Posted on January 3, 2023

White Supremacy Comes in All Colors. 2023 Will Make This Impossible to Ignore

Erika D. Smith and Anita Chabria, Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2023


If 2020 was the year that George Floyd’s murder made us confront systemic racism and 2021 was the year that made us face right-wing terrorism, then 2022 was the year that blew up our collective assumptions about what extremism looks like in the United States.


Columnists Erika D. Smith and Anita Chabria look back and look ahead to the new year, as antisemitic rhetoric and hate crimes continue to change our understanding of the way political turmoil crosses demographic lines.

Chabria: Erika, you and I have been talking for a while about how people of color find their way into conspiratorial, far-right movements.

Last year, you wrote about Larry Elder being the “Black face of white supremacy” when the talk radio show host ran for governor, hoping to replace Gavin Newsom. California voters overwhelmingly rejected Elder in that recall election. So were you surprised to hear Republicans of color from other states mimic his inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2022?

Smith: Not really. It’s depressing, but certainly not surprising.

During the recall election, I interviewed several Black Republicans in California, and many of them predicted that Elder’s high-profile candidacy would encourage other conservatives of color to run for office. The only question was whether those conservatives would be moderate or whether they would emulate Elder, with his hard-line bombast and friendliness with far-right extremists, including Santa Monica native Stephen Miller.

Ultimately, I think what we saw in the midterm elections last year was a mixture of both.


But, I’ve got to say, when I think of people of color and extremism, the person who most comes to mind is Kanye West — or Ye, as I guess we’re calling him these days. What did you think of him sporting that “White Lives Matter” T-shirt at Paris Fashion Week last year and descending into a series of antisemitic rants and conspiracy theories on TV? Oh, and having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with former President Trump and white supremacist podcaster Nick Fuentes?

Chabria: Ye is complicated. I think you have to ask loaded questions about mental health and exploitation. {snip}


Right now, what concerns me most is how antisemitism is entwined with the “great replacement” and “groomer” conspiracy theories that have become mainstream for conservatives. {snip}

What those theories also have in common — and what’s relevant to understanding people of color embracing extremism — is that they all purport to be about protecting the traditional family structure. And by that I mean straight men in power and women happily subservient to their alpha males. That’s a seductive world view for a certain type of guy, regardless of race. It uses Christianity as its justification, melding the whole mess with Christian nationalism. There’s a lot of overlap in these ideologies, and a lot of flexibility.


But I think some people still see that kind of extremism as different from white supremacy. What do you think?

Smith: I’d have to agree. At this point, I actually think the definitions of “extremism” and “white supremacy” are completely muddled.

When most Americans hear those terms, my guess is they envision what they saw on Jan. 6, 2021, with mostly white men and women in MAGA gear and military fatigues, brazenly sacking the U.S. Capitol. Or maybe the racist, hateful rhetoric spewed by Trump and his many Republican acolytes who remain in Congress.

But someone like Ye? While he has been problematic for years — remember his “slavery was a choice” comment? — he also is a Grammy-winning rapper who was performing sold-out shows as recently as February of last year.


{snip} That tendency among some to rationalize and make excuses for celebrities of color, instead of immediately acknowledging that they are sharing dangerous conspiracy theories and having an honest conversation about why. That’s how the mainstreaming of extremism happens. That has to change in 2023.

Then there’s white supremacy. I got a lot of grief when I wrote that Elder was the Black face of it. “How,” hundreds of readers asked me in emails sprinkled with the N-word, “can someone be a Black white supremacist?” Simple. White supremacy is an ideology, a hierarchy of racial power that has been an integral part of this country since its founding, whether Americans want to acknowledge it or not.

Anyone of any race can be a prop, a tool or an enabler of white supremacy — and there have always been volunteers, because proximity to whiteness often pays. That’s not to say people of color are a monolith of left-leaning political affiliation. There have always been Black and Latino conservatives, for example.

But as Republicans continue their quest for nonwhite candidates and influencers, hoping to prove — usually in the most superficial ways — that their party isn’t racist, the people who are making money off this divisiveness are increasingly out in the open. 2023 will make this impossible to ignore.