looking inward- deconstructing white privilege

Posted on February 20, 2008


I am still feeling really frustrated about how much difficulty we are having as a class with looking at racism as disadvantage but also as advantage. Taking responsibility and being accountable as white people must be done in order to understand what we can do to challenge racism. I believe that I must see how my own ignorance and inaction perpetuates systemic racism and oppression, by allowing business to go on as usual. Disrupting this process for me and for other white people means looking at white privilege, but this MUST not be about reconfirming to ourselves and to each other how lucky we are to be white, but by really making a personal commitment to looking inward at why we think the way we do, why we behave the way we do, how we see other people, and the lifestyles we lead (look at my essay on Bonilla-Silva’s white habitus).

As white people, we have to take responsibility as the oppressor group, for if we aren’t actively anti-racist, we resign ourselves to racism through passivity and inaction. We can no longer operate as if we have no race, no culture, for this normalizes white culture to continue being the unquestioned norm by deeming everything else different from hence “other than”. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s white habitus is so key, for I feel the the invisibility of the white culture we live in must be discussed and broken down in order to deconstruct it as the norm that everyone should/must/want to aspire to.

Whiteness and white culture has been naturalized and legitimated that white people think “that’s just the way it is”, making invisible the very intentional, planned, and historically-rooted policies that were put in place by white people to maintain and perpetuate white supremacy and privilege.

While it is intrinsic to look at racism and its effects on the oppressed, white people are still missing the point. The strategies that so many whites used to challenge racism often look outside of whiteness and white culture,  instead of looking within at how white culture/identity/structures/whiteness is in each of us as white people. In addition, even though we may not even realize it, white people and even those who may not be white but who identify with whiteness and white culture perpetuate whiteness as hierarchy and oppression. Yet, why is it that even when we realize what we are doing, we find it so difficult to find other ways of being, of knowing each other, and of re-navigating our lives and our world?

Therefore, strategies utilized by white people in challenging and fighting racism are often to speak for others, to help others, to save others, instead of looking at ourselves and those around us in our “white habitus”(Bonilla-Silva, 103-129). We cannot silence people of color and think that this will fight racism. People of color have been saying these things for a long time. Yet, as white people, our social change strategies are so infiltrated with the structure of whiteness, that we can’t see beyond our blinders, our socialized patterns. We are having such difficulty “thinking outside of the box”, the (white) social world that surrounds us. Unless we locate ourselves in the social world, as white people, with white skin unearned privilege, as oppressors in our very white strategies and methods, as want-to-be “saviors of the world”, we will perpetuate the white habitus.

If we are going to challenge racism and fight for racial equality, we need people of color at the decision-making table.  Without dealing with whiteness and taking responsibility, we will move ourselves past race, past modernity (post-modernism) into this “post-white identity”, where race doesn’t exist, where history is erased, and where we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions, nor acknowledge our pasts!