Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy

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Maysie Maysie's picture
Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy


Maysie Maysie's picture

I just came across this article, a chapter from the book [i]Color of Violence: INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence[/i]. [url=http://www.southendpress.org/2005/items/8762X]South End Press[/url], 2006.

I would very much like to have a discussion of this article. It's a smallish pdf file, 8 pages long. Please do not post unless you've read the article and I would like it if remarks were about the content of the article. Thank you.


Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing by Andrea Smith


...one problem we have is that we are too busy fighting over who is more oppressed. In this essay I want to argue that these incidents are not so much the result of the "oppression olympics" but are more about how we have inadequately framed "women of color" or "people of color" politics. That is, the premise behind much women of color organizing is that women from communities victimized by white supremacy should unite together around their shared oppression.


This framework has proven to be limited for women of color and people of color organizing. First, it tends to presume that our communities have been impacted by white supremacy in the same way. Consequently, we often assume that all of our communities will share similar strategies for liberation.

Please read the full article [url=http://www.girlarmy.org/reader/Three%20Pillars.pdf]here.[/url]

Andrea Smith (Cherokee) is a longtime anti-violence and Native American activist and scholar. She is co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, a national grassroots organization that utilizes direct action and critical dialogue. Smith has published widely on issues of violence against women of color and is one of the nation's leading experts on the topic, as well as a highly-sought after speaker. [url=http://www.southendpress.org/authors/258]Andrea Smith's bio here[/url]

TemporalHominid TemporalHominid's picture


First I should state, I am white, male, and heterosexual, and a public servant...

I clearly have not read enough on perspectives like this. Andrea Smith has made some salient points, and I appreciate how she frames the points so that laypeople can understand the 3 pillars of white supremacy.

I think I avoid reading on alternative perspectives, because it is rare for me to read a perspective that I can understand; the works so often use terms and concepts I don't understand. It's probably not a failure of the authors, the failure is on my part, my reading comprehension interferes with my understanding.

The article is calling into doubt the status quo, the institutionalised pillars, white-male- heterosexual- middle class myths, (Lou Dobbs on CNN comes to mind, as he rails on about "others" Mexican migrants, and China's and India's economy.)

What is the suggested model that is based on community relationships and mutual respect?

remind remind's picture

Thank you for the linked article BCG, was a very interesting read, by way of putting observed oppresssion mechanisms together in a coherant and valid framework.

As my cognative response, to said observations, can only come from my perspective as a woman, not of colour, it may be too narrow of a viewpoint.

Having said that, when one contemplates the following statement:


As Ann Burlein argues in Lift High tbe Cross, it may be a mistake to argue that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the United States. Rather, Christian Right politics work through the private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a
"Christian America." She notes that the investment in the private family makes it difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the public disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the result of deviance from the Christian family
ideal rather than as the result of political and economic forces. As former head of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, states: "'The only true solution to crime is to restore the family,"to and "Family break-up causes poverty."It Concludes Burlein, "'The family' is no mere metaphor but a crucial technology by which modern
power is produced and exercised." As I have
argued elsewhere, in order to colonize peoples whose societies are not based on social hierarchy, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. In turn, patriarchy rests on a gender binary system in which only two genders exist, one dominating the other.

I would have to argue that this is not just a colonialist activity at work, limited to a notion of white supremacy. Patriarchy, and the sexism and racialization stemming from it, is a function specifically of "the elites" to keep the elite society, elite.

All non-elites, no matter the colour are considered to be "human capital" and ALL are ranked within a scale of exploitation worth contained within a human capital framework. That is why white collar work is considered to be more higher valued work than blue collar, and blue collar work is higher ranking than the service industry, and the service industry are ranked higher than unemployable, etc.

The model of family they, the Christian Right noted above, are harkening to, was created long ago, in order to exploit and control child and woman's labour. The end benefitters of this exploitation are solely the elites.

Of course, there are transient benefitters along the way, there has to be in order for the exploitation model to work. People have to be kept happy enough, through some sort of personal reward, or other control mechanism, in order for the exploitation of the majority of the people of the world to continue, en masse.

Now, the Christian aspect she puts forth is a whole other expanded dialogue. As it contains the people she is separating from "white middle class America". How this plays into the control of the elites can be expanded upon greatly. Moreover, I suggest it is not just a "family" phenomena contained within just "Christianity". It just looks different in other patriarchial religious models. The end result is the same, exploitation of labour that in the end benefits the world's elites.

TemporalHominid TemporalHominid's picture


Originally posted by remind:
[b] The end result is the same, exploitation of labour that in the end benefits the world's elites.[/b]


The elites benefit, and as a white heterosexual male I also benefit greatly, even though I may be a non-elite.

I benefit greatly from displaced First Nations people, a cheap labour pool, the effort to reduce the amount of First Nations people that can make a land claim, the dehumanizing of those labelled as "other", the incarceration of people of colour, the nuclear family myths, the constant fear.

I have privilege and opportunities denied to so many others. I am not that unlike Lou Dobbs on CNN, who fears change, people doubting the status quo and the myths, fears the "others"... Lou Dobbs is scared of losing his privilege.

Lou's whole message is fear based. And white middle class heterosexual males are buying into Lou's message.

Will Andrea Smith's observations and perspectives be considered in this environment of fear? The elites constantly remind Lou Dobbs and myself how much we have to lose. They are very apt at using those 3 pillars to convince everyone in the hierarchy what they will lose.

The elites, and those with the most to lose (like Lou Dobbs and myself), are going to continue to impose their agenda, to exploit, and to preach fear, and make the issues Andrea Smith wrote of, about them and their power, privilege, wealth and influence.

[ 19 May 2008: Message edited by: TemporalHominid ]


Very illuminating.

In regard to the Third Pillar - Orientalism/War:


Orientalism serves as the anchor for war because it allows the US to justify being in a constant state of war to protect itself from its enemies.

This statement jives with Gwyn Dyer's assertation that the US has either marginalised global multilateral and multicultural institutions (UN) or co-opted them (NATO) in order to perpetuate the myth that the US military "needs" to act as the world's policeman - hence allowing it free reign to fulfill the destiny commonly refered to as Pax Americana.

In several articles on the blooming religeosity in the US military, coersion to accept fundamentalist Christianity no matter what one's personal religion or lack thereof is endemic.On pain of being punished by fundamentalist superiors or even worse,killed or maimed by intentional neglect, everyone in a unit is forced to observe the tenets of the (my words) fundamentalist crusaders.

How do the three pillars affect this situation and how do POC mitigate this threat?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm sympathetic to Smith's view here, that white heteropatriarchy is the anchor of the Capitalist/colonialist project. I agree that the nuclear family, a structuring tool of capitalism, enacts a kind of closure, shoring up the West from subversive or revolutionary pressures. I think, although Smith stops short of saying this, that the three "pillars" of White supremacy act like the familial unit in anti-racist discourse, absorbing the very structure that keeps potential allies apart. That is, if the "pillars" act as beacons only to specific marginalized groups and use the familial logic to actively rebuke or ignore the other two pillars, any attempt to undermine the binary actually strengthens the pillar they seek to dismantle. (Incidentally, I think there is an unfortunate conflation going on, however, with Orientalism. While it makes for nice symmetry, I feel that the way the United states treats the Middle East, the Far East and Latin America are significantly different, and operate differently.) It's a difficult link to make, I think, although I agree with both premises. Certainly seeking other forms of social connection and interaction outside of the family would enable the cooperation of allies and reduce exclusion that is part and parcel of the imperialist/colonialist project, but I think the case Smith is making to link the two could be stronger.