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White Supremacy

CWS theorists have looked at the way whiteness is invisible only to those who inhabit it (Ahmed, 2004; Leonardo, 2002); as embodying the racially ideal subject (Ahmed, 2004); as ahistorical and in denial of its own creation (Leonardo, 2004); and as a global privileged signifier (Leonardo, 2002; Matias, 2016). We also draw on Thandeka’s (1999) understanding of whiteness as predicated on the denial of difference within oneself, constituting in the white subject a core sense of self that is hidden from view and shrouded in shame.

White supremacy can be defined as the institutionalization of Whiteness and White privilege and the historical, social, political and economic systems and structures that contribute to its continued dominance and subordination (Giroux & McLaren, 1994). Francis Lee Ansley describes White supremacy in the following way:

“By ‘White supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of White supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which Whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of White superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of White dominance and non-White subordination are daily re-enacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings” (Ansley as cited in Gillborn, 2006, p. 320).

Whiteness differs from White supremacy in that Whiteness is an ideology and logic by which one moves through the world, connected to dynamic relations of domination. It operates most obviously in White bodies but also in and through racially oppressed bodies. Gillborn (2015) describes Whiteness as “a set of assumptions, beliefs and practices that place the interests and perspectives of White people at the center of what is considered normal and everyday” (p. 278). Fanon (1967) asserted that whiteness is a process that corrupts the ‘‘soul of the white man’’ (p. 129) and hooks (1992) wrote that seeing whiteness as natural and people of color as racialized “Others,” leads white people to deny any ‘‘representation of whiteness as terror or terrorizing’’ (p. 45).

In critiquing the logics of white supremacy, we consider the following:

1. Dominance of liberal individualism: Similar to neoliberalism, critiques of white supremacy challenge liberal myths of neutrality, meritocracy and objectivity. In particular, these myths operate through colour-evasive narratives that erase the experiences, realities and aspirations of Black, Indigenous and racialized staff and students, and deny the existence of White identities.

2. Permanence of racism: Critical Race Theory explores both the normalization of race and the permanence of racism in systems, laws, structures, society, and the state, making both race and racism largely invisible to White people (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). As Derrick Bell (1992) states, “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of its society” (p. ix).

3. Ahistorical, decontextualized, and changing definitions: The specificities of history and context are often separate from our analysis and understandings of students, families, communities, and schooling. Furthermore, racialization, racial meaning, and racial value change in response to the needs of White society, the nation-state and the labour market (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012).

4. Whiteness as normal and natural:  An ideology and logic by which one moves through the world, connected to dynamic relations of domination. Whiteness serves to equate the interests, experiences, and perspectives of White people with what is considered normal and natural.

By disrupting white supremacy in leadership, we consider several questions:

  • How do processes of racialization inform who is considered a good “fit” for leadership?
  • Intersectionality explains and explores how intersecting oppressions inform specific experiences and expressions of marginalization across multiple identities. What barriers do Black, Indigenous and racialized leaders face and how do these barriers intersect with other systems of power and oppression?
  • How do silence, denial, and compliance operate to protect white power and punish efforts at anti-racism, anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism?
  • What wisdoms, experiences and perspectives are denied when anti-colonial and anti-racist leadership praxes are not centered?
  • How might centering the counternarratives of Indigenous, Black, and racialized people exposes dominant narratives of colour blindness, meritocracy, and neutrality, while promoting self-authorization and challenging objective “truths”?
  • How might we consider reverse pipelines to increase the representation of Indigenous, Black, and racialized leaders who lead for anti-racism?


Bell, D.A., (1992). Faces at the bottom of the well. New York: Basic Books.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2001). Critical race theory: An introduction. New York: New York University Press.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical race theory: an introduction (Second Edition). New York University Press.

Fanon, F. Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press.  

Gillborn, D. (2006). Rethinking White supremacy: Who counts in ‘WhiteWorld.’ Ethnicities, 6(3), 318–340.

Gillborn D. (2015). Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and the primacy of racism: Race, class, gender, and disability in education. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 277-287.

Giroux, H. & McLaren, P. (1994). Between borders: Pedagogy and the politics of cultural studies. New York: Routledge.

hooks, b. (1992). Black looks: Race and representation. Boston: South End Press.