Bint Alshamsa has a great post about the need to decenter whiteness in feminism and I’d like to just think about it from the other side for a few minutes. I don’t really want to take issue with what Alshamsa’s saying, because her larger point is spot on, but I do want to say a little bit about this:
However, the problem is, when women of color do take the time to try and educate white women, the white women just aren’t willing to try and see outside of their whiteness.
It’s not a main point to what she’s saying, but it seems to me that it’s an assertion that requires a yes/but/and and that said yes/but/and doesn’t need to be directed at women of color, but at white women.
Because it’s exactly at this juncture where we pull that whole “I don’t see myself as having a race; I don’t see race” bullshit that we think is so magnanimous and non-racist, but which other people experiences as us saying “Our experience is the default. What happens to us is what happens to everyone!”
See, because we are both at the point where a lot of white women just aren’t willing to try and see outside of their whiteness
We aren’t even at the point where most white women are willing to acknowledge that they are white and that being white means something, not even in terms of privilege, but in terms of a loosely shared culture and experiences and world-view. And I’m not sure why that is, exactly.
Well, I mean, I have my guesses. I think that, for the most part, we’re afraid that talking about what it means to be white borders too closely discussions of White Pride and overtly racist discussions about why white people rule and the rest of the world droolz. And most people would rather not be caught up in conversations more fitting for Klan rallies.
But the strategy we perpetuate instead–that we have no unique race and thus no unique experiences brought about because of our race–both makes us look like we’re either stupid or liars and also ends up being racist because we then act like our specifically white experience is the universal experience.
And, so what we end up with is a situation where non-white people can plainly see that the denial of difference based on our different experiences because of how we’re racially marked in a racist culture is a recognizably white way of getting by in America, while we white people, with the exception of admitted racists, continue to deny that we have any recognizably white ways of getting by in the world.
We white people need to get over this. We need to learn how to talk frankly about what it means to be white, how whiteness is constructed in our culture, how it’s perpetuated, how it’s recognized, how it’s wielded against others.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that we have to first admit that we’re white–that ours isn’t the universal experience, but a specifically raced experience of the world–so that we can then see the ways in which we don’t get beyond our whiteness when interacting with the world.
I think the fear is that admitting that we’re white makes our whiteness into a huge issue, but really, admitting that we’re white is the first step in making it a much smaller issue.
I hope it’s apparent that I’m using “white” and “race” to mean malleable, social constructs which are incredibly powerful and not a collection of biological traits. First, using biology to talk about what it means to have a race ends up being kind of useless. And second, I don’t know of anyone who has any problem admitting that they have biological traits that (might seem to) mark them as “white.” I’m talking about getting people to recognize that they are operating under a set of concerns dictated, in part, by social constructs linked to perceived skin color.