Exploring the online and in-person epidemiology and etiology of white supremacy

Jessica Seiler | 2023

Advisor: Anjum Hajat

Research Area(s): Injury & Violence, Social Determinants of Health

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Racism, a common facet of white supremacy, is increasingly understood to be a major threat to both the health of democracy in the United States and to the public’s health. However, our understanding of white supremacy and white supremacy culture is still limited. In this dissertation, we examine two violent examples of where and how white supremacy culture shapes our lives: first, in childhood experiences of bullying; and second, in language used on social media. In Chapter 1, we introduce previous literature on these topics and define a major theme for this dissertation work: the distinction between the dividing force of white supremacy culture and the countermovement of community care. In Chapters 2 and 3, we explore race-based bullying in a way that contextualizes it as both a component of individual radicalization into further violence and an element of social and cultural white supremacy. Chapter 2 offers an in-depth review of the literature on both race-based bullying and bias-based bullying more generally, identifying gaps in the research and suggesting possible next steps for data collection, analysis methods, and integration of theory. In Chapter 3, we use ecological systems theory, social dominance theory, and theoretical work on white supremacy culture to conduct a theoretical thematic analysis of the radicalization accounts of former white supremacists. In Chapter 4, we analyze the relationship between income inequality and bullying based on race or perceived immigration status in California schools. Using county-level income data, we calculate a white-specific Gini coefficient and compare its association with bullying in California schools to the more usual whole-population Gini coefficient. Finally, in Chapter 5, we examine differences in how social media users interact with implicitly and explicitly racist language on Twitter. Overall, we find strong evidence of white supremacy’s dangerous and destructive role in our society, both in person and online. We make recommendations for how the fields of public health and epidemiology can position themselves to identify and combat white supremacy’s dangerous effects on community health.