What if whiteness vanished?

On my quick morning read-around before hunkering down to work, it dawned on me that every face I encountered on my screen was white. The Yahoo home page had an image from dancing with the stars (skinny white couple), an ad for the film Eagle Eye with white actors, a promo for online college (white woman in grad cap), and, the most ironic of all, an “Escape to Mexico” ad with two tanned white people in white beach attire (yes, cuz it’s fine for whities to ‘escape’ south, but please, brown people, don’t come north!).

Even when logging on to my campus internet portal, I noted the smiling white student at her laptop that decorates the page.

And, as my daughter grabbed a 5 minute cartoon fix before heading off to school, guess what, ALL the characters were white.

Then, as I walked daughter and dog to school, I saw various white people out and about in the neighborhood. Once we began walking through the park, I saw a white caretaker, a white lifeguard prepping the community pool for water aerobics (which consists of all white elderly students), a white woman unlocking the community services office, and, endless white people driving by in big honking SUV’s. When we arrived at school, it was finally apparent that the whole damn world is not white (my daughter goes to a dual immersion school that has the biggest percentages of Latino and White students).

My neighborhood is not all white, my town is not all white, the frickin’ world is not all white, so why is whiteness so damn ubiquitous and omnipresent? Why might, for example, it be more common for me to see white faces as I walk my daughter to school even though we live in a neighborhood with many Latino residents? Because it’s safer to be on the streets if you are white! I am not going to be harassed with “go back to where you came from” comments when I walk my kids to school. I am unlikely to be accosted if jogging in the park by racial slurs. I would, if I chose to, be able to swim at the community pool or go to the community service office without anyone questioning my citizenship or my ‘right’ to be there.

Even in my quick peruse of blogs this morning, most images were white because, if you want to cover big news or the MSM, most images still are white. I saw Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin (this clip, by the way really made me question all the claims that Palin is ‘super smart’), I saw Clay Aiken coming out of the closet on the cover of People, I saw John McCain and his white makeup artist (who knew he had one? and, at the tune of $5,583?), a picture of big white hands holding an image of a tiny white family to advertise the PBS documentary The Incredible Shrinking Middle Class (yeah, cuz only white people are middle class).

I saw white actresses, models, politicians, white rockers…

When looking up some links for this post, I saw images of blogger bios at MSNBC.com (10 out of 11 were white), Lance Armstrong advertising some new energy concoction, and images of Versace, Daniel Radcliffe, and a whole bunch of other white people. I did not see ONE, not one, image of someone Latino, Indian, Native American, Middle Eastern, etc (I did see a few images of Obama and one of an Asian male reporter). If I had seen more non-white images in the MSM and MSI (mainstream internet), they would have surely been linked to issues such as terrorism, crime, and other social ills all those non-whities cause. Gag.

What if this omnipresence of whiteness vanished? Here, I do not mean white people need to vanish (although there are quite a few I wouldn’t mind having evaporate into nothingness). I mean whiteness as normative, as expected, as desirable… I mean the notion that whiteness is supreme, better, above examination.

What if, as the movie A Day without a Mexican ponders in regards to the Latino population of California, we woke up one morning and whiteness had vanished?

Well, there would be an uproar of course. It would be unfair to have all those non-white faces representing everything from government to toothpaste. Can you imagine the loud outcry from most whites? Yet, somehow, the near invisibility of other-than-whiteness in our world is a-ok, no problem there.  It’s enough to make you scream.

And please, WPD’s (white privilege deniers), don’t go sending in comments about how ‘it’s only a reflection that white people represent the majority of the population.’ If you are ignorant enough to believe that, well, you probably think Palin’s rambling non-answers in the Couric interview were ‘really smart’…

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18 thoughts on “What if whiteness vanished?”

  1. Very thoughtful. I ponder as I watch a commercial for eating disorders. They show the bad influence that all the skinny women have on the mind of a little white girl. But no one would question the bad influence all the whites on television has on the mind of a young black or other minority person. Funny.

    Thanks

  2. you’ve got ’em on the ropes, profesora! keep it up!
    LOL

    seriously, that’s a very good argument. i mean, when there are shows like “seinfeld” and “friends” that take place in a HUGE place like Manhattan/NYC, how in the hiz-hell could every street the characters walked down and every place they frequented be have ONLY white people on/in it?

    the manhattan/NYC i know (and love dearly) sure doesn’t look like that!

    this kinda relates to the post over at harriet’s daughter blog about beauty.

    if you (as a young child of color) were constantly bombarded with images of people who DIDN’T look like you….wouldn’t you grow up with some sort of skewed view of this thing called life? not to mention…a skewed view of YOURSELF?

    you know, profesora….this election has made the WPDs and MRAs come out of the woodwork in DROVES!

  3. Black Sentinal,
    Such a great point. Reminds me of the recent post on beauty by Harriet’s Daughter over at Don’t Do That. The Dove ad rails against the beauty system using the image of a little white girl. Yet, as your comment suggest, we don’t question the harmful effects of whiteness.

    DN,
    Your comments about NYC made me think of the recent film Enchanted. Have you ever seen a whiter version of NYC? And, with the Sex and the City Film, Jennifer Hudson, as token black woman, wasn’t even from NYC!

    Yup, sure does relate to the post by Harriet’s Daughter.

    MM,
    I haven’t heard of MSI before — so, yes, I made it up. Think I can copyright that and my other acronyms? If only I could get paid for acronym creation…

    I really like your idea of an acronym legend.

  4. This post was spot on. I recently wrote one about The Bee movie and the over representation of whiteness. Of course the response was, “if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
    The fact that white people can daily see themselves affirmed as good and POC are absent is racism. That simple fact cannot be denied. I think one of the things that bothers me the most is how little the absence of bodies of color is noticed or remarked upon.

  5. Thanks, Renee. I read your Bee Movie post last week and thought it was great. Unfortunately, I have been far more of a ‘lurker’ lately and have not been leaving comments (or adding links) near as much as I would like. Darn this teaching gig! No, actually, I love teaching, just wish I had more time for blog related stuff. I find myself wondering how you do it — you produce so much work!!! Are you one of those people who doesn’t need sleep? Anyhow, I am jealous and awed by your productivity and the consistent quality of your posts!

    BTW, saw Igor today and, guess what, all the main characters were white. What a surprise! I will be posting a review of this abysmal sexist, racist, violence perpetuating movie soon…

    Thanks for reading and for all the great writing you do as well.

  6. Please never go to Eastern Europe. With nothing but white people you would be in danger of a whiteness overdose. I recommend a year long vacation in Haiti or DR Congo.

  7. I meant to comment on this post days ago, but got sidetracked a number of times…!
    This is very well written, as always. I’m actually working on some essays about images of beauty in American media, including perspectives from Black women, Asian women, etc. Your observations are so very true. As an Asian woman myself, I’ve come across far too many generalizations and stereotypes based on the limited portrayals of Asians on TV or elsewhere.

    And I loved your very last statement–about Palin’s interview with Couric. There’s just no way that one can honestly say that Palin seemed “smart” in that interview…!

  8. Thanks much, CulturePress! I can’t wait to see Palin and her ‘smartness’ in the veep debate. Ha!

    Regarding your posts on beauty, I look forward to them. Don’t know if you read my series of posts on the beauty imperative in relation to the show the surgical beauty pageant show The Swan. I also wrote about this in the feminist journal Women and Performance. In the published piece, I analyze what is known as “upper lid westernization” — an all too popular practice where Asian eyes are surgically sculpted to look more “western.”

    The limited/stereotypical portrayal of Asians is criminal. Have you ever read the article “Why are there no Asian male anchormen?” — it does a good job analyzing Asian stereotypes in the US. And Minority Militant’s blog (can be found in my blogroll) is good in this area as well!

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. It’s terrible isn’t it? All those white people with all their privileges. That reminds me of the untouchables in India-you know-those are people of color who live with other people of color. And, did you know, that even to touch an untouchable makes some of those people of color sick.
    How about a nice vacation in Yemen? but don’t forget to wear your burqua because some nice person of color (cop)might take offense.
    Pakistan is nice this time of year as well. Don’t forget to tell those nice pocs that you will go and do as you please.
    N.Korea by all means and don’t forget to tell them to close their nuclear reactor (Now)! I hear that their bread and water is quite good!

  10. Dear Professor,

    I recently assigned an excerpt from Tim Wise’s White Like Me — unsurprising responses from my students included 1) Denial (“I don’t believe that white people made the rules; I believe people made the rules.”) 2) Anger (“Phrases like ‘white music’ and ‘white spaces’ make me ANGRY”) 3) Sorrow/sympathy (“Wow, I feel so bad it is hard for other races due to white privilege!”)

    These are, of course, understandable responses from white students who have never considered the concept of whiteness before. And in a way, I like these responses because there are so many ways to teach to them productively. But at the same time, it is striking to read these responses — some of them are so angry, and that makes me sad.

    — Lisa
    p.s. None of the above are direct quotes from any of my students!
    p.p.s. is anyone else confused/troubled by Henry’s comment above?

  11. Troubled: let me be honest with you.

    I am not guilty nor I do feel guilty about being white.
    I do not have or share group guilt concerning racism, sexism, homophobia,slavery or genocide.
    I believe that this focus on white privilege is nothing short of blatant racism; though evil may be a better term.
    No white person can control or change what are perceived as privileges.
    A poc will not decide whether I’m being a racist or not.
    It does not matter if pocs-or anyone else considers me a racist or not.
    I have clients and students of various races/genders and abilities. I welcome people who try to play the race game with me.
    Racism will never end but the showing of “Meeting David Wilson” was a good start. Of course many so-called progresives prefer revenge rather than re-conciliation.
    Name any society where there is no privilege of any kind…or any club for that matter!
    If you want my privilege-come and get it!

  12. Sorry readers, I am late in getting back to these comments. Further, as I am still in recovery from watching that veep debate, my responses will be quite brief. Perhaps I should take Palin’s tactic and only answer those comments that I feel like answering right now…

    Onely,
    Yes, denial, anger, and sorrow are all too often the (non-productive) reactions to discussions of white privilege (as evidenced not only by your students, but by many of the WPD comments above).

    Diosa,
    Ah, thanks for the Orwellian wisdom.

    (as I don’t want to be like Palin…)

    Henry,
    To your 1st comment, this post is geographically specific. In fact, I am talking about my own neighborhood. I was not making generalizations about the entire globe, as you do.

    To your 2nd, I think you misunderstood Lisa — she was not indicating you ‘should’ feel guilty. Quite the opposite in fact.

    As to your comment that “No white person can control or change what are perceived as privileges.” Hmm, so there is no such thing as individual choice or actions? What, are we all powerless cogs in some totalitarian machine?

    “A poc will not decide whether I’m being a racist or not.” Oh, so the term powp is “blatant racism” but the term poc is ok? Interesting…

    “I welcome people who try to play the race game with me.” I wonder what the rules of this “race game” of yours are…

    To your 3rd comment, is this an indication you believe in essentialism and determinism?

  13. …..your on base with the essentialism and I like its link with classical humanism meaning that I think that there are eternal and unchangeable expressions of human behavior-or instance the capacity for love and the less popular concept of {sin}. I don’t see myself as much of a determinist since this implies that future events are necessitated by past and present events (with the help of mother nature). Their is still the element of human change/free will.
    Now, speaking of Race-Susan Fiske a Princeton University psychologist notes that:” the consciousness of race is hard wired into hour brains as even infants notice race and actively prefer similar races. That makes more sense than the review I read of a book by Paul Kovel who claimed that white children learn to be racist when they are potty trained-no mention was made of black kids and the effects of potty training. Thus, I remember my then 4yr old daughter telling me that:” black people are loud” now, is that the makings of a budding racist, or more of a cultural/behavioral observation?
    Now, I would never say that white people in this country have more privileges/advantages than black people, my issue is with terminology ie., white privilege since, in and of itself, privilege/advantage are abstract terms while (to me) a White race is not.
    In an article by Sharon Martinas (I will forgive her poor sense of history) she notes that white people inflict forms of racial and national oppression upon peoples from the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Arab world. Of course these signs of oppression are not explained. Nor is their any balance: what should we call the forces of oppression/racism in India, Africa and the Arab world. A casual reader of her paper would wrongly assume that racism/oppression are just a white thing.

    Reading McIntosh (and others) and their listing of privilges I see few-if any-which are either illegal or immoral or just plain wrong as most can be applied to other countries or small societies. Thus in a society were all males filed their teeth (except me) I would certaily not feel at ease. Nor can the average white person do anything about the following supposed privilge:” I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.”
    That has nothing to do with being a helpless cog since the above is related to individual feelings not fact!

    powp: is nothing more than a vague statement to me. Poc-would depend how it’s used-but then again, white people are pocs.

    the rules of the race card are wide open to me. With my clients I find that it opens the lines of communication, allows for the airing of difficulties and misperceptions.

  14. OK….I don’t want the most honorable professor to comment on this-just other posters!
    But first what does this mean? ” But no one would question the bad influence all the whites on television has on the mind of a young black or other minority person.”

    first some questions:

    1. who decides what a privilege is
    2. who decides if it is earned or un-earned
    3. what makes a privilege white
    4. are minority privileges ok
    5. how can a person give up an earned or un-earned privilege
    6. after the so-called white race has vanished who will be your next target. Will it be Indians who discriminate against the Untouchables, Pakistani men who maim their wives/daughters for getting out of line, Hispanic men for their macho behaviors.

    Now I enjoy reading about some of my privileges from Ms. Peggy and here are some of my favorites:
    1.. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my
    next steps, professionally….no one can be sure of that-it has nothing to do with race.
    2.. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race…so race is more important than an education?
    3..I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race..nope!if you cant find it that no ones fault but your own.
    4..I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial..nope! so powerful male means bad white male? what about a group of powerful white females? besides you can’t control the feelings of others.
    5..I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color..this is just plain stupid! but it does show how far from reality people like McIntosh are. I prefer to call her privilge list a step by step approach to neurotic behavior.

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