When we think about white supremacy, what comes to mind? Dylan Roof? White men with tiki torches on the University of Virgina campus?  Many Americans, black and white, often make the mistake of equating white supremacy solely with extremist groups comprised of self-proclaimed white supremacists.  Typing the phrase “white supremacy” into  Google Trends reveals that curiosity around the term only spikes when this particular group of whites makes violent headlines.

The scope through which we view white supremacy is in dire need of widening if we are to understand the subtlety of its polarizing effect.  

The following quote wasn’t pulled from Talib Kweli’s Twitter account.  It wasn’t taken from a page of the Black Lives Matter 10-point manifesto nor was it lifted from audio recorded at a Panther rally:

“White America is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

These were, perhaps to the bewilderment of some, the 1968 published thoughts of the Kerner Commission, a committee comprised largely of white male elites, put together a year prior by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the root causes of the Detroit and Newark riots.

The above quote leads to a number of important questions regarding the specifics of white America’s deep implication in the ghetto -- Which white institutions created it? When? How? Which white institutions maintain it? How do they maintain it? And in which ways does white society condone it?

Specifically, there are two white institutions most responsible for American segregation -- the Public Works Administration and the Federal Housing Agency. In the 1930s they explicitly placed racial requirements on mortgage lending which prevented blacks from moving into newly built subsidized homes.  This policy effectively institutionalized racism and segregation in the housing industry across the nation and, almost single-handedly, shaped the American housing landscape in the twentieth century.

Essentially, these guidelines allowed white to move into suburbs and, through massive subsidies,  in many cases live cheaper than blacks were living in the poverty-ridden areas of cities.

Richard Rothstein details this in his recently released book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America:

“Today’s residential segregation in the North, South Midwest, and West is not the unintended consequence of individual choices and of otherwise well-meaning law or regulation but of unhidden public policy that explicitly segregated every metropolitan area in the United States. The policy was so systematic and forceful that its effects endure to the present time. Without our government’s purposeful imposition of racial segregation, the other causes - private prejudice, white flight, real estate steering, bank redlining, income differences, and self-segregation - still would have existed but with far less opportunity for expression. Segregation by intentional government action is not de facto. Rather, it is what courts call de jure: segregation by law and public policy”

Simply put, federal policy is the reason suburbs are white and inner cities are black.

Throughout his book, Rothstein highlights example after example of the ways in which blacks were "kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies.” One major illustration is the effect of housing discrimination on wealth.

Today, the wealth gap between whites and blacks is a remarkably wide one. That gap is most accurately ascribed to housing as we live in a country in which two-thirds of wealth for typical households is built through home equity. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, for every $100 in white family wealth black families have $5.04.  

In wake of these policies which, through restrictive covenants, even restricted the resale of homes to blacks, the word suburb essentially became synonymous with white. Even today census information reflects that the suburbs surrounding many of our cities are still overwhelmingly white.

I live Gary, Indiana, a city that bears stark demographic and socioeconomic resemblance to the south and west sides of nearby Chicago. We are all surrounded by suburbs like Crown Point, Dyer, Schererville, Valparaiso, Naperville, Schaumburg, Lake Zurich, and others where the populations remain no less than 80% white with some as high as 95%.  

The 2010 census indicates only 3% growth in black population in the suburbs since 1990, from 7% to 10%. These suburbs, of course, are generally associated with much higher incomes, higher property values, high ranking school systems and employment opportunities -- all of which contribute to their drastically lower crime rates.

The segregation resulting from FHA guidelines created environments in both suburban and ghetto communities that, by their very existence, further the ideology of white supremacy and, conversely, black inferiority.

A look online at any comment section “discussion” concerning systemic racism,  modern day oppression, urban gun violence, black lives matter or anything of the sort will reveal that many whites believe that blacks have been a race of welfare system bleeding, handout seeking ingrates whose individual choices,  failed family structure and lack of desire have condemned us to the ghetto.   

In this light, white supremacy, not as practice, but as a passive belief system is allowed to thrive. Young, white, suburban Americans grow up viewing constant reinforcement that their neighborhoods with top tier schools, beautiful aesthetics, and high incomes exist only for whites to enjoy. The few blacks that do manage to occupy that space only serve to reinforce the notion -- one held dearly -- that if blacks would simply work hard and strive, they too have equal opportunity to enjoy greener pastures.

On the flip side of the coin, black kids in racial ghettos grow up in poverty and drug infested communities with sky-high homicide rates and record levels of joblessness.

Each group believes their reality.

In his book "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind", Michael Eric Dyson juxtaposes Cosby's understanding of the systemic forces operating against black ghetto children expressed in his doctoral thesis at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with the views on blacks he has expressed in front of various crowds for which he has become both famous and infamous for. His very public attacks on black culture have the same effect as President Obama’s much discussed Father’s Day speech in which he elected to criticize black fathers instead of the systemic issues they face.

In his thesis, Cosby acknowledges that while children in black ghettos often find various systemic roadblocks in their path, while whites on the other hand:

“Are raised with a counter myth of white supremacy (power and domination) and intellectual superiority (by which to assert their power and domination)...Neither myth is healthy. Each breeds a negative ego position, On the one hand, there is a feeling of abject failure and pronounced inferiority, white on the other, there exists a super ego fed by continuous and demonstrated successes leading to an aggrandized sense of superiority In combination they are combustible ingredients of a divided society.”

Segregation is the oil that greases the wheels of the divided society Cosby describes. Meanwhile, with Ben Carson at the helm, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been taking action that has a number of civil rights groups suing the department for allegedly aiding affordable housing segregation.

If the ideology of white supremacy is to be truly challenged and eradicated in America, each of its manifestations must be called out.  Not just when it marches through campus with tiki torches, but even when it exists in passive form and is allowed to develop subconsciously.