The Tactical Heart of White Supremacy #2: Minimization and Invalidation as Collective Narcissism
I have repeatedly struggled to understand why the TransAtlantic Slave Trade (TAST), a centuries-long, global form of slavery that still has impact worldwide, is deemed ‘just another form of slavery’ by many (white) people at the collective level. It seems a psychology operates to minimize the unique qualities of the TAST, provoking consideration of the motive behind this response. In other words, what could possibly be the motive for diffusing and minimizing this event, and thus its impact? Inherent in this motive will be the reason for this particular form of minimization and invalidation. The way in which narcissists behave at an individual level offers insight as to how this narcissism is elaborated at a collective level.
The TransAtlantic Slave Trade and UNESCO
The TAST has been deemed a unique form of slavery by The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which states that ‘the transatlantic slave trade is unique within the universal history of slavery for three main reasons (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/slave-route/transatlantic-slave-trade/):
· its duration — approximately four centuries
· those vicitimized: black African men, women
· the intellectual legitimization attempted on its behalf — the development of an anti-black ideology and its legal organization.
This assertion has provoked backlash, or ‘whitelash,’ as Van Jones calls it: attempts to diffuse, minimize, invalidate, or otherwise deny these unique qualities, essentially rendering them false. For example, I see frequent commentary submissions to Medium in response to articles about white supremacy that immediately point the finger at ‘other slavery,’ ‘historical slavery,’ ‘white slavery,’ the way in which ‘all countries have had slaves,’ etc etc: all comments which serve to minimize the reality of global white supremacy as invented by Europeans.
The minimization and invalidation of the singular qualities of the TAST is a tactical method of white supremacy which reflects its basic, core goal: maintain white supremacy and the extreme, unbalanced distribution of financial and cultural resources which benefits white people at the expense of people of color (POC) and in particular black people.
As a result of this all-important economic reality, these two particular tactics tend to appear in discussion which decentralize the white historical narrative fiction of innocence and equality in favor of historical reality — such as the 1619 Project — and in discussions about reparations. The fact that these defensive maneuvers often appear in response to historical revelations about white supremacy and economic redress expose the heart of white supremacy; that is, the ‘whitelash’ appears in a context in which much is at stake for white people collectively: money and self-esteem (in the form of automated ‘superiority.’)
These places are history, which has thus far been carefully manipulated and scrubbed clean with all sorts of intellectual bleach to erase its actual racist DNA; and reparations, which directly threaten the economic dominance of white people as a group through demanding actual payment for services already rendered. Collectively, white people react to these disruptions of their distorted perception of history with these tactics — minimization and invalidation — which reflect, at a social/group level, narcissistic behaviors and a collective attachment to the false self this requires: ie, self-deception.
Collective Narcissism: Its Nourishment
Narcissists require ‘narcissistic supply,’ a term used to characterize the constant attention and other benefits that narcissists demand from others in order to support their superior perception of themselves; it is attributed to a psychoanalyst named Otto Fenichel. Because the narcissist creates a false self to present to the world, he/she/they requires constant ‘nourishment’ of this fiction, and this comes in the form of centralizing the narcissist at the expense of others.
On a collective level, this ‘narcissistic supply’ is the constant white privilege that automatically benefits white people at a collective level on a continuous basis in myriad ways. Like the individual narcissist, white people collectively refuse to acknowledge the extent to which their unearned benefit operates against ALL other POC’s through deprivation. (Not all white people, of course.)
This collective narcissism results in ‘white fragility,’ as Robin DiAngelo calls it: like the narcissist responding defensively to revelation of his actual behavior, white people collectively respond as if white privilege is absurd and, in some cases, nonexistent. Just as the truth damages the exalted self-perception of the narcissist — his carefully constructed false self — and his automated response is to protect his ego, the bulk of white people, as a collective group, believes they deserve all these (unearned) benefits as baseline status, thus eliminating the fact that it is unearned benefit: ie, privilege, ie, in any ACTUAL meritorious context, belongs to somebody else. The fact that the narcissist’s perception is wildly distorted, whether at the individual or collective level, indicates his lack of reliability. Narcissism decimates the truth in favor of buttressing the false ego of the narcissist(s), damaging others, regardless of whether or not it is at an individual or collective level.
In the context of white supremacy, this collective narcissism provokes a collective response to any factual material which is incongruent with that falsely elevated self by invalidating others. One example of this method of collective narcissistic minimization and invalidation are some of the responses to the unique quality of the TAST. This reveals the fundamentally white supremacist motive: maintain power. Denying accountability avoids the economic redress that will damage collective white economic and cultural ‘superiority.’
Therefore, it is no surprise that invalidation of the TAST often attends conversations about centralizing slavery as authentic US history — such as the 1619 Project proposes — and reparations.
These items strike at the tactical heart of white supremacy by exposing the fundamental hypocrisy in claiming equality AND focusing on the core motive: economic dominance (by using other people’s bodies to generate financial gain) through deceptive maneuvering. For example, in an immediate ‘whitelash’ response to the 1619 Project, five history professors — all white, four male, aged 66–86 — attempted to minimize the import of the project and, just in case that wasn’t adequately Macchiavellian, tossed in invalidation by claiming the 1619 project doesn’t accurately reflect history. None acknowledge their own potential bias: that the traditional view of US history automatically privileges white people — ie, them — and the fact that any other view might jeopardize their group dominance. They didn’t hesitate to write a collective letter of opposition, one in which both Macchiavellian tactics are heavily utilized, framing their views of history as some sort of objective reality despite the massive, extensive benefits they receive as a direct result of denying the realities of most POC.
Tactical Methods: Minimization and Invalidation
Other recent examples of minimization and invalidation of the TAST which exhibit collective white supremacist narcissism are:
- Newt Gingrich (white male): “Look, I think slavery is a terrible thing. I think putting slavery in context is important. We still have slavery in places around the world today, so we recognize this is an ongoing story.” ( https://www.mediamatters.org/newt-gingrich/foxs-newt-gingrich-melts-down-over-ny-timess-1619-project-about-impact-slavery-whole )
This is a masterful turf even for the likes of Gingrich, double-dipping in its strategic ability to invalidate history AND to elevate ‘whiteness,’ thus embodying the central tactical mission of white supremacy in a few short sentences. That is, Gingrich deflects from the centrality of American participation in the TAST by pointing to other places in the world where slavery exists while figuratively patting America on the back by implying that the US is ahead for ‘already’ eliminating it.
This behavior is similar to a kindergartner who is caught with a stolen toy and, instead of admitting his active thievery, instead places the toy behind his back and points his finger at another child. Though this may be irritating in a five-year old, it is acceptable given that the actual human brain is not developed at that age. On the other hand, the behavior in an (presumptive) adult is embarrassing at best. Gingrich has always wielded the tactical tools of white supremacy well, and he’s lost none of his apparent enthusiasm in behaving just as strategically as always; that is, with some degree of intelligence paired with a habitual disregard for basic morality. He minimizes US participation in the fascist reality of white supremacy — which continues through white privileging — by minimizing the negative impact of collective white behavior. That allows him to keep his position of power not only as an individual but as a member of a collective group. By extension, his children and grandchildren continue to receive privileging at the expense of people of color, ad infinitum, and thus far for centuries and counting.
2. Colin Friedersdorf (white male): “Neither white nor black Americans belong at the center of U.S. history, because no racial group belongs there more or less than any other… That substitution centers a story of white oppressors and black victims.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/inclusive-case-1776-not-1619/604435/
Friedersdorf adamantly, aggressively, and expertly wields these same tactics — minimization and invalidation — in his essay, which advocates for 1776 as the beginning of the US in response to the 1619 Project, though he takes a more ingratiating tack. In a Gingrich-worthy display of verbal combat, Friedersdorf deftly deploys several weapons from the white supremacist arsenal simultaneously to manipulate and ‘Macch’ the reader. First, he declines to acknowledge approximately 157 years of reality previous to 1776 in favor of casting the white men ‘founding fathers’ as fundamentally freedom-loving, benign old grandpas who wanted nothing more than to extend their power to everybody else in society. We know this because this is what these benevolent Daddies said. Apparently, white men never lie, so when they wrote about ‘equality’ in the Constitution, they must have sincerely meant all of us.
“All Men” Means “White Men”
As Charles Mills points out in The Racial Contract, the notion that only white men were included when the Constitution stated ‘all men’ was implicitly assumed due to several centuries of falsely establishing their superiority. ‘All men’ already meant ‘white men:’ this is the false self at the collective level, aggressively promulgated worldwide through colonization. The people in that society knew it; these guys didn’t need to play their hand overtly by stating ‘only white men’ because they had already established that fact and buttressed it securely by inventing race and thus justifying slavery, genocide, and ultimately the exclusion of all POC. Keeping that card close to their vests allowed for the extra layer of deception which is currently utilized, over and over again, in promoting this false self: benevolence. Facts and actual behavior reveal the lies behind these words.
Using Psychological ‘Bleach’ to Damage Truth: Hiding Racist DNA
Framing 1776 as the beginning of the US is a tactical method used to maintain this collective false self. Scouring American history with bleach so as to damage its actual racist DNA is akin to hiding evidence in a capital murder case, except that many, many more lives have been compromised than even the most prolific serial killer could murder. Damaging real evidence is called obstruction in an individual criminal trial. Friedersdorf exhibits the very ignorance that the 1619 project attempts to eliminate through truth-telling. Century after century — generation after generation after generation — of actual behavior indicates that true equality was never the actual goal.
By reacting vehemently to the centrality of white dominance/black subordination which is reflected in our history, Friedersdorf refuses to acknowledge that the very philosophical core of white supremacy is anti-blackness. The historical focus on 1619 and centralizing slavery is the most authentic expression of US history: it exposes white supremacy on both a pragmatic/economic (black bodies generate money for white people) AND philosophical basis (white is ‘superior’ because black is ‘inferior:’ this stance creates the necessary binary comparison point.)
What would be the motive to erase this authenticity? An acknowledgement that slavery was central to European/American dominance worldwide would legitimize reparations, which would diminish white supremacy and thus the collective power of white people by shifting economic resources. In addition, their identities — based on being ‘nice’ — will require reevaluation, which may damage their perception of themselves as collectively superior. This provokes backlash because the very purpose of white supremacy was and is to shift resources — economic in the form of property/money/leadership, etc, and cultural, in the form of self-esteem and ‘superiority’ — from a wide range of POC to white people.
3. Ohio State University ‘Research:’ “‘Much of what has been written gives the impression that there were not many slaves and minimizes the impact that slavery had on Europe,’ Davis said… ‘Most accounts only look at slavery in one place, or only for a short period of time. But when you take a broader, longer view, the massive scope of this slavery and its powerful impact become clear.’” https://news.osu.edu/when-europeans-were-slaves--research-suggests-white-slavery-was-much-more-common-than-previously-believed/
I admit that when I stumbled on this article and saw the acronym ‘osu’ in the link, I immediately thought this was some sort of ‘occidental,’ overt white supremacist publication. This article, emphasizing ‘white slavery,’ comes from a public university. This article makes it clear that the author wants to emphasize that slavery of white people has received less attention than it deserves, which reframes the discussion from white supremacy to (general) slavery. This common tactic, often used by overt white supremacists, serves to minimize the impact of the TAST on black peoples and by extension, other POC’s by re-centralizing whiteness, much as individual narcissists centralize their needs whenever it seems the attention is going elsewhere.
‘Splitting:’ Strategic Double-Dipping and the Use of Multiple ‘Weapons’
The fact that the 1619 Project has provoked such a ‘whitelash,’ as Van Jones calls it, indicates that maintaining collective ‘narcissistic supply’ is very possibly an underlying motive. Friedersdorf states outright that the focus on white and black people in the 1619 Project is unsavory to him and that he prefers to focus on ‘everybody,’ as if to imply that black people are collectively demanding more attention than deserved. This point of view frames black people as the emotionally deranged group instead of focusing on the extreme behavior characterized by white supremacy. It is classic gaslighting at the collective level to embrace this stance: it shifts the responsibility for what is extremely deranged behavior — genocide and slavery — and its current elaboration in the form of unmeritorious enrichment for white people — and scapegoats black people in order to achieve that goal. This malignant narcissism is elaborated at the collective level through self-deception.
This form of invalidation (a straightforward example of gaslighting) serves also to deflect negative attention from white people which, in the context of the 1619 Project, frames whites collectively as oppressors. He masterfully also utilizes ‘splitting,’ a common defense maneuver wielded by fifth graders and other humans who have yet to incorporate consideration of morality in their chosen behaviors. For example, one girl (usually a ‘Heather,’ AKA a bully) attempts to isolate one girl by convincing all the others to participate. ‘Splitting’ is a Macchiavellian tactic in which one gains power by excluding another, and thus reveals itself as primarily about conquest and dominance.
Friedersdorf attempts to ingratiate himself with non-black POC in typical ‘splitting’ fashion by stating outright that all non-black peoples are being marginalized by the 1619 Project, thus suggesting a context which frames black peoples against all other POC. Hopefully, most POC recognize this as shameless, sophomoric strategic manipulation. In fact, this is ‘narcissist supply’ on a collective level: Freidersdorf reorients the context so that white people are centralized AND cast as innocent peddlers of equality while black people are scapegoated in his attempt to ‘recruit’ other POC by appealing to our lower natures. This strategy ‘feeds’ white supremacy by buttressing its power, much as the individual narcissist ‘feeds’ his bottomless need for attention by using others.
“When white men say justice, they mean ‘just us.’” Charles Mills, The Racial Contract
The historical reality is that Europeans dominated POC worldwide as a result of brutal, fascist conquest, falsely slapped the word ‘equality’ on it, stole a wide range of resources from a wide range of POC’s, framed their stolen, unearned benefits and resources falsely as ‘merit,’ and damaged the entire planet with this collective narcissism through the philosophical stance of ‘Manifest Destiny’ and the physical actions of genocide and colonization. Unfortunately, white supremacy continues to exhibit this same behavior through an onerous collective narcissism: much as with individual narcissists, a complicated psychological methodology is continually deployed at the collective level, and it must court self-deception in order to maintain the false self of superiority. Ultimately, the motive is about power: resources that belong to others stay in the hands of white people on a collective basis.
Minimization and Invalidation Actively Maintain White Supremacy
These macro-invalidations are forms of tactical maneuvering characteristic of fascist, Macchiavellian dominance; specifically, white supremacy. They serve to protect white supremacy and deflect from any accountability for historical misdeeds which continue to privilege white people in the current era at the expense of POC, and in particular black people.
The impact of minimizing and/or invalidating the claim that the TAST is unique and that it should be centralized in any discussion of both US and world history for the last c. 500 years is a form of invalidation which ultimately operates to invalidate any claims to economic redress, thus maintaining the current distribution of money=power=white. It does so in much the same way that individual narcissists buttress their false identities: self-deception, manipulation in the form of psychological tactical behaviors such as invalidation, and re-centralizing both the self AND the innocence of the self through the psychological bleaching of the actual DNA of reality.
Stating that the TAST is like ‘all other slavery’ is similar to an abusive narcissist’s individual gaslighting because it is akin to pointing the finger at others and, ultimately, because it shirks accountability. At a collective level, minimizing the TAST allows white people to collectively avoid accountability — both psychological in the form of apology and economic in the form of reparations — for not only a history of privileging but also the ongoing impact which continues to privilege white people at the expense of people of color.
Minimization and invalidation have only one purpose in the context of white supremacy: maintain it, and the privilege which white people collectively continue to enjoy as a result. But white supremacy is a one-trick pony: its entire existence depends on derogating and demeaning black people and other POC, and any tactical maneuver which sustains and upholds it should be exposed and discarded.