White Supremacy and Collective Violence in the United States


Lancaster, Guy, Canadian Journal of History


The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching, by Michael J. Pfeifer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011, x, 143 pp., $40.00 US (cloth).

State of White Supremacy." Racism, Governance, and the United States, edited by Moon-Kie Jung, Joao H. Costa Vargas, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011, x, 340 pp., $75.00 US (cloth), $24.95 US (paper).

In the fall of 2011, I taught a seminar titled "Race and Violence in Arkansas" for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (I wanted to call the course "White Supremacy and Collective Violence in Arkansas," but the department chair warned about having skinhead students thinking that it was a how-to course.) Probably the most significant obstacle I encountered during the semester was a worldview--not always explicitly expressed--on the part of my students which mirrored the sort ofAristotelian mindset ever present in medieval debates over the nature of the Eucharist. Just as the "essence" of the Eucharist was the actual, physical body and blood of Christ, while the "accidental" properties were the bread and wine one could see, so was the United States of America held to be, in essence, a fundamentally beneficent force in the world, both for its own citizens and for those of other nations; the record of genocide, slavery, terrorism, racial cleansing, and violence constituted only the accidental properties of its history and should not be allowed to call into question the country's fundamental benevolence. By contrast, I was presenting a worldview which held such events as the Elaine Massacre of 1919--during which armed mobs and federal soldiers indiscriminately killed an estimated 200 African Americans (and perhaps many more) after several met to form a sharecroppers' union--or the Harrison Race Riots of 1905 and 1909-during which African Americans were expelled from a northern Arkansas railroad town, mirroring expulsions that occurred across the nation and created all-white municipalities known as "sundown towns"--as normative events for the course of American history, not exceptional in the slightest. (1)

At the risk of sounding too Freudian, I told my students at the end of the course that violence--especially racial violence--is to American history what sex is to our daily lives. In the average Hollywood action film, sex between the main, male lead and the woman of his choice is rather disconnected from the rest of the storyline, occurring only because classical narrative conventions depend upon some kind of romantic subplot and the titillating flash of flesh. By contrast, sex in our daily lives is more often imbued with some context and precedent, from little flirtations at the office to getting the dishes done and the children put to bed early. Though studies have not been done on the subject, probably very few couples on the run from Mexican drug lords or cyborgs sent from the future on a mission of assassination feel up for an invigorating roll in the sheets after narrowly escaping their own deaths. Likewise, said I to my smirking students, do we need to see the instances of violence we had been studying not as events that happen out of the blue but rather events that occur within the particular political and cultural context of white supremacy.

Unlike the varied manifestations of fascism, the global system of white supremacy, concomitant to the colonial projects of American and European nations, has not yet come under the easy condemnation of those scholars who study political extremism. For example, in one recent work, Origins of Political Extremism." Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond, political scientist Manus I. Midlarsky interrogates numerous cases of extremism--including German National Socialism, Japanese imperialism, and radical Islam--but, aside from very brief mention of Latin American troubles, leaves the Americas untouched by his analysis, as immaculate as it is held to be by the most rigid adherents to the doctrine of American exceptionalism, despite a history of genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and racial oppression (to speak only of ostensibly "internal" developments, rather than any history of military intervention in other nations).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

American Essentialism: White Supremacy and Collective Violence in the United States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.