Whiteness Is a Disease

I’ve been sitting on this essay for months, because I’m a coward. I’ve been through so many attacks this year for writing about race and for writing about the Democratic primary that I was afraid to post this, despite how deeply I believe in it. And then the events of the past few days– the extrajudicial executions of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile– happened and I could no longer live with my cowardice. Our Black brothers and sisters are taking their lives in their hands every time they leave their houses, and I’m afraid to post *an article* because I’ll be sent more attacks and threats. I was ashamed by my desire to protect myself with privilege and silence. So here is my essay.

 

Whiteness.Jessica.Rath

“Whiteness” by Jessica Rath

We use the phrases “white people,” “white America,” and the like all the time. I say that I’m “white.” I experience “white” privilege routinely. But how do we define “white”? What is “whiteness”?

While the usage of the term “white” has been used for millennia as a physical descriptor (along with “black” and similar descriptors) often attached to various cultures or groups, the term “white” was first applied as a cross-ethnic racial category in the late 17th century, created specifically around the racialization of slavery. (I hate to use wikipedia as a source, but this isn’t a bad summary.) “White” was created to mean “not Black, therefore, culturally superior and not subject to slavery or racial discrimination.” This meaning has never substantially changed.

Jews, the Irish, and southern Italians were not widely considered “white” when the first large waves of immigrants came here in the late 19th century. They slowly became “white” over the 20th century, through a process of assimilation that, in some cases, involved assimilating “white” America’s anti-Black racism. It’s important to note there’s no consensus about that process. There’s a great deal of academic discussion about who was considered “white,” when it happened, and what regional differences there may have been. But just the fact that there’s room for argument, the fact that there are differences of opinion even amongst experts, proves that there is no essential “whiteness.” “Whiteness” is a constructed social category that means nothing but “accorded cultural superiority.”

Irish American. Swedish American. French American. English American. Ashkenazi Jewish American. Scottish American. Greek American. Polish American. These are legitimate ethnic identities tied to proud cultures, traditions, heritages. These are identities and heritages of which one can (and should) be proud. Being “white,” however, has no intrinsic meaning. It means nothing but “accorded cultural superiority over people of color, especially Black people,” and, as such, the only heritage, culture, and traditions of “whiteness” are slavery, lynching, racism, oppression. “Whiteness” was conceptualized as a weapon to use against Black people, and as such, it’s spawned an extraordinary amount of social ills. When you raise children to understand their proud Greek, French, or even American heritage, that means something specific about your family, its past, and its connections to a long and storied culture and history. When you raise children to understand they are “white,” that means literally nothing but which position they occupy within a deliberately created system of racial hierarchy. “Whiteness” is a disease from which an enormous amount of our social ills have sprung. It’s time to dismantle the concept of whiteness.

I’m not calling for the dismantling of the concept of “Blackness” because Blackness is completely different. Blackness is an ethnicity, a culture with many subcultures. Black culture developed in this country because we ripped people from an enormous variety of different cultures (research shows that most Black slaves came from one of 46 different ethnic groups), threw them all together, often isolating them from anyone who spoke their native language, told them they were now “Black” instead of Ibo or Temne, told them they were now Christian instead of Muslim or adherents to their traditional tribal faiths, and tortured them the second it looked like one might be considering disobedience. Faced with an unimaginably traumatic disconnection from their cultures of origin, Black people in America together created a vibrant, strong, detailed culture with multiple subcultures, and with multiple linguistic and artistic traditions, influenced by their cultures of origin but crafted into something unique that would have (and continues to have) an enormously disproportionate impact on American culture as a whole. Black people make up just 13% of this nation. Yet how much of American music, language, and art comes from Black culture? This culture, with all its subcultures, miraculously created like a fucking phoenix from the ashes of one of the worst human rights atrocities in human history, is so powerful, so rich, so potent, it has, despite being the culture of just 13% of our people, invented just about everything you love about America. A Black woman invented rock and roll, Black people invented every piece of slang you use (I’m not even going to link that because we all know), Black people invented nearly every form of music we label “American” (jazz, blues, hip hop, gospel). Black inventors have revolutionized multiple industries. A Black man invented the home video game console. Black culture is so rich and influential, it makes America American, and spreads far beyond the borders of America to influence cultures all over the world.

When all is said and done, and America has joined the ranks of Great Dead Societies, Black American culture will have been as globally influential as Greece or Rome. To say that an American is “Black” is to tie them to a very specific, robust culture that is intrinsically tied to race because “white” Americans forcibly grouped them as such. It means something culturally specific in the way that “white” does not. (BTW, this is why I capitalize “Black” but do not capitalize “white.”) I’m sure Black people would have loved to have had the luxury of coming here (or not) by choice, and identifying as Nalu American or Ewe American, or, as many modern immigrants do, Nigerian American, Ethiopian American. That choice was denied to them, and they created a unique, robust culture of their own.

“White” Americans, on the other hand, nearly all came here by choice– even the indentured servants— and had the luxury to preserve their culture, or not, as they chose. I don’t mean to denigrate the enormous pressure for late 19th/early 20th century immigrants to assimilate, or the racism some (including my own ancestors) faced. But they came here by choice, and, despite those pressures were able to retain much of their cultures of origin.

“White” people didn’t put together a “white” culture with “white” traditions that became an entirely new ethnic identity. People from varying ethnic traditions identified as “white” for the sole purpose of oppressing Black Americans, then navigated back to their specific ethnic, regional, or religious identities at will.

Each and every one of the people who fall under the category “white American” have a more potent, more meaningful, more, let’s face it, real culture than the constructed racist identity of “whiteness.”

If your family has been here so long it’s lost all connection to its culture or cultures of origin, you have multiple options to move past your “whiteness.” You can reclaim a heritage identity; you can identify as “American,” you can identify with your region or religion. You have numerous options, many of which, I would wager, you already use. There’s no reason to cling to a label that was created specifically to be deployed as a weapon of  oppression.

If we can step away from the concept of “whiteness,” we can step towards equity. I’m not naive enough to believe that people will magically lose their racism when they start identifying as “Finnish American” instead of “white.” But I do believe that language shapes thinking, and that what we call something– or someone– shapes how we think of them. If you call yourself, and people who look like you, “white,” that will have an impact on how you think about yourself and others. Restructuring how we understand “white” people into various ethnic categories that are not definitionally hierarchical is a step, one step, in the right direction towards eliminating the many structures and systems of racism that exist in American culture, American minds, American hearts. Eliminating the concept of “whiteness”– seeing ourselves and each other in terms that are not specifically defined by who is accorded cultural superiority– is a step toward eliminating that cultural superiority and building equity.

I’m not naive enough to think that whiteness is something I can unilaterally renounce for myself, and step out of the white privilege that exists as a prominent part of my intersectional identity. But I do think that all of us living as “white” people together taking responsibility for the impact of “whiteness” on people of color, renouncing that label and hierarchical concept, and claiming identities not based in deliberate cultural hierarchy as a tool for oppression, is one first necessary step towards dismantling white privilege. White privilege will always exist as long as we reinforce the racist concept of “whiteness.” This will take generations, so we better get cracking.

Refuse your whiteness. It’s a disease that feeds on Black lives. Claim identities that speak to your truth, not to a history of oppression.

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56 thoughts on “Whiteness Is a Disease

  1. Taylor Schackmann says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I was just thinking about this last night.

  2. Lozza C says:

    This will (I hope) make for some interesting conversation in my classes this coming year as we continue to explore our Marginalized Voices unit. What especially stayed with me: the fact that European Americans can identify as blahblah-American but African Amercians get just that: one big, generic continent. I appreciate the links as well and will be exploring them as I continue to build this teaching unit. Culture, I think, is constructed out of a need and desire for belonging and that shared and developed need/desire with others forms those cultural connections. What a great path for conversation. Once again, thank you for a thoughtful essay.

  3. Brilliant and solution oriented. I hope getting this out feeds your courage, rather than hurt it. May you continue to stand as an ally.

  4. Ultizan says:

    Black are taking their lives in their hands everyday…because black people are being massacred by fellow black people. There is no comparison. Cops kill more white people and blacks kill more black people than are killed by cops and white people by an enormous margin. Why are you not addressing this? Is it not an issue? Is it not the responsibility of black culture to address this?

    Further, your definition of whiteness is postmodern gibberish. White means Caucasian meaning a racial group sharing cultural and physical traits historically traced to the Caucasus mountains in Eurasia. And if you arguing that black people are superior to whites based on innovations…there’s no comparison. White people invented democracy. We could go back and forth like that forever. Or we could recognize all our achievements and failures.

    Do you not see that your definition of whiteness and condemnation of white culture is racist as you claim simultaneously that white people cannot be discrimated against?

    You have gotten lost in rhetoric. Come down to the south side of Chicago. You will not see white people killing black people. You will see black people committing cultural suicide. Police are no longer willing to enter these neighborhoods. That is an observable cycle. We as a city have abandoned these communities. Black people are responsible. Unless you believe that the violence is not their responsibility.

    I know nothing about you. I’m judging you solely on the content of your ideas, not the color of your skin. You seem incapable of doing the same.

    • Midnight says:

      I agree with your analysis of this essay. Thank you for posting it.

    • Carlos says:

      I disagree with your analysis of this essay.
      But, I still thank you for posting it.

    • Nick says:

      You should research the redlining that was done in Chicago. I would recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article The Case for Reparations. It might help to problematize your understanding of the state of things in Chicago.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

      • Ultizan says:

        I’m horrified by the historical injustice and financial predation against blacks outlined in this article. It does not change the fact that we have to have a loud national conversation about black on black violence if we are ever going to address the causes, including poverty and the drug war. We are not having this conversation. Instead we are demonizing police officers who are statistically and observably NOT killing blacks more than whites. Why aren’t postmodern critics such as this blogger and BLM demanding this conversation? I honestly do not know. Why is there a cultural movement to “deconstruct whiteness” but not one willing to address the very real violence in the black community? Our politically correct ideologies are helpless against these issues. If BLM or the Obama administration had any real interest in correcting historical injustice they would loudly address black violence.

        I am a lifelong liberal in Chicago. I am heartbroken that the left has given up on actual social justice and have become ideologically immune to facts and committed to the privileged postmodern criticism of writers such as this blogger. “Deconstructing whiteness” is a meaningless concept. How is this accomplished? What can be accomplished is to start the real conversation now as we shed the progressive nonsense that is the parlance of the very, very privileged indeed.u

      • The conversation you seem to want to have is NOT black-on-black violence. The conversation you seem to want to have is about poverty-based violence in Chicago. PLEASE recognize the difference – the former is a dog-whistle term that is extremely problematic. White-on-white violence is just as bad if not worse when looked at as a general trend in America, and our gov’t agencies are actually harsher on POC criminals.

        And finally, one of the (many, many) reasons why gangs are a thing in Chicago is BECAUSE of the long, long, LONG history of white police brutality and the feeling of dead-end-ness – like, there is very little opportunity for POC in this country, and in many areas Think about it – if you’re going to die or be imprisoned anyway, where do you go? One feeds the other. The two cannot be unentwined.

      • Nick says:

        To Utilizan, how do you think the issue of violent crime in urban areas should be addressed? From what I have seen, there has been lots of effort to combat it.

        I hope I don’t come off as rude, but it seems disrespectful to the hard work that people are doing in inner cities to reduce violent crime when you suggest that people aren’t doing enough. Ben Mcbride, who works with BLM in the Bay Area in CA, has worked with Oakland PD on Operation Ceasefire to reduce violent crime. This is one example.

        You’re right, violence in inner cities is a huge problem, but I feel like suggestioning the real problem is black people not addressing black on black crime is the same thing as saying, “Why aren’t the good Muslims repudiating terrorism,” when the Muslim community in the US consistently does and works well with the FBI.

        Also, BLM has addressed this problem of violence. They contend that it is not a pathologically black problem, but it’s a product of many systemic problems. BLM has made a conscious choice to not address black on black violence specifically, but they do address the systemic issues that lead to it. Perhaps you’re right that police violence should not be the primary focus at the moment and that we should all be looking at those systemic issues that lead to inner city violence, but BLM and others in this fight are addressing the systemic problem of urban violence.

    • “White means Caucasian meaning a racial group sharing cultural and physical traits historically traced to the Caucasus mountains in Eurasia.” No it doesn’t. That definition was created by a German anthropologist in 1785, during a time when eugenics was the rage. And he didn’t mean white as a skin color – he meant everyone around the Mediterranean, including Black and Arabic peoples.

      I’ve seen people like you use Chicago as an example of how black people are responsible without looking at the history of eminent domain being used to force affluent people of color out of their original neighborhoods, or redlining forcing Black people to only live in certain areas, and then overpolicing flourishing businesses. You cannot look at today and judge it without judging its history. There are plenty of places where Black people are living in peace and keeping themselves culturally solid, but Chicago is what you focus on? Fine. Let’s talk about white people in West Virginia committing cultural suicide with meth, why don’t we.

      • Ultizan says:

        I would love to talk about meth and white poverty. But then we wouldn’t have history to blame, would we? You’ve proven my point, w are not having the necessary conversations because they are always derailed by excusing the violence because of poverty. How is that working so far? It’s not.

        Black people are dying. What are we going to do about it? Bother on about what whiteness means? Is the Enlightenment part of whiteness or is it European phenomenon and therefore not white according to this privileged blogger? See my point? This bullshit conversation will never end.

        Black people are killing each other. It’s epidemic. Not police on black violence, that IS NOT TRUE. Black on black. Yes, we all know the reasons, both historically and contemporary. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS?

      • We?? It’s not my conversation to have. I’m not black. I don’t belong in that space unless I am invited in and so far? Every Black person I love, know and follow has said to others who’ve raised it “even if that exists as something problematic, that’s not what we need to focus on right now.” And I’ll trust them to know what they need more than I know what they need.

        Also? Meth and white poverty DOES have history to blame, but it is a history of our own making, not one imposed on us from people who’ve stolen our language, culture, and labor along with our freedom of movement.

    • al says:

      you are ill educated, and your blatant misalignment with facts does not only show neglect, but a bias that reflects “whiteness” and your position.

    • Sally says:

      You are right. This is baloney. I grew up in a mixed race neighborhood and was bullied by black kids in and out of school (ever had someone spit on your hair, kick you, hit you for years?) My best friend is black. She is afraid of the police, not because she has ever had one bad encounter with them but because her culture has pushed fear on her. She is a well educated middle class woman. Her mother told her never to trust a white person, but she does anyway. We have to grow beyond all this separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Demonizing white people because black people had a horrific entrance to this country via slavery for the most part helps no one. And there is no single ‘black culture’. Where I live, there is an enormous Somali immigrant population that the local blacks are clashing with, they can’t understand why the Somalis are so much darker skinned, or why they don’t identify with the ‘I have a slave great great grandfather’ mentality. To have unity, you have to quit demonizing white people and saying we are privileged. That’s bull. My black friend grew up with more opportunities and help than I did as a poor white kid, she went to college and got her Masters. I went to community college in my 40’s. It doesn’t MATTER. Color doesn’t MATTER. The more you make it a big deal, the more we are all separated. Most black people in the US have some white blood.I found out I have a small amount via DNA testing. We are all related, get over it.

    • tropicalsmog says:

      The difference between black on black violence and cop on black violence is that almost always the former is punished. Cops, on the other hand, are usually put on temporary leave. Not to mention, police are held to a higher standard and are supposed to serve and protect. If they’re doing the opposite, and endangering (or taking) lives, that’s a major problem.

      It’s like if firefighters were found to be purposely starting fires, and someone interjects, Yeah but what about all the other fires? Those are a problem too, but firefighters are not supposed to be starting fires!

      • Ultizan says:

        I agree. If cops cop crimes, we should throw the book at them. But there is no epidemic of police violence. There is an epidemic of black on black violence, yet the left will not address it.

        Black people are killing each other. We need to talk about it. Instead we are blathering about deconstructing whiteness and demonizing cops. I fail to find this anything less than obscene.

        I plead with this blogger to address this.

    • Hari says:

      Actually: police kill a disproportionate percentage of black people compared to whites. Black people don’t make up even 1/5 of the US populations, yet the same amount of blacks and whites are being killed by police. So that means that 5x as many blacks are dying at the hands of police proportionately. Your facts are wrong.

  5. nicoleangela says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and well researched exploration of whiteness. Often when attempting this conversation we end up swept over by our feelings. You managed to use your feelings as a way to get closer to a reality we can all see but seldom open up to and look at. We have a long way to go but this is a very good start. I was especially struck by the way you were able to talk about Blackness. As some one who has been thinking about that for a long time, I had not seen nor been able to phrase that identity as succinctly and cleary as you did. Mazel tov!

  6. Matt Dann says:

    One correction, “White” or whiteness has not been around for millennium it was created in the 1630’s/1640’s as a way to divide us “whites” from African slaves by the elites who feared their overthow at the hands of indentured servents & slaves.

    • As a marker of skin color alone, it has indeed been around for millennia. For example, you’ll find people described in ancient Greek writing as having “white skin” or being “white,” but it was a descriptor and unconnected to social grouping. The social group known as “white” was indeed created, as we both have said, around the racialization of slavery. Thanks for reading!

  7. grrlwundr says:

    I really like and appreciate this article. I wish the title were a little less inflammatory so I could get more people to read it.

    • wwfv says:

      I agree, the title was a bad choice. It was an emotional description. It will turn off many people who now won’t read the article.

  8. Reblogged this on poetic single mama and commented:
    It might be hard to think of what to identify as if not white, but I’ve never really felt connected to that identity anyways, I’m just American (and Minnesotan, and a Midwesterner)

  9. While I deeply appreciate this article and the bravery it took to write it, and while I really agree that whiteness is a disease, I do not always have the option of “refusing” my whiteness. It is something accorded to me by others of European descent due to the system in which I live. I am happy to call myself by my ethnicities, particularly since it’s easy, as I am 1st generation on both sides, but at the same time I *have* to acknowledge my role in whiteness in order to encourage other people who are ignoring their own privilege to understand how we move in the world.

    I would more encourage people of European descent to realize that a LOT of Black people are ALSO Irish, Scottish, German, English, etc due to the horrific nature of slavery and Jim Crow. Our European ethnicities bind us to Black people.

    (Side note about European ethnicities – most countries in Europe have only been named or aggregated as such since 1300-1400, after the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and most of our “traditions” have a LOT borrowed or taken from Asia and Africa since the Roman Empire glommed on everything. And much came from the Americas after – like the common presence of the pineapple in Victorian symbology.)

    • I agree! Setting aside our whiteness as a first step toward ending white supremacy is something we will have to push for and work for, and the *entire reason* for wanting to do such a thing is to acknowledge our role in white supremacy *and work to change it*. This is one small thing we can do to bring equity– face up to the reality of “whiteness” in our culture and refuse to continue complying with it. It can’t be done, as I say above, alone. This is someone we all have to do together. Just as it took years for “white” to spread as a marker of social hierarchy, so will it take years for us to dismantle it– years of deliberate effort. Thanks for reading!

    • tropicalsmog says:

      Shouldn’t our humanity bind white people to black people? Why do they have to have European blood for you to connect with someone?

      • It’s not me, sad to say. Were you around social media when the 2nd Hunger Games movie came out? Did you see the number of white Twitter users who flat out said Rue’s death wasn’t as sad because she was black? A lot of white people do not let their humanity extend to Black people, and if you don’t acknowledge that exists you don’t get anywhere in educating other people who cling to their whiteness.

  10. Angel says:

    What’s missing from this is any form of accountability. Without the real history of whiteness being acknowledged by *most* white people, things like the wealth gap, unequal imprisonment at every legal level, housing/work/healthcare disparity and the million other ways that whiteness has served to put white people light years ahead of BIPOC in material, social and emotional support become the fault of BIPOC. Denying whiteness means denying the uncountable crimes against humanity committed in its name.

    • I absolutely agree with you. As I say in the essay, this essay covers one first step in pulling white supremacy out by the roots. But it is by no means the only step. If I had included every aspect of dealing with white supremacy in America, this would have been 300 pages long. I invite you to click on the “diversity” tag at the bottom of this article to see other essays I’ve written that tackle these issues in other ways. Thanks for reading!

      • Ultizan says:

        I’m sorry, but this essay does not represent the first step in pulling white supremacy out by its roots. Your postmodern criticism is merely the first step in producing more postmodern criticism. Do you think there is anyone anywhere unaware of our history? Do you think that if there is, your essay will in any way enlighten them? What practical action do you think labelling whiteness a disease for us all to denounce rhetorically will do?

        Here is something practical you could do. Look at the facts. Be honest. Write the following: “Hey, I’ve looked into it, and there doesn’t appear to be an epidemic of police on black violence. We need to talk about this. It also appears that there is an epidemic of violence in black communities. What are we going to do about this?”

        Why not? You have nothing to lose but your identity politics. By the way, for all of our crimes and for all of our guilt, America is the only country in history to wage war upon itself to end slavery. That is part of our legacy, too. Does that go in the bin with the rest of our whiteness?

      • Nick says:

        I’m sorry, I’ve been trying to be really respectful, but what are you doing?

        I had a friend who used to consistently criticize people who cleaned birds after oil spills. He said there are bigger problems in our world to deal with. But he spent all his time and energy criticizing people who cleaned birds.

        I’m not assuming that you aren’t doing anything. I’m guessing by your passion that you are involved in your community to actively prevent poverty-based violence. But I feel like if I was to take the same approach that you are taking with Melissa right now then I would have to assume all you do is criticize people on the internet for not talking about what you want to talk about without without you yourself offering any solutions. This is a single blog post. This is not the entire story, but it is a part of it.

        Again, I’m not suggesting you are hitting the streets and fighting to stop the violence in you hometown of Chicago, I’m just asking that you extend some grace to Melissa.

  11. marcos says:

    I am not so much an ally with people of color against racism, rather I am a race traitor to white supremacy. When asked for my ethnicity on a form, I write in Other/”pink” to disassociate myself from those supremacist fools and their dangerous construction.

  12. Gail Williams says:

    I think your analysis is good and I applaud your courage for publishing this piece, thank you.

    As I read it I realized that I need to identify with what I have actually lived (this view may be integral to the privileged position of my whiteness in this country) because I do not identify with any European ethnicity. I have ancestors from many places in Europe, growing up and since I never lived ANY experience of those European cultural or ethnic identities. My parents did not identify with the ancestral ethnicity either–they thought of themselves as Americans more than anything.

    So I will usually say I am White Euro-American as an ethnic identity label. “White” does refer to the common way of terming Caucasian people (in the USA) I know that. But I say it to define and differentiate my positional identity among European ethnicities and among USA-Americans. In other words it’s my way of understanding and naming my identity within the system of oppressions as they exist in the USA. (Not all Euro-Americans are “racially” white, they are many colors, but here in US-American culture they will get lumped into “minority” or color-based categories.)

    I don’t think that identifying as a “white person” means I am identifying with white supremacy in any sense of supporting it. I know it doesn’t because I abhor white supremacist system. But identifying myself as white along with Euro-American shows me and whoever is listening that I know that there is a difference between how I am perceived by US American culture and institutions, which are foundationally racist and supremacist. So I’m saying my label is an attempt to make an honest response about who I am and where I live–a nation, a social-economic system, a justice system FOUNDED on the concept that people of African descent are only 3/5 human.

    I don’t think that the labels matter as much as what we say and do. What I know is that as a white person living in the USA I take responsibility for completely eliminating white supremacy in all its forms; and I know I am not alone.

  13. Yanick says:

    This article is everything. Once “white people start connecting to their own cultural background and history, they will feel a closer connection to this struggle

  14. I disagree with this, and I’m not even “white”. Hating on whites is not the right answer. Divided we fall.

  15. bonnie says:

    Don’t be bitter Gertrude Enbrace Who You Are and remember the saying .. “it’s Lonely at the Top”.. i appreciate your courage
    #EvilPrevailWhenGoodMenDoNothing

  16. Carol says:

    thanks for posting. Yet here in Canada- we have taken a multicultural approach; as such we are the hyphenated- German -Canadian, Vietnamese Canadian, Somali-Canadian, Columbian -Canadian, with the objective being to retain cultural roots. There is debate over tis success or not.. Yet ‘whiteness’ persists- https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/03/26/police-carding-criticism-comes-from-all-sides-in-wake-of-new-rules.html. And then there is an even more entrenched systemic discrimination against First Nations people.

  17. Fantastic article! It’s always so weird to read that folks interpret this type of thoughtful article as anti-white. It’s so obviously not. It’s a really fantastic invitation to have a bigger, more meaningful cultural and communal experience. I hope that we all do the work.

  18. Paco Madden says:

    I agree that whiteness can be characterized as a disease, perhaps even a cultural disease, but I don’t agree that there isn’t a “white culture.” The dominant culture is white culture, Donald Trump is white culture, Eurocentricism is white culture. As many scholars point out you can’t have blackness without whiteness because whiteness divides peoples into binaries and hierarchies.

  19. pacomadden says:

    I agree that whiteness can be characterized as a disease, perhaps even a cultural disease, but I don’t agree that there isn’t a “white culture.” The dominant culture is white culture, Donald Trump is white culture, Eurocentricism is white culture. As many scholars point out you can’t have blackness without whiteness because whiteness divides peoples into binaries and hierarchies.

  20. Amy Keyishian says:

    I just re-read this because I love it so damn much.

  21. Tobey says:

    As a White guy (and teacher of diversity issues), I believe you are proposing the wrong way to achieving what you’re trying to achieve. (And not just in the title, which is less than helpful, imho.)

    “Deconstruction of Whiteness” overlooks the human need for reciprocity in relationships. If we affirm Blackness and Coloredness, then we MUST affirm Whiteness also. People identify as White precisely because others identify as Black, Hispanic etc. “If Juan can be proudly Hispanic and John can be proudly Black, why can’t I be proudly White?” is a very reasonable question (that I’ve seen on the interwebs). And it’s not helpfully answered with reference to racist “White pride” movements because that still leaves the person asking without an identity affirmation—or, worse, with the impression that the only way to affirm their identity is to join a White supremacy group.

    Whites do have multiple cultural heritages to choose from for identity formation. But in the present historical moment, saying “I’m not White, I’m German-American” amounts to precisely the opposite of what you’re intending. It’s a way of proclaiming “I have nothing to do with White supremacy because I refuse to assume that identity”.

    If we are to repent from our racism, there needs to be someone there to repent—there must be a White identity that we can affirm and as part of which we can affirm our historical responsibility. Let’s find out what it means to be White. Let’s find identity markers that are not negative. There are lots of those—after all, world history has been shaped by us for the past 500 years, for worse AND better. Let’s develop a healthy pride in our Whiteness (pride in Thomas Scheff’s sense: a good relationship with it). Only from that place will we be able to acknowledge that part of being White is to have a history of exploiting and dehumanizing others.

  22. Ultizan says:

    This is for Nick, who asked me what I do for change. Sadly, not much these days due to circumstance. I wrote and railed against wealth disparity, corporate fascism (using Mussolini’s definition), environmental destruction and other lefty issues for ten years and was very active in rad ecological movement. Was a writer and an activist for liberal ideals.

    The reason I will not give this blogger much grace is because I’m tired of identity politics. I was raised to believe that skin color and gender did not and could not matter. I’ve lived that way and treated people accordingly. Everyone I know on the left did the same. Black, white, gay, straight, we believed it didn’t matter. Not anymore. All that matters these days is your racial or sexual or gender identity. I ask you, if you look around, is this new worldview, this be obsession with race and gender…is progressive politics helpful or harmful?

    You’re right that black violence and white drug epidemics aren’t racial issues, they are poverty issues. The kind of issues the left used to care about. Now everyone is obsessed with issues such as destroying whiteness and embracing gender and race as defining who someone is and what privilege they enjoy. It’s madness and it’s getting people killed.

    I beg again everyone to look at the facts: there is no epidemic of police violence in America. The media is lying to you. They don’t care about you. And nobody cares about the people if the Southside or of Newark or Cleveland or Detroit. If we cared, we would stop promoting racial division and stop demonizing cops.

    I’m devastated that I have to beg the left to return to dismissing racial identity politics.

  23. Louisep says:

    To everyone who’s talking about “black on black violence” and how the black community needs to deal with that first —

    No one has to “fix” themselves to get lawful and fair treatment from police.

    • Ultizan says:

      I’m sorry and I will not post anymore to this blog, but it needs to be said: There is no epidemic of police violence against black people. I place the blame on this misinformation squarely on the media.

      According to FBI crime stats and a new study by a Harvard scholar (who is black, and I mention this only because that identity is so important in the progressive climate), there is no racial bias against blacks in police violence. In fact, more white people are killed–even adjusted for population size–than blacks.

      A new study championed by BLM supporters is the most damning evidence they can provide for institutionalized racial violence against blacks actually belies that there is no bias. I’m referring to a WaPo database that is searchable. This database and the FBI stats/Harvard study can all be found easily online.

      The WaPo data and accompanying article purport to prove that unarmed blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police. In 2015, less than a hundred unarmed people were killed by police, 40% of whom were black. This seems damning until one drills down to find that unarmed does not mean non-violent and that the rate of violent crime is much greater in black communities, which explains the disproportionate number of blacks killed.

      All the research suggests that blacks are not being targeted for violence by police. The Harvard study did find that blacks are more likely to be physically confronted and searched by police, but this is expected given crime rates.

      There is no police war on black people. I repeat, the media and your professors have misled you. We do not live in a systematic or systemically racist and sexist society. We live in a capitalist society, and credit scores are color blind. We’re all ones and zeroes now. But instead of fighting the intergenerational poverty of blacks and Americans of all colors, we have been divided by an amoral media and a wave of critical theory indoctrination. And we–all of us, unless you are wealthy–are losing ground every day. There is greater wealth inequality today than ever before and the struggle crosses every identity line thrown up in front of it.

      I plead us all to renounce identity politics instead of renouncing our supposed gender and racial privileges. Good luck.

      • bcpkid says:

        “In 2015, less than a hundred unarmed people were killed by police, 40% of whom were black. This seems damning until one drills down to find that unarmed does not mean non-violent and that the rate of violent crime is much greater in black communities, which explains the disproportionate number of blacks killed.” That’s quite the backflip in logic you attempted there, but you didn’t quite land it.

      • I had promised myself I wouldn’t respond to you again because I know you’re a right-wing troll, but I want to make sure EVERYONE who reads this knows what Ultizan states is a profound perversion of the results of the Harvard Study (and of statistics in general). The Harvard study states NOT that there is no racial bias in police violence – it states that whites and blacks are SHOT in equally proportionate numbers. The Harvard study explicitly states that there is *extreme* racial bias in the use of beatings and other forms of force.

        And no, the FBI stats show no such thing. Go look up Table 43 for 2012-14.

        To those who are still under the misapprehension that this asshole is aligned to the left? We been had. 😉

      • Ultizan, I will take you at your word and cease approving your comments. I think I’ve been more than generous hosting someone with whom I vehemently disagree on my personal blog. I’ve approved every comment you’ve made so far, and now you are just continuing to repeat the same things over and over. You can rest assured that you have very much had your say.

        Your crime rate stats, which I will not host on my blog, only point to *arrests*, not *actual number of crimes committed* or even convictions. If you’re heavily over-policing one segment of the population, implementing broken windows policing, and falsely arresting people in that community at an astounding rate, you will easily come up with arrest stats like you’re seeing. Here’s an article with a more sensible picture: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-farbota/black-crime-rates-your-st_b_8078586.html

  24. Stephen says:

    I was born in the USA, one of my grandfathers was born in Nova Scotia in the early 1900’s. Under race on his birth certificate it says: Scottish. For a long time that’s what I thought I was until some adult told me I was white. Which I thought was strange because there were Italian people, and Irish people and Portuguese people at my church, and the only people that said they were white were the English.

  25. Great piece, Melissa! I admire the strong theory with which you weave this work together. Whiteness over-represents itself as human – and thus, we need a new understanding of being-in-the world.

    I wonder: how do you feel about the group known as Racists Anonymous (similar to AA and NA, but for racists) – which classifies racism as an addiction? I recently wrote a piece critiquing the idea that racism is a mental illness or addiction. I would love to have your feedback on it! https://zoneofnonbeing.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/racists-anonymous-racism-not-mental-illness/

  26. Kara Dansky says:

    Outstanding article. One Thousand Arms works with white people who have a sincere interest in examining our own racial conditioning and learning to take action against racism. Please check out, like and share our page if you are inspired to do so! https://www.facebook.com/onethousandarms/

  27. KB says:

    Thank you for this honest, thoughtful, and important writing.

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