This is a very, very vague idea as I’ve only started thinking about this topic and researching it this past week and I’m still having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around it but I might have to write a paper on it for a sociology class so I’m just going to post it in case yall have any thoughts on it. My inbox is open as always.
It’s the idea that the institution of whiteness is an institution of violence and this violence is not only directed towards POC but white folks too. White people have had to give up their identity in order to access its power. Just as the Irish and other formerly racialized European ethnic groups had to shed their culture to avoid a stigmatized, racialized identity, white people today have had to live with the choice their ancestors made to exchange their heritage for power.
Just as POC are defined as being non-white, white people are fenced in whiteness with arguably smaller acceptable individual variation than POC so they create superficial distinctions to give the illusion of choice and individualism (think about all the ways people can spell the name from the reasonable Caitlin/Katelyn to the absurd Kaytellenne).
While the white supremacy means that the upper echelons of society are occupied mainly by whites, it is still an unattainable fantasy for almost every white person. This sets an impossible standard for those who weren’t lucky enough to also be born in the upper ranks of the capitalist caste and while POC may point to systemic obstacles placed in their way, average white people who are indoctrinated into the myth of white supremacy bear that inadequacy on their own shoulders, not admitting that they’re also victims of a system that commodifies human lives and labor.
There’s also a feeling of profound isolation in whiteness: isolation from each other, from the Earth and from their ancestors. What I hear in diversity classes and anthropology classes about other cultures are concepts like collectivism, paganism, shamanism, ancestor worship, etc. in a way that suggests those concepts as being “the other” in white America, that whiteness is not community-oriented, that they exist separately from the natural world, that they are not the products of history and their predecessors but they’re their own person and ultimately responsible for their destiny. What a lonely existence that is.
It robs its subjects of identity, accountability, loving relationships, or knowledge of how to endure pain. Both White Americans and Black Americans who are descended from the enslaved experience this profound loss in their homelands but Black Americans found their racial consciousness and formed community despite their pain and attempts to crush their spirits. Whiteness, positioning itself as the natural order as pervasive as the air we breathe, becomes invisible to those who live within its boundaries. Most White people have little awareness of their own racial identity and have little community, sympathy or understanding for this vast alone-ness.
When I visualize whiteness, it is empty, only given form and substance by the blackness it invented as its shadow. It is constantly under attack and the myth requires constant maintenance. The subjects whom it built itself off their back remind it of its own unsavory history so it shuts them away and segregates them “across the tracks” hoping they’ll die off but they don’t so they become existential threats to the white conscience.
This inner guilt projects a terrifying monster onto the Cave’s wall but even this shadowy monster is more agreeable than the unbearable truth under the outside Sun. Lulled by the flattering images of self-determination and white excellence in history books written by white men to make themselves look good, they have no defenses and are scarcely prepared to see their own loss of humanity in the construction of the Great Myth of White Supremacy.
As James Baldwin writes:
“For a very long time, America prospered. This prosperity cost millions of people their lives. Now, not even the people who are the most spectacular recipients of the benefits of this prosperity are able to endure these benefits.
They can neither understand them nor do without them.”
I’m going to connect this to capitalism, exceptionalism, other damaging beliefs in the system of white supremacy and then finally to appropriation and some of the motivations behind it. Please let me know your thoughts through the contact form. ‘Til next time.