The study of Whiteness is fraught with controversy. While many theorists confuse Whiteness studies with studies on racism, other theorists believe Whiteness is a social reconstruction. This paper endeavors to explore the idea of Whiteness being a social reconstruction. Whiteness privileges will be identified as well as characteristics of Whiteness that allows it to continue to survive in an era where political correctness and affirmative action are present in people's minds. Examples of whiteness in different life areas will be examined and "me too ism" as a defence and reaction on the part of white people will be investigated.
The controversy regarding Whiteness has not been laid to rest. While many theorists argue that it cannot be separated from the theme of racism, other analysts believe Whiteness is a social construction and racism is merely a result of this social construction. This paper endeavors to explore the concept of Whiteness being a social construction rather than about race. The privileges inherent in Whiteness will be examined and examples of Whiteness will be identified in education, the workplace, and the law and in simple things like grocery shopping.
Whiteness is a value system that privileges certain people. Whiteness privileges itself as the standard in humanity. It is not primarily about 'race.' One major privilege of Whiteness is the seditious avoidance of responsibility even though it may be painted as an acknowledgment of responsibility. An example of this evasion of responsibility was demonstrated by the U.S., the U.K. And European powers at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in South Africa in 2001. South Africa wished to discuss reparations for colonialism and the slave trade during the conference. However, the U.S., the U.K. And the European powers threatened to quit the conference if this discussion were to be allowed on the agenda since they did not believe it had anything to do with the present government administration of their respective countries. While each country expressed their regret at what happened to South Africa at the hands of their predecessors, they believed that the present governments should not be held accountable for previous governments' crimes.
In a more everyday, routine setting, Whiteness privileges manifest in the most ordinary of places and events. In the area of consumerism, the white race usually dominates the type of clothing and trends established in stores. In grocery stores, food that possesses non-white origins such as Chinese food, Italian food, or Mexican food, are sold in distinct sections on the shelves. In the workplace, ethnic staff tends to feel pressure when they decide to absent themselves from work for a day to observe a particular religious holiday that does not follow the 'white' calendar. In the legal arena, the Legislature who passes the laws we all must abide is predominantly white.
Peggy McIntosh, in her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," described the types of privilege afforded her based on her skin color (Appendix I). Much of this privilege is a result of Whiteness being classified as the norm or the standard. The media, education, and the workplace all convey the 'ordinariness' and 'usualness' of Whiteness, so much so that it has become a form of standard that people measure differences by. The privilege that is derived from belonging to a 'standard' is that the person is perceived as non-threatening: "Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me -- they are white. They see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an advantage." Another privilege derived from 'normality' is that flaws of the white person are often overlooked or forgiven. "White privilege has meant that scores of second-rate white professors have slid through the system because their flaws were overlooked out of solidarity based on race, as well as on gender, class and ideology."
There are even instances where Whiteness is so much the standard that it is not even recognized as a race. It is a non-race. Therein lies the paradox. As a color, white is both a mixture of all colors and an absence of color. As a racial category, white refers to people whose skin color is actually white. However, since "white" skin assumes a lack of ethnicity, white people do not usually think of themselves as being racially imprinted. In other words, since white people are seen everywhere, being the majority, they believe themselves to be the norm and any variations to themselves as a population is marked with ethnicity. The paradox is that "Whiteness as ideal can never be attained, not only because white skin can never be hue white, but because ideally white is absence: to be really, absolutely white is to be nothing." However, this invisible, unmarked and unnamed element in Whiteness is the basis of its power. It affords white people the privilege of victimhood. By professing to be victims of affirmative action, white people can downplay the acts of prejudice committed against minority cultures.
Another paradox in Whiteness concerns social views on interracial families. Women who have children of another color are usually looked down upon because white society expects white women (i.e. Caucasian women) to maintain the 'white race' and white women are viewed negatively when seen with a person of another color.
McIntosh goes on to assert that the origins of Whiteness privileges date back to conquests made by people of white skin color on those nationalities of different skin color. History is about people who have the 'power' to interpret the world. By 'power,' I mean to say that people who write our history books are primarily of white origin.
While Whiteness is not a debate about racism, these two concepts are indelibly intertwined when discussion of Whiteness privileges is taken up. Whiteness is a social reconstruction as race is a social reconstruction. Richard Dyer explores Whiteness as a social reconstruction. "White people create the dominant images of the world and don't quite see that they thus construct the world in their image." The fact that white people are unaware that they construct the world through their own perspective is one of the main reasons why Whiteness continues to be considered as superior.
One of the problems surrounding Whiteness studies is that many of the theorists, analysts and researchers studying the origins and effects of Whiteness and the privileges that come with it are predominantly white themselves. Many of the researchers in this topic who are white risk adopting "me too ism." "Me too ism" means that people will say or feel anything that certain things are not good enough for them. It also incorporates a desire to feel included. In an effort to bridge the gap between white people and ethnic people, Whiteness theorists who are white profess the similarities between white people and people of other skin colors. An example of this is when minorities claim to be victims of oppression, white people claim to be victims of affirmative action. This response of white people is both a defence and a reaction to the blame being directed their way. White reactiveness frames a response of 'very emotional' (we are concerned about you) to white people. However, minorities should not be denied their anger. Rather, it should be viewed as productive. "Me too ism" can also be an attempt at resolution on the part of white people to alleviate the guilt of the actions of their predecessors that can be seen as blatant acts of oppression on minorities. "Me too ism" serves to stall or stop discussion altogether on the subject of blame-shifting as well.
The debate concerning Whiteness and the privileges that come with it is by no means nearing settlement. Since Whiteness is…