Discussing “white identity” out of context perpetuates racism.

Although whiteness (contingent social construct) is invisible to the vast majority of white people (a contingent category of people), simply making whiteness explicit and visible is not necessarily antiracist. Making whiteness (contingent social construct) explicit does not in itself challenge the construct, but may instead strengthen it. Particularly, portraying the contingent social construct of whiteness as a necessary social construct reinforces racism.

White identity is defined by othering of people of colour.

The vast majority of white people (or persons with white privilege) are not consciously aware of the contingent social construct of whiteness, but they are very much aware of it subconsciously or implicitly. White people are implicitly aware of this contingent social construct, because it is constructed by calibrating whiteness as normal and othering people of colour. People of colour are considered “ethnic” and their culture is considered “cultural”, while “white people” and “white culture” are considered (implicitly) the negation of what people of colour supposedly represent. To even denote a people or cultural practise as “ethnic” suggests that there are people and cultural practises that are “not ethnic”, which is why the distinction is created in the first place.

In other words, the (implicit or explicit) social construct of whiteness works together with denoting people of colour as the Other, i.e., not of the national heritage, culture, or identity of “white”-majority nations. “White identity” is mainly a negative definition. When a person of white privilege addresses another person of white privilege, “white” is defined implicitly as not “blacks”, “Asians”, “minorities”, or “those people”. When a person of white privilege addresses a person of colour, “white” is defined implicitly as not “you people.”

Portraying whiteness (contingent social construct) as whiteness (necessary social construct) is racist.

Perceiving people of colour as having a “race” is the standard white narrative. Perceiving white people as having a “race” is more common with people of colour, but this perception is often based the recognition that people with white privilege have extra advantages. (For example, majoring in philosophy is sometimes considered very “white”, but this is based on the recognition that white people on average have a higher socio-economic status relative to people of colour within white-majority countries. When people say that majoring in philosophy is very “white”, it is not a statement about genetic differences in mental capabilities between “whites” and “non-whites”.) Hence, when people of colour are pointing out whiteness, they are not necessarily claiming that whiteness is something biological or that it is necessary to the fabric of reality.

Although making whiteness (contingent social construct) explicit may be subversive in that it usually makes people with white privilege uncomfortable, discussing “white identity” out of the context of white privilege and racism presents whiteness as a necessary (or natural) social construct. “White identity” is defined by othering people of colour, and a focus on whiteness that omits this aspect (from an antiracist perspective) reinforces the status quo, the idea that the white-versus-other divide has nothing to do with inequity. Hence, the act of making whiteness (contingent social construct) explicit but out-of-context (i.e., not as a criticism of racism and white privilege) perpetuates racism.

19 Responses to “Discussing “white identity” out of context perpetuates racism.”

  1. LLB Says:

    majoring in philosophy is sometimes considered very “white”

    Ouch, guilty as charged. Although I am missing the higher socio-economic status, so I’m probably just screwing my family over economically by doing this. (I was raised on the poorer, rural end of the spectrum and I was the first one in my family to go to college. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found my way out of college yet)

  2. animalcracker Says:

    Good breakdown. I mostly agree. The context-free discussion of whiteness is the problem with that Stuff White People Like blog and book. C. Lander allows white folks to chuckle at themselves without thinking of the power that they have as white people over non-white people. It’s almost always a context-free discussion of whiteness in that sense.

  3. jblackmel Says:

    I don’t believe your assertion that “…whiteness is invisible to the vast majority of white people.” White people, who whether consciously or subconsciously believe in white supremacy—not the conferderate flag waving, redneck from the south, but rather, those with the belief that whites are simply better–understand their power and privilege under the “system” of white supremacy. I believe they act like they don’t know in an effort not to discredit their so-called accomplishments. If i were in a race with state of the art shoes against a bare footed person, and if i were to win, the last thing that i would want to admit is that the scientific engineering of my shoes had any thing to do with my success. I believe white people are the masters of denial. I believe that they always like to be betrayed like they are such good-willed, well-to-do people, but when you look at the collective history of whites and non-whites all over this planet a different conclusion may be reached.

  4. LLB Says:

    My own experience gives me conflicting data on this point (the disagreement between Restructure and jblackmel, if their actually is one).

    I think perhaps that both assessments are correct. White people do live in a fog of racial ignorance, but it is an ignorance that they have at least had some hand in creating and maintaining.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    I think that when white people deny that there is white privilege, they are also trying to deny it to themselves and trying to convince themselves. Yes, the last thing the winner of the race wants to admit is that the scientifically-engineered shoes had something to do with his success, but he wants to deny it to save his own sanity and ego as well. If he actually knew consciously that he didn’t win the race fairly, he wouldn’t feel good about himself.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    knowing about wp is probably similar to knowing about access to drinking water for example. In industrialized countries the majority of citizens has access to drinkable running water, they grow up with this and don’t think about it, even if they know the fact.
    In a global context access to running water is a privilege.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    sorry, I didn’t enter my name, the above comment is by jwbe

  8. macon d Says:

    That’s a very useful analogy, jwbe.

    Speaking of water, the fish-and-water metaphor is usefully instructive as well. “If you give a white person a fish, he’ll just ask for more. But if you give him a fishing pole”–no wait, that’s a different one.

    “White people think they’ve pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, when they were actually born on third base. With a silver spoon in their mouths.”

    Does that work?

    Just another white fish, trying to describe and stay aware of the water,

    m d

  9. jwbe Says:

    what I wanted to say is that these privileges aren’t invisible, but they are considered a norm. Growing up with running water makes running water a norm for such person and it also becomes that person’s reality. This reality isn’t invisible but a basic fact in somebody’s life.
    When somebody would ask me to describe my flat I would tell some things but not for example my running water, because this I assume is standard in Germany for most people living here. Therefore I wouldn’t see a need to list it when talking about my appartement.

    White denial is more like a bad conscience or something like feeling guilty but not that whiteness itself is truly invisible to them

  10. jwbe Says:

    in addition: not their whiteness is invisible to them, other people’s different realities [regardless which race] are invisible to them

  11. LLB Says:

    That’s a great analogy. Thanks jwbe.

  12. William R. Anderson Says:

    This term whiteness has me confused.

    For example, I am white, but my cultural upbringing was Russian. I have never felt kinship or similarity with, say, white “Anglos” because of this, even though we look the same.

    There is an unspoken, and sometimes spoken, condescending attitude towards Russians, or East Europeans in general. My girlfriend is from East Europe, and people treat her as a lesser person as soon as they hear the accent. The change in behavious is immediate, and very apparent. They start being overly nice, nodding their heads, and they stop listening to her. Or she hears the common joke about being an alcoholic or communist. She also has had great difficulty finding a job, often because people will stop listening to her at interviews. Often people don’t take her seriously.

    I’m not comparing her experiences with a POC, but it’s clear that even though she’s white, there is something going on. I mean, she’s white, but she’s treated differently.

    How does one understand this?

  13. Restructure! Says:

    It’s interesting that Anglo white people treat her differently as soon as they hear the accent. Anglo white people treat me differently even before I speak, and I have no accent.

    It’s also interesting that you worry about job searching at the interview stage. Anglo white people would already judge me at the resumé stage, because my name is very ‘ethnic’/other, and they may assume that English is not my native language and that I’m better suited for doing math.

  14. William R. Anderson Says:

    Hi Restructure,

    Thank you for your response. I’ve wondered about the role of accents versus race, and then adding race + accents. Or, a POC who doesn’t speak English in North America. There are many modalities of interaction.

    As far as her name goes, yes, it is considered “ethnic” and that causes all kinds of weird interactions. For example, she is trying to apply for citizenship, and because he name is considered “ethnic”, even the government is giving her a hard time about it. Such as telling her that her middle name is too long, and she has to shorten it (no joke), and then mispelling her last name… on a citizenship application.

    But it wasn’t my question. You made a statement about whiteness, which I must be misunderstanding. When it gets into ethnicity, can a race be considered homogenous? How does one understand when a white person is treated differently by the dominant culture? Is this the same thing as your term whiteness?

  15. William R. Anderson Says:

    PS – My girlfriend has submitted hundreds of resumes, and received maybe at most 5 – 10 interviews over the past four years. If she does get to the interview stage, very quickly the interview finishes and they say they’ll call, which of course hasn’t happened.

    Actually, that’s true, except for one interview. Once she was hired by someone, but it had a weird feeling about it, like the owner was proud to have hired an immigrant. The owner didn’t listen to her, and treated her kind of like a sub person. The other people in the store didn’t really include her in discussions. They were polite, but not inclusive. Eventually it got a bit weird, and they started getting hostile to her, probably because she was getting fed up with being talked down to. She had to leave the job after a few months because it was too uncomfortable.

  16. Restructure! Says:

    You made a statement about whiteness, which I must be misunderstanding. When it gets into ethnicity, can a race be considered homogenous? How does one understand when a white person is treated differently by the dominant culture? Is this the same thing as your term whiteness?

    I think your girlfriend has white privilege (race privilege), but being foreign is something else that has to do with culture. People can be ‘othered’ not just because of race, but because of culture, sexual orientation, etc. Maybe there is some confusion because many people (usually white) conflate the concepts ‘race’ and ‘culture’ (maybe because the latter is often used as a euphemism for the former). They think that if somebody is not white, then they must have ‘culture’ or a different (and strong and ‘ethnic’) culture. They think that if somebody is of a different culture, then they not white or less white.

    I don’t understand your question, “When it gets into ethnicity, can a race be considered homogenous?”

  17. William R. Anderson Says:

    I believe she has race privilege too, definitely. It was confusing to me, because I see some whites have privilege over other whites too, based on ethnicity, but I guess there’s also economic privilege too.

    Referring to “culture” as euphemism for “race” – that makes sense. I see it. There is an avoidance of the word “race” among white people. I’m not justifying it, but they likely do it out of fear of saying something offensive.

    What I was getting at with the idea of race being homogenous, and I didn’t explain it well, was about the idea of an “absolute” context. The general idea is my girlfriend is white, but she is also treated as “other” among whites, kind of like a second class white. I think you explained it pretty clearly.

    But I need to reflect on it some more, because I’m not certain. I’m going to read your posting a few times. Thank you for your discussion.

  18. CommonSense Says:

    More antiwhite bullshit.

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