theatlantic | What’s going on here?
It is perhaps easiest to quote the hive-mind at Wikipedia to clear things up. Here’s how it defines white supremacy:
White supremacy or white supremacism is a racist ideologycentered upon the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior in certain characteristics, traits, and attributes to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore white peopleshould politically, economically and socially rule non-white people. The term is also typically used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial domination by white people (as evidenced by historical and contemporary sociopolitical structures such as the Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa). Different forms of white supremacism put forth different conceptions of who is considered white...
Next is this crucial-for-our-purposes addition:
The subsection on the academic usage adds:
Readers will be unsurprised that a term has a common meaning and many diverging academic meanings as members of the academy contest it across fields of scholarship. Adjudicating the best definition within an academic field is not our concern.The term white supremacy is used in academic studies of racial power to denote a system of structural or societal racism which privileges white people over others, regardless of the presence or absence of racial hatred. White racial advantages occur both at a collective and an individual level. Legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley explains this definition as follows: “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 reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”This and similar definitions are adopted or proposed by Charles Mills, bell hooks, David Gillborn, Jessie Daniels and Neely Fuller Jr, and are widely used in critical race theory and intersectional feminism. ...Academic users of the term sometimes prefer it to racism because it allows for a disconnection between racist feelings and white racial advantage or privilege.
Rather, this small, obscure exchange illustrates a larger point: It is awful to stigmatize people as cringeworthy for failing to speak in the vernacular of a tiny, insular subculture. Neither journalists nor academics speaking to a general audience can insist a term’s only meaning is a contested usage so little known that it confounds a longtime employee of Mother Jones and many residents of the Upper West Side. And it is deeply counterproductive to stigmatize those who use the common meaning of a well-known term with words like “embarrassing,” and “mortifying.”
The insularity and biases at work here are a significant reason that the academy, and growing parts of the press who mistake its subculture for conventional wisdom, are increasingly unable to reach anyone that doesn’t share an educational background many intellectuals now think of as normal but that is, in fact, unusual even among college students in the U.S., never mind the rest of the world. Why does this insular subculture think stigmatization of this sort will succeed beyond it?
In the weeks since Donald Trump’s election, many journalists and close observers of mainstream journalism have been grappling with how best to cover the president-elect, and furiously critiquing headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post that allegedly engage in “false equivalence,” or fail to adequately call out misinformation that is verifiably false. I have no objection to that sort of media criticism. Hashing these matters out in open debate is a strength, not a weakness.