“White supremacy” serves a broader rhetorical purpose for the Left, which is forever in search of a master theory attached to a master villain. For a century or so, the master theory was Marxism and the master villain was capitalism. For the countercultural radicals of 1968, the master villain was the Establishment, bourgeois society, the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit; for the feminists, it was patriarchy (recently supplanted by misogyny); for 1980s postmodernists of a Foucauldian bent, it was “power,” nebulously defined. (The contemporary Right has its own answers to that: globalists, elitists, etc.)

Those master villains need to have two attributes: One, they must be rooted in sin, either the sin of greed (capitalism) or the sin of hatred, which is why “misogyny” gained currency over “patriarchy” and why some on the left have settled on “white supremacy” as an explanation for what ails black America rather than such traditional factors as poverty, which according to the rhetoric of the moment must be understood as yet another facet of white supremacy. Two, the villains must be impersonal. If culpable racism is being perpetrated by culpable racists who, e.g., victimize African Americans by subjecting them to police abuses, then people of good will start to ask the obvious questions: Which police? Where? Doing what, exactly? That creates problems for the professional activist class — which is what “white supremacy” is all about as a rhetorical matter. E.g.: Between 2007 and 2013, Philadelphia police shot 394 suspects, leading to claims of excessive force and, inevitably, excessive force used in a racially discriminatory manner. But the mayor of Philadelphia was black, and the police commissioner was black, and the police department was 33 percent black (the city is 42 percent black), and many of the shootings that activists questioned involved black officers. “White supremacy” gives you a rhetorical out: “Black cops are subject to the same training, culture and systemic pressures as their white counterparts,” Lauren Fleer of Socialist Worker wrote about the Philadelphia situation. What comes next, reliably, is an extended exercise in begging the question