Whiteness & Colorblindness Whiteness/Colorblindness (1)

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Whiteness & Colorblindness

Whiteness/Colorblindness (1)

Those two terms are very similar in their meanings, however…
Whiteness refers to the invisible power and privilege unearned and inherited by whites
Colorblindness refers to the continuing denial of whiteness as privilege through a constant refusal to see race as an important social issue


Why can’t we just do away with racial categories?

We are all Americans, humans”

Whiteness/Colorblindness (2)

The critical examination of whiteness, academic and not, simply involves the effort to break through the illusion that whiteness is natural, biological, normal, and not crying out for explanation (Roediger)
Many people in lots of different fields and movement activities have tried to productively make it into a problem.

When did (some) people come to define themselves as white?

In what conditions?

How does the lie of whiteness get reproduced?

What are its costs politically, morally and culturally?

Whiteness/Colorblindness (3)

Richard Dyer

White people create the dominant images of the world, and don’t quite see that they thus construct the world in their image”

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

What is the meaning of contemporary Whites’ racial views? How can Whites claim to believe in racial equality and yet oppose programs to reduce racial inequality?”

Whiteness/Colorblindness (4)

Studying whiteness and colorblindness is a way to reverse the analysis of race relations
Most assimilationist theorists such as Park, Gordon and others have put the emphasis on minorities
Racial inequality is often commented upon by analyzing the reasons why minority groups are politically, economically and socially subordinated groups
The study of whiteness allows the switch to focus to whites and how they have perpetuated a dominant culture and racial hierarchy

Whiteness: Why is it important?

When race is examined, people usually talk about people of color
However, whiteness as a racial category needs to be examined in depth (Jay, 1998)

To ignore it is to make give it “special status”

To ignore it is to reproduce “white privilege” of non-examination

Whiteness does not exist on its own; it exists in relation to blackness, Asianess and being Latino

Double Consciousness

Du Bois’ “color line” quotation in relation to “double consciousness”
Am I black or am I American?” (Du Bois, 1903, p. 45)

It it the “sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others” (Du Bois, 1903, p. 8)
Because of the experience of being black in America, African Americans have a heightened awareness of both their own blackness and of the whiteness around them

Do whites have a double consciousness?

System of White Supremacy

Race functions as a large ensemble of practices and rules that give white people all sorts of small and large advantages in life
Whiteness is the source of many privileges

However, to criticize whiteness does not mean to engage in guilt (this is too individualistic)
Racism will end with the end of those practices, or in other words, with the abolition of whiteness

What does it mean to be white?

There has never been, nor is there now, one definition of white
The construction of the category, white, however loose, variable, or inconsistent this classification was or continues to be, signifies the supremacy of one socially defined population over others based on physical characteristics deemed meaningful and important through the political and social process of racialization

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (1)

Peggy McIntosh (1995)
White privilege has been defined as a package of benefits, granted to people in our society who have white skin
Allows them certain free passes to certain things in our society that are not easily available to people of color

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (2)


Being able to turn on the television and see people of their race widely represented

Never being asked to speak on behalf of their entire race
Being able to succeed without being called a credit to their race

Being able to have a bad day without wondering what their race had to do with specific negative incidents

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (3)

It is an unearned privilege

White skin gives broader and easier access to resources, opportunities etc…

Job market
You are born with it (skin tone) and cannot escape it

Even if you are the most white ANTI-RACIST individual
Power NOT to have to think about what it means to be white

Being white means that you do NOT have to think about being discriminated against

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (4)

Power NOT to have your race as a social marker in society

Does name-calling carries the same weight whether somebody is called the N-word or “cracker?”
You are invisible but represents the norm at the same time

Being white is being “normal”
Whiteness represents the yardstick by which other groups are judged by

Theories of assimilation, for instance

To assimilate into what? White normality?

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (5)

White privilege

Being able to go along with life without thinking about race
Being white means benefiting from it without thinking about it

You never talk about your privilege because you don’t know what others go through

You don’t feel privileged because your life seems normal

Referent group

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (6)

Whites in the U.S. barely refer to themselves as whites

Use of ethnicity

Being Italian-American etc…
Or just define themselves as American

American is often associated with being white

American Beats out Kwan” (MSNBC headlines during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games)

American Outshines Kwan…” Seattle Times 1998 headlines

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (7)

White privilege is also…

As a white professor to have legitimacy when talking about race

While professors of color are often, if not always, perceived as complaining
As a white professor, I have no personal experiences of discrimination but my words seem to carry more value than the words of professor of color

White students might become more receptive

Whiteness carries legitimacy

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (8)

W.E.B. Du Bois

Whiteness is ownership of the earth”
Charles W. Mills

I use the term white supremacy... one that encompasses de facto and de jure white privilege and refers more broadly to the European domination of the planet that has left us with the racialized distributions of economic, political, and cultural power that we have today. We could call it global white supremacy”

Whiteness / White Privilege/White Supremacy (9)

All racial categories are by definition social relations of power
Within this system of racial stratification, being white typically affords a disproportionate share of status, and greater relative access to the material resources that shape life chances
It is for these reasons that white is defined as a form of property (Harris, 1993) that yields both tangible assets (land, job) and privileges (citizenship, social honor) to whites that are or have been denied to non-whites
This is what Lipsitz calls “the possessive investment of whiteness”, not uniformly distributed among whites, but nonetheless passed down from one generation to the next

Knowledge, Ideologies & Norms (1)

Charles Gallagher

White supremacy: a system of social and economic stratification where white became hegemonic through white cultural beliefs and practices

Linnaeus and Blumenbach (18th century European scientists) fused cultural bias, religious dogma, and ethnocentrism with the inferior behavioral and psychological traits of non-European human populations to create a hierarchy

Not surprisingly, the “civilized” white race was situated on the upper reaches of this hierarchy

Blumenbach chose the word Caucasian to represent the “white” race because he felt that “the women of the Caucasus region in Russia were the most beautiful in all Europe” (Smedley)

Knowledge, Ideologies & Norms (2)

Theodore Allen
The knowledge, ideologies, norms, and practices of whiteness and the accompanying “white race” were reinforced in the U.S. as part of a system of racial oppression
Whiteness, as knowledge, ideology, norms, and practices, determines
Who qualifies as “white” and maintains a race and class hierarchy in which the group of people who qualify as white disproportionately control power and resource

Defining Whiteness Through Immigration Policy (1)

In 1790, the Federal government ruled that the right to become a naturalized citizen was reserved to “free white persons”
In 1870, in response to the granting of citizenship to freed Black lifetime bond laborers within the U.S., a new category for those eligible for naturalized citizenship was created -immigrants from Africa or those of African descent
Over the years, until racial restrictions were removed in 1952, the court was repeatedly called on to determine who was white as applicants of various ethnic and racial background requested citizenship as “free white persons”

Defining Whiteness Through Immigration Policy (2)

In Ozawa v. United States (1922), the Court relied on common knowledge and scientific evidence to exclude a Japanese petitioner

He was not of the type “popularly known as the Caucasian race,” thereby invoking both common knowledge (“popularly known”) and science (“the Caucasian race”)

Science and popular knowledge worked hand in hand to exclude the applicant from citizenship
In United States v. Thind (1923), Bhagat Singh Thind, relied on the Court's earlier linkage of “Caucasian” with “white” to argue for his own naturalization

Science and common knowledge diverged, complicating a case that should have been easy under Ozawa's straightforward rule of racial specification

Reversed course, the Court repudiated its earlier equation and rejected any role for science in racial assignments

Defining Whiteness Through Immigration Policy (3)

Haney Lopez
Immigration and naturalization policies determined who was in the U.S., which in turn determined what genetic stock was available to make up an “American”
Laws and social pressures also influenced marriage
Anti-miscegenation laws

Other laws affected marriage as well
Example: Until 1931 a woman lost her citizenship if she married a man ineligible for citizenship

Defining Whiteness Through Immigration Policy (4)

Segregation, laws restricting and regulating marriages between white people and people of color, as well as immigration and naturalization policies worked together to determine which physical characteristics went into the mix we see as white
The original immigration restrictions are reflected in today's assumptions regarding who is an American and who is a “foreigner”

Colorblindness (1)

Individual whites become “raceless” (belief that race does not exist) when they deny that whiteness or European racial heritage is of any relevance
One would think that this “colorblind” (not seeing race) approach prefigures good interracial relations, but actually, this “racelessness” (lack of understanding about race) is anything but “colorblindness” (treating everybody equal) because many of the same whites definitely don't see people of color as raceless (having no race).
A “raceless” identity is the basis for whites seeing themselves as the “normative” humanity free from race or ethnicity, and non-whites as abnormal humans with race and ethnicity
We set whiteness as the norm that others have to measure themselves against

Colorblindness (2)

The idea of a “raceless” society is based on the notion of meritocracy
It does not take into account the existence of the myth of meritocracy

Not using the social construction of race to analyze societal problems is to refuse to analyze one of the major factors of structural inequality

Discrimination will not disappear with a “raceless” society

i.e. France is one particular examples where race is not talked about but where racial discrimination is very much real

Colorblindness (3)

Rodriguez (2000, p.8)
The rhetoric of colorblindness enables Whites to erase from consciousness not only the history of racism and how that history plays itself out economically, politically, socially, and culturally in the present; such an insidious discourse also dissuades both the individual and institutions from engaging in antiracist strategies for dismantling white privilege and for reworking the terrain of whiteness”
With [colorblindness], we are told that all people are the same under the skin and that we all have the same equal chances of making it. Therefore, the 'logic' continues, if a minority person fails to achieve, then the blame lies solely with the individual”

Colorblindness (4)

Denman-Sparks & Phillips (1997, p. 52)
Colorblindness justifies withdrawal from social action by assuming that racism will cease to exist when people stop noticing racial and cultural differences”
Colorblindness obscures the reality of institutional racism by attributing the source of the problem to seeing differences rather than to a system that denies certain racial groups equitable economic and political gain”

Racism Without Racists (1)

Bonilla-Silva explains how people use colorblindness to subconsciously reinforce racism
He argues that if whites are truly colorblind then they should be well integrated with minorities.

However, this is not the case
Whites rarely interact with minorities in their daily lives

White habitus” – This is how whites tend to only deal with other whites, reinforcing white standards or “white privilege” within America’s contemporary society

Racism Without Racists (2)

He argues that there are dominant frameworks that promote colorblind racism (or a new racial ideology)
Abstract liberalism


Cultural racism

Minimization of racism

Racism Without Racists (3)

Abstract liberalism

It involves using ideas associated with political liberalism (e.g. “equal opportunity,” the idea that force should not be used to achieve social policy) and economic liberalism (e.g. choice, individualism) in an abstract manner to explain racial matters
The idea of EO was vehemently opposed right after the civil right movements, and whites are now using it to oppose affirmative action

It is a way of denying severe under-representation in education and in the workplace

It is also based on the idea that we are all “individuals” making our own “choices” so we can choose to send our kids to segregated schools

It ignores institutional policies behind de facto segregation

Racism Without Racists (4)


It is a frame that allows white to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting they are natural occurrences
Whites claim that “segregation” is natural because people from all backgrounds tend to “gravitate towards likeness”

Or that the number of white friends they have is just because of “the way things are”

Those ideas contribute to the myth of nonracialism (or racelessness) and contradict colorblindness because after all minorities do it too

It is almost a natural biological things

Racism Without Racists (5)

Cultural Racism

It is a frame that relies on culturally based arguments such as “Mexicans do not put much emphasis on education” or “blacks have too many babies” to explain the standing of minorities in society
Culture has replaced biology which contributes to colorblind racism or racism without racists
Example: “I believe in morality. I believe in ethics. I believe in hard work. I believe in old values. I don’t believe in handouts… so the whole welfare system falls into that category. The idea of 14 year-old kids getting pregnant … is absurd and ridiculous! And that’s what causing the country to go downhill.”

Racism Without Racists (6)

Cultural Racism (other examples)

From www.saveourstate.org

Mexifornia: California is turning into a Third-World cesspool
From the Minuteman Project website

Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious “melting pot.” The result: political, economic and social mayhem
Quote from a college student interviewed for Bonilla Silva’s book

Just from, like, looking at the black people that I’ve met in my classes and the few that I knew before college, not like they’re - I don’t want to say waiting for a handout, but to some extent, that’s kind of what I’m hinting at. Like, almost like they feel like they were discriminated against hundreds of years ago, now what are you gonna give me? You know, or maybe it’s just their background, that they’ve never, like maybe they’re the first generation to be in college, so they feel like just that is enough for them”

Racism Without Racists (7)

Minimization of racism

It is a frame that suggests discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities’ life chances (“it’s better now than in the past” or “there is discrimination, but there are plenty of jobs out there”)
Quote from a college student interviewed for Bonilla Silva’s book

When asked about discrimination in jobs, Janet answered: “I would say that’s a bunch of crap. I mean, if they’re qualified, they’ll hire you and if you are not qualified, then you don’t get the job. It’s the same way with, once you get the job, if you are qualified for a promotion, you’ll get the promotion. It’s the same way with whites, blacks, Asians, whatever. If you do the job, you’ll get the job”


Pager’s 2001 study’s main findings

While criminal record remains a significant barrier to employment White applicants with felony convictions were just as likely, if not more likely, to get called back for a job than black applicants without a criminal history
Pager & Western’s 2006 study’s main findings

New York employers were twice as likely to prefer whites over blacks for lower-wage jobs

New York employers did not view black job applicants as less skilled, as other researchers have found. Instead, New York employers tended to rule out black applicants by holding them to a higher standard

New York employers were also more likely to steer black workers into lower jobs, and out of jobs involving customer service

Employers were more open to Latinos than blacks. Latinos received fewer callbacks and job offers than whites

The Racialized Picket Line

White Workers, Conflict, and Power in the

Southern California Supermarket Strike(2004-2005)
(by Jake B. Alimahomed-Wilson, CSULB)

Why the Southern California Supermarket Strike?

Racial/Gender diversity among strikers
70,000 plus workers on strike
900 stores affected by strike
Loss of over $1 Billion in sales
Largest strike by grocery workers in US history

Research Questions

How is working class Whiteness expressed in contemporary labor strikes?
How do gender and race intersect in influencing class-consciousness and racial solidarity?
Are customers racialized by White workers?


Since he wanted to examine the evolution of White workers’ racial consciousness, he chose to interview White strikers
25 in-depth semi-structured interviews with White strikers
Ethnographic observation at 16 strike locations in Eastern Los Angeles County

Criminality and Scabs

At the Ralph’s across the street, they have people who just got out of prison working there now. They all came from Folsom Prison or the one around here. At least that’s what I was told by the Ralph’s picketers. I am just trying to get the word out since they have no background checks or drug tests for these animals they call workers. You just gotta’ show up and you get hired. They just got out of prison…it is scary who they will hire to keep us out of work” (Sam)
Many of them [scabs] are the ghetto type. You know, your dirtier elements of society” (Max)

Scabs & the Construction of Racialized Masculinities

I know of another store where we were told that it looks like they [managers] went to the nearest prison and got the nastiest looking people and bussed them in. Their new head checker scab at this store [in Diamond Bar] is a ‘cholo’-type and has ‘trigger finger’ tattooed on his hand. The scabs look like they are gang members. Many of the little old ladies in Pasadena are afraid to go into the stores. It’s a scary bunch they have in there” (Janet)
They get to wear Levis on the job. They all wear their pants all baggy and can barely keep them from falling off. They probably have one hand working and one hand in the cash register. They don’t look like classy workers. They look like homeboys off the street. They have no concept of proper attire and class” (Anne)

Model Minority” Customers

They [Asian Americans] got everything they want here. I mean, they don’t give a fuck about us or the strike. They all own their businesses and drive around in their fancy cars, they don’t have our values” (Drew)
Most Asians don’t even know what a union is, let alone care. [Has your local attempted to do outreach to the Asian community members who shop at this store?] There is no point. They don’t want to hear anything about the strike. I don’t think I have ever turned a single Asian around. [Marcus then turns to his fellow strikers and asks:] ‘Have you guys ever turned an Asian around?’ I sure as hell haven’t. They just don’t care. They come to our country and get all of these loans to start their own businesses. They ain’t worried about you.” (Marcus)

Whiteness & Working Class Authenticity

When I came back to California I noticed that they let in a lot of immigrants, in a short period of time. I feel that this is part of the issue that explains why the majority of scabs are minorities. It’s because they have nothing else. They are just going to go for what they can get. As Americans they don’t care for us. If you look at the statistics in California, it shows that the State is being run and ruled over us by minorities. The Hispanics are taking over all across California. It is true in my neighborhood as well. My parents lived there for forty years and now we are treated like we are the illegal aliens. I was raised with a family that had family values, that’s why I would never scab. I just want to say to them: ‘hello! I am the American here, I was born here!’ So this is my own personal opinion. This is why the majority of scabs and new employees are minorities” (Lisa)
I don’t think a lot of minorities understand the issues because all they are out for is to take and not to give. American workers are becoming a thing of the past, it is very unfortunate….If all of them would have stood with us at the picket line, it would have probably been over by now” (Anne)

The Racialized Picket Line: 4-way Class conflict

Colorblind Unionism is NOT the Solution!

I can also tell you without exaggeration that the picket line has a way of breaking down racism, sexism, and homophobia more than many of us realize. The grocery workers were a very diverse workforce. It was 60 percent women, and a large number of people of color and immigrants and there were also many white workers. It's hard to explain what it was like on the line but I promise you I've never seen anything else like it in my life. People were a team out there.”

Excerpt from LaborNet (comment on a labor website after the strike)

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