First things first, let’s breakdown some basic concepts:
“White” is a term describing people, refers to light skinned people of European descent (Portland Community College, 2016).
“Whiteness” is the construction of the white race, white culture, and the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people in the U.S. (and across the globe) through government policies, media portrayal, decision-making power within our corporations, schools, judicial systems, etc. (Portland Community College, 2016).
Explaining whiteness gets frustrating when people are not willing to listen and actually have a civilized conversation. Yes, I get it, it’s a difficult conversation to have, but people of color are forced to have numerous difficult conversations every day. The least a white person can do, who is unfamiliar with the term whiteness, is have this one conversation.
The music I listen to, and that many people that look like me produce, is considered noise. The way I dress is considered unprofessional, because it’s not a three-piece suit. The words I speak, because they don’t meet the numeric threshold of syllables deems me inarticulate. The fact that I make Black history everyday, and not just within the confines of 28 days, concludes me to be silenced. These are just a few examples of how I, along with many other people of color do not benefit from a system of socially constructed ideologies of whiteness.
“Not everything has to be about race.” No, it doesn’t. However, it’s easy to say not everything has to be about race when you’re a part of the dominant race with many privileges that people of other races are not given at birth.
“I’m not racist!”
Through numerous conversations, I never accuse or make any kind of statement that the person I’m talking to is a racist. Why is it that the person who doesn’t want to talk about race automatically insinuates they’re not a racist? To this day, I have never understood why that statement is the go-to phrase to be used as a defense mechanism. If you, as the reader want to get technical, whiteness is not solely referring to race, it is rather emphasizing the numerous systems in place to solely benefit a particular race, which in this case, is white people.
“I’m white and I had to work hard for everything I have in life. If I can do it, they can do it.”
Congrats! You worked hard, and honestly, you should be very proud of that. However, during this time, how often did you use your privilege as a white person to advance others who are not white? Within the systems of whiteness, you can start at any point and still benefit from it, whereas people of color cannot; every time people of color are about to complete the race, the finish line gets moved. This is not to devalue any hard work or effort that a white person has performed to be successful in their lives. However, it is also crucial to point out that they were working hard and navigating through a system that is initially designed to benefit them in the first place.
“If everyone was treated equally, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Equity can benefit all, but equality seems to only benefit the privileged. This whole rhetoric many people try to preach about equality is nothing more than a way to gently tiptoe around the underlying issue. At least with having conversations about race, power, privilege, oppression, and whiteness, people are further contributing to a solution, as opposed to further contributing to the problem.
“What about Blackness? Asianess? Hispanicness? Or Native Americanness?”
I won’t say that these terms don’t exist, but if we are going to use them in the way that I am using the term whiteness, then please provide me with what systems in society exist that were initially designed to solely benefit these specific groups of people. Again, this is another deflection mechanism because some people spend too much time focusing on whatever word comes prior to the “ness” portion of the term.
This conversation will never be easy for many people, regardless of their race.
Simply starting the conversation is a step to progress. If someone doesn’t want to talk about black and white, let’s at least talk about wrong and right. And currently, we live in a society that is not right for all, and is only a just society for a select few.
“This is just another way to pick on white people!”
Nope, not at all. Unfortunately, there are people of color in this world who perpetuate messages of whiteness. For instance, when a person of color “passes” as white, they become exposed to different experiences and privileges that are different than their counterparts who don’t “pass” as white. Additionally, some of these people will then take advantage of their whiteness for their sole benefit, and disown their true salient identity as a person of color. Another scenario that happens is a person of color who “passes” as white is not deemed “acceptable” by white people or people of their own race; this may be due to them not meeting the social expectations constructed through ideologies of whiteness. On the other hand, it could also be due to them not meeting the physical and/or social expectations of their actual race because they have a lighter skin tone as opposed to their counterparts that have much more melanin.
Another way whiteness is perpetuated through people of color is through racialized “othering.” If a person of color does not walk, talk, or act a certain way that is considered the norm of that specific ethnic group, or exceeds that norm, they are deemed not a part of that population, and are usually accused of “acting white”, i.e. “the other.” This adds more gas to the fire because situations like this insinuate that intellect, proper grammar, and poise are sole attributes of those who are white. Hence, the socialized constructions of whiteness.
I invite any white person who is unfamiliar with whiteness to come with an open mind and be willing to have a conversation. And I challenge any person of color that has perpetuated systems of whiteness to hold themselves accountable for their potential wrongdoings. Nonetheless, we are stronger together once we all acknowledge the problem, and contribute to the solution.
Photo credit: Getty Images