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Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression: Whiteness

What does whiteness mean in the context of antiracism?

In defining whiteness, oft-cited authors such as Robin DiAngelo and Barbara Applebaum frequently turn to Ruth Frankenberg to inform their own writing. Frankenberg writes:

Whiteness ... has a set of linked dimensions. First, whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second, it is a ‘standpoint,’ a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society. Third, ‘Whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed.

Whiteness is not a skin color, but instead "a constellation of processes and practices rather than as a discrete entity (i.e. skin color alone). Whiteness is dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and on myriad levels. These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people" (DiAngelo, 2011).

Recognizing white privilege and white complicity in racism is a necessary first step in engaging in anti-racist work.


DiAngelo. Robin. "White fragility." International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no. 3 (2011): 54-70. https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/view/249

Frankenberg, Ruth. White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Accessed June 3, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsnhh

Read - Watch - Listen

Not sure where to start? Read, Watch, & Listen offers three introductions to the topic.

Read

"White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo - https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/view/249

In this article, DiAngelo introduces the concept of white fragility, “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” It’s an in-depth look at a phrase that is often used at a surface level in popular media. This article is probably best used to frame societal or political conversations, as appropriate to course materials, rather than to frame classroom guidelines about discussing race. DiAngelo also offers background on historical and current concepts of race, racism, and Whiteness, and emphasizes that “White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people.” DiAngelo suggests these interventions are made possible by working through the idea of white fragility to build stamina for conversations about race. This article may also be of use to instructors to reflect on their own and students’ perspectives and reactions to discussions of race. (Annotation by Elizabeth Galoozis)

Watch

"Bad White People" by Travis Jones (TEDx) - https://www.ted.com/talks/travis_jones_bad_white_people

Since at least the Civil Rights Era, the culture of Whiteness has been marked by a kind of silent seriousness, shame or seclusion when it comes to issues of race and racism. The moral choice to become “Good White People” (or non-racists) has come at the deadly costs of colorblind racism. If we want a more free and just world, we must embrace Angela Davis’ words: “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” Drawing on moral psychology and sociology, my talk will explore how we move beyond being “Good White People” (or non-racist) to being Bad White People (anti-racists) in fighting for the freedom of ourselves and others. What do you want people to learn from your talk? want people to have a deeper understanding of the way Whiteness, as an ideology, works in the world; and then to be inspired by the moral vision of being Bad White People. What action items do you want people to take away from your talk? Finding big and small ways to be good-trouble-makers in the fight for racial justice.

Listen

Seeing White (Podcast) - https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white

Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story.

Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?

Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams.

Resources

“Comforting Discomfort as Complicity: White Fragility and the Pursuit of Invulnerability” by Barbara Applebaum - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/hypa.12352

In this article, I trouble the pedagogical practice of comforting discomfort in the social‐justice classroom. Is it possible to support white students, for instance, and not comfort them? Is it possible to support white students without recentering the emotional crisis of white students, without disregarding the needs and interests of students of color, and without reproducing the violence that students of color endure? First I address the dangers of comforting discomfort and discuss Robin DiAngelo's notion of white fragility, which has been used to explain the tendency of white people to flee discomfort rather than tarry with it (DiAngelo 2011). Employing Erinn Gilson's work on vulnerability, I argue that white fragility is not a weakness but an active performance of invulnerability (Gilson 2011; 2014). I conclude by arguing that developing vulnerability is a counter to white fragility, and that one way such vulnerability can be encouraged is through offering critical hope, which I maintain is a type of support that does not comfort.

"The Invisible Whiteness of Being: Whiteness, White Supremacy, White Privilege, and Racism" by Derald Sue Wing - https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.cod.idm.oclc.org/lib/cod/reader.action?docID=265881&ppg=31 (Requires COD LIbrary card)

In our society, Whiteness is a default standard; the background of the figure-ground analogy from which all other groups of color are compared, contrasted, and made visible. From this color standard, racial/ethnic minorities are evaluated, judged, and often found to be lacking, inferior, deviant, or abnormal.

"What’s My Complicity? Talking White Fragility with Robin DiAngelo" by Adrienne van der Valk and Anya Malley - www.tolerance.org/magazine/summer-2019/whats-my-complicity-talking-white-fragility-with-robin-diangelo

For well-intentioned white people doing anti-racist and social justice work, the first meaningful step is to recognize their fragility around racial issues—and build their emotional stamina. 'White Fragility' author Robin DiAngelo breaks it down.

"White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo - https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116

In this article, DiAngelo introduces the concept of white fragility, “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” It’s an in-depth look at a phrase that is often used at a surface level in popular media. This article is probably best used to frame societal or political conversations, as appropriate to course materials, rather than to frame classroom guidelines about discussing race. DiAngelo also offers background on historical and current concepts of race, racism, and Whiteness, and emphasizes that “White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people.” DiAngelo suggests these interventions are made possible by working through the idea of white fragility to build stamina for conversations about race. This article may also be of use to instructors to reflect on their own and students’ perspectives and reactions to discussions of race.
(Annotation by Elizabeth Galoozis)

 

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  • Last Updated: Oct 29, 2020 11:26 AM
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