• Caroline James

How The U.S Poverty Line is Supported by White Privilege and White Supremacy

In 2022, more than 45 million people are living below the Poverty line in the U.S. Historically, White Supremacy has been a financial windfall for white elites, but not so much for the poor. In this article, WE will explore how White Privilege has been used to maintain poverty for people of color and poor whites. Dismantling White Supremacy through Critical Race Theory and Anti-Racism offers opportunities for truly addressing poverty in the United States.

a line of young ballerinas of all races
Urban Photography: Caroline James

White Supremacy and White Privilege Divert Attention to People Of Color

In 2006, the FBI flagged growing white supremacy in law enforcement; still, it failed to address the racism it flagged. The FBI noted “white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement can result in other abuses of authority and passive tolerance of racism within communities served.” That was 16 years ago; Police brutality has been a growing issue ever since.

Let's assume WE did not know this. How would WE be able to see the White Supremacy?

The hallmark of White Supremacy is sharp inequality resulting in a clear hierarchy with whites benefiting the most.

For example, in police brutality, data shows that white children are 6x less likely to be killed by a cop than black children. This pattern of violence mirrors a white supremacist racial hierarchy.

White children are placed at the top and have the privilege of the highest rate of safe police encounters and, therefore, a higher likelihood of living.

White privilege is the natural result of white Supremacy and is therefore extended to all who are considered white.

Even beyond the survival rate with police, statistics show that white people receive better treatment in everything from healthcare, job interviews, and legal cases.

White skin automatically means privilege in White Supremacy.

White Privilege and White Supremacy Create the Poverty Line

However, White privilege is a double edged sword.

With a solid racial hierarchy and clear white privilege, White Supremacy creates the best grounds to hoard wealth amongst white elites. Let's return to the more than 45 million people living below the Poverty line in the U.S.

First, White Supremacy sustains the poverty of people of color

It goes without saying that under White Supremacy, people of color are automatically more poor.

The system of maintaining poverty in communities of color is mammoth; it is the mass collision of everything from racism in education to racism in housing.

However, for the purposes of this article, I am going to follow and simplify one throughline: pay from a job.

Earlier, I included a study about job applications. In the study, researchers continually confirm that even when resumes are identical, white names are privileged over names associated with people of color. Flag: This White Supremacy and White privilege.

From those studies, WE now know that people of color often have trouble even getting interviews. Therefore, people of color would also experience unequal pay.

Now, WE have seen how White supremacy and White privilege aid in creating the United States poverty line and it's curve towards people of color.

Then, White Supremacy maintains the bulk of that wealth for white elites

Higher rates of poverty in communities of color permit higher rates of white wealth. In fact, some studies indicate that up to 80% of the wealth in the United States is white.

However, White Supremacy has never extended all whites' the same superiority and privilege.

The top 1% of this nation is 70-90% white. In 2021, the 1% increased their wealth and owned 32.3% of the nation's wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 90% of Americans lost wealth and shared even less than the top 1% (30.5% to 30.2%).

Obviously, most whites are not rich. Therefore poverty is extended well beyond people of color. Why would poor whites maintain a system that is keeping them poor while others are disproportionately rich?

Finally, White Supremacy, White Privilege and Racism Protect Poverty From Being Addressed

Consider the words of president Lyndon Johnson. Johnson said, "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best-colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

White privilege has been used to satisfy poor whites while diverting their money to white elites as well. Racism and white privilege conveniently stop the poor from combining efforts across race lines. That much is clear from history. Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 saw whites

( servents ) and blacks (slaves) co-create and execute a major rebellion with an interest gaining their freedom.

When the rebellion was finally put down, colonist "[...] permanently [enslaved] Virginians of African descent and [gave] poor white indentured servants and farmers some new rights and status, they hoped to separate the two groups and make it less likely that they would unite again in rebellion."

Providing whites more privileges over blacks helped to stop these occurrences.

As illustrated in "Race The Power of An Illusion," the gradual adoption of a white identity linked poor whites with elites. This created a "permanent" sense of superiority to blacks and a false separation between their concerns.

Poverty and inequality has nearly torn this nation apart in its colonial history. Therefore, it was discovered early on that the best way to maintain poverty and therefore elite wealth, is to reduce the likelihood that people will work collectively to rebell.

Racism focuses white hostilities on people of color rather than white elites who benefit from inequality.

As noted in a 1930's journal article, "Slavery forced these whites into what was called the pine barrens, where they were left to battle with poverty and the hookworm." "They were contented to [...] steal from the herd of their richer neighbors. There dress was not unlike that of slaves [...] nor were the morals of the illiterate whites higher than those of slaves."

White Supremacy hurt poor whites more than it has ever helped.

White Supremacy, racism and white privilege are strongly connected to poverty. In whatever degree WE address one of these issues, WE equally address the others.