‘Whiteness:’ a veiled racist remark

There is a tendency nowadays to speak about ‘whiteness’ as opposed to ‘white people.’ In short, the term is intended to suggest that people of European descent have an inherent culture of supremacy, and to tacitly suggest that these are inherent and essential aspects of being white. After all, ‘whiteness’ certainly sounds like something essential about being white. It is not a phrase like ‘white supremacy’ that adds something to being white. It is just the noun form of the adjective ‘white.’ (As I cannot find out what this process is really called, I shall refer to it as ‘nounification.’ This is unquestionably better than the real term for it anyway).

So why would I label this a racist remark? Well, the thing is, we could do the same thing with anyone: find examples of a culture, ethnicity, or race’s worst exemplars in the past, stereotype them, and apply it to the whole race. But if that race were any but white, we would be called racist for it, so why should there be a difference for white people? Let us try a few here. Keep in mind, these are not accurate portrayals of members of these groups, but stereotypes based on the worst examples among them:

‘Arabness:’ Misogyny, Arab superiority, enslaving Africans (which is still going on today in Libya, and previously the last Arab slave port in Africa did not close until 1946!), imperialism (the islamic empires which sought to conquer North Africa, Asia, and Europe).

‘Blackness:’ Gangs, drugs, and deadbeat dads. Bad grammar (arguably, ‘ebonics’ is actually a dialect of English with its own rules of grammar – but we are trying to look at everything in the most negative light possible here).

‘Chineseness:’ Imperialism and genocide (Khan, for example). Chinese superiority. Suppression of individuality.

‘Hispanicness:’ Drugs, selling out one’s principles for corruption for a few pesos, laziness.

Of course, I do not agree with any of these definitions. However, they are formed by using the same method as the notion of ‘whiteness:’ in each case, we take the worst things done by members of the race/ethnicity, and somehow suggest that this is essential to that ethnicity.

We should, of course, condemn bad things done by any group, white or not, in the past and today. But we should also not suggest that all members of the group are responsible. Indeed, many of the ‘ills’ ascribed to white people were actually ended by white people. White Americans fought to end slavery, both politically and on the battlefield. The UK is the only empire in history to voluntarily put an end to itself. The civil rights movement rightly focused on the black protestors, but was supported by many white people, and succeeded because white politicians were convinced to support it.

Treating a group as a monolith is always a mistake. Trying to suggest that the essential quality of that group is something negative is worse.

 

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