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January 2013

Whiteness Is NOT Universal

Prior to the election I shared a quote that challenged the concept of the universality of Whiteness. The concept of a “White voting block” is something that many Whites reject, but the reality is they too are a race, not a default “neutral” group. One of the key ways of implying that Whiteness is apolitical, neutral and universal is by obscuring the labeling itself. By shaping something that clearly speaks to Whites but leaving the label “White” off, the claim can be made that it is for “everyone,” even when it clearly isn’t.

Instead of the truthful admission that White voters in fact have patterns and reasons as to how they vote just like other racial demographics (reasons which aren’t necessarily completely monolithic by race), and make decisions where their own race or the race of the candidates play a role, just like other racial demographics, people refer to their voting patterns as “normal” while “othering” and minimizing the political agency of primarily Black and Latino voters. Further, it’s assumed that Whites vote only on issues and qualifications and people of colour vote on race alone, when in fact Whites, not people of colour, have voted in ways to reinforce White supremacy in the political system since the origin of this country.

Instead of the truthful admission that womanhood is dynamic, culturally diverse and complex, the default setting for “woman” (and “good” mother/wife) remains White. Everything from the images chosen in major print and visual mediums to the stories shared about women in any space that was previously/currently dominated by men, the primary image remains White. This is why a show like Girls, (with that problematic annoyance that is Lena Dunham) that is deeply and forcefully focused on remaining as White as possible, can be labeled the voice of women of their generation, as if that voice must be White, and forcefully so. The concept that there are millions of women whose young adulthood resembled the past network show, Living Single for example, not Girls, is lost. But alas, something based on Black women like Living Single cannot be deemed something that “anyone” can relate to since love, heartbreak, friendships, sex, careers, marriage and twenty-something adventure once no longer White, are niche and rare; not something other races of women are expected to find even a remote connection with.

Instead of the truthful admission that the tones “nude” “flesh” and “neutral” in fashion and makeup only match a small percentage of the skin of women in the world, and is primarily matched to White skin, people refer to them by these labels, obscuring the fact that they’re based on Whiteness and are NOT universal. On my skin, these tones are the colours peach, beige, or tan—they aren’t “neutral.” They do NOT blend in.

Instead of the truthful admission that the LGBTQ community is incredibly racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, the default setting for them remains cisgender, male, White and middle class. In fact, the media continues to do two things; portray homophobia as solely a Black problem (when it’s a White one and worldwide one as well) and portray the LGBT community and Black people as two divergent groups with zero overlap. Thus, even amidst a community that faces great marginalization via homophobia, sexism, misogyny and transphobia, the universality of Whiteness and White supremacy are STILL reinforced.

There are times when Whiteness as “universal” and thereby “good” is challenged and this occurs for example when a White man commits an act of domestic terrorism or a White woman deviates from “delicacy” and “femininity” (stereotypes shaped by White supremacy and sexism) and commits a crime. Individuality becomes the media and social focus in these cases. Thus, their behaviors will be socialized as something “exceptional” and not “normal” especially when again, “normal” implies Whiteness. This is a luxury not provided to Black or other people of colour who commit crimes; the claim of group dysfunction “inherent” in our race that one of us finally just acted out on is deemed the source. In order for the myth of “Whiteness is good” to work, like any other binary social construct, an opposite is there and this would be “Blackness is bad.” One thing I’ve noticed is that despite the shift to individuality as the focus in the case of White criminals, positive qualities attributed to Whiteness, such as intelligence for males and beauty for females are still included in White criminals’ media and social narratives.

When Black people or other people of colour create culturally-affirming products, art, media, and other cultural production in response to living in a White supremacist society obsessed with normalizing Whiteness and “othering” anyone else, they’re accused of “reverse racism” and other unintelligent lies that are ahistorical in nature. If the very Internet itself, from a Google search for “beauty,” to news media, to beauty blogs and more are dedicated to White women and the concept of Whiteness itself—mass media presences now, and I, for example, make a small personal blog called Gradient Lair to shed some light on the dynamism and complexity of Black womanhood in response to invisibility and marginalization via mass media, I face hatred in response. I am told that since I do not continue the worship of Whiteness as universal and the only example of beauty on my tiny site in the way that every major American beauty site, backed by billions of dollars and endless influence do, I am a “reverse racist.” Forget the fact that any critical thinker on race knows that the latter term is a non-existent position (since people conflate individual biases that can go in either direction with systemic and institutionalized oppression and axes of power that go in one direction where race is concerned); the fact that bloggers of colour, especially Black women, are demanded to continue the worship of Whiteness in their personal spaces in the way it is worshipped via mainstream media and society itself, is an act of White supremacy. Anyone who views Whiteness as “universal” and thereby “normal” and “good” will be alarmed by the existence of spaces that don’t reinforce White supremacy, no matter how small and unequal they are in scale in comparison to mainstream media, because ultimately, their assertion is a White supremacist one; that all spaces should reveal the “normalcy” of Whiteness or else be a space to be insulted, “otherized” or fetishized, or ultimately destroyed through attack, enter the cycle of appropriation, or acquisition and then dilution and what I think of as “digital gentrification.”

What confuses many Whites, individually, who like me, live in this White supremacist society, is that my rejection of the idea of Whiteness as “universal,” “good,” and “superior,” reads to them as hatred of individual White people. Nothing could be more inaccurate. I don’t hate anyone. However, they need to deeply question themselves as to why they need to be treated as automatically “superior” as a race in order to feel loved as an individual.

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