whiteness, racism, and colorblindness

Posted on February 8, 2008


This blog is a project for Black Studies 410: Topics: White Studies, Winter 2008 at Portland State University. Among our goals is integrating theory and action, and I hope to gain more tools and solidarities in fighting racism by examining my role in the structure of whiteness and white culture in maintaining and perpetuating systemic racism and oppression.

From a historical, anthropological, and anti-racist perspective, we are examining what white culture is and how whiteness has been socially constructed as both “race-less” and “culture-less” yet as the societal norm, as the dominant white power structure. We are analyzing the ways in white power and privilege has structured, maintained, and perpetuated racism using both biological and cultural arguments, and importantly, we are examining the CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF RACISM OF “COLORBLINDNESS” which as invisibility and denial (white complicity) is invested in shrouding racial inequality. This new insidious form of racism as “colorblindness” is very dangerous because it has created an environment where we cannot talk about race anymore without people of color are accused of “playing the race card”despite overwhelming evidence that race is a major factor in economic, social, and political inequality across the board.

We started by examining “race as biology” and “culture of poverty”arguments as the ways in which many whites justify racial inequality by “blaming the victim” while simultaneously denying that racism and racial inequality exist. By understanding how race has been socially constructed as any category but white, we can see how whites have eluded responsibility from the history of racial construction/racism/racial inequality. By further examining what “whiteness” is and how whiteness perpetuates racism and racial inequality, by looking at whiteness as a culture and as a socially constructed “racial group”, we can hopefully learn ways to deconstruct white complicity with white privilege. In order to understand how white privilege, complicity and denial, enables “business to go on as usual” (or racism and racial inequality to continue), we must look at the role of whiteness as the key factor in perpetuating racial inequality.

In addition to examining the ways in which white complicity perpetuates white privilege, “colorblindness” as the new racism, as the denial of racism insidiously perpetuates racial inequality. We are working to develop interracial and cross-cultural solidarities with people of color in order to figure out what the role of white people can be in challenging racism and white privilege. As white people as well as those who identify with whiteness and white culture, we must learn how to give up our privilege in order for social equality to be actualized. We must learn how to be allies without taking over social justice movements, without appropriating the knowledge of the oppressed as our own, without perpetuating the very structure of whiteness and privilege that we are seeking to deconstruct. We must learn what our role is in illuminating and fighting racism.

This experience has been very difficult for me, for the structure of whiteness has been so deeply imbedded in my psyche and my actions, the awareness I am perpetuating it every day makes me feel like I am my own worst enemy. No matter how hard I try, I feel like I am doing more damage than good, and hurting myself as well as those around me who I want to work with. But I can’t give up. I have to keep struggling against my white racialized socialized self in order to fight against inequality. Collective struggle is a learning experience for we have been taught in American society how to do things as individuals but not as a collective group, for collective organization and struggle is revolutionary because it is a threat to the individualistic competitiveness which perpetuates capitalism. This must be my mantra in times of distress when I feel like I am fighting inner demons which tell me that I am my own worst enemy and that everything I am working for is hurting more than helping…

What some would call “white guilt” but what I would call being accountable and taking responsiblity for my white privilege, my rage at injustice, accountability to myself abd others, responsibility for the present and the future, and pro-active critique and engagement in solidarity with the oppressed…[Tools]