Social Justice Usage
Representations, messages and stories conveying the idea that behaviors and values associated with white people or “whiteness” are automatically “better” or more “normal” than those associated with other racially defined groups.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 47.
The body of research about children and race demonstrates that white children develop a sense of white superiority as early as preschool. This early start shouldn’t be surprising, as society sends constant messages that to be white is better than to be a person of color. [Opens section headed “Cultural Racism”]
Source: Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Random House, p. 83.
When the reaction to the Nazi Holocaust marginalized biological racism, cultural racism stepped into its place… Whoever makes the cultural standard makes the cultural hierarchy. The act of making a cultural standard and hierarchy is what creates cultural racism.
New Discourses Commentary
In Social Justice, the idea of cultural racism insists that white people maintain their social dominance and do a kind of racism to people of color by finding “white” culture to be normal and preferable to various non-white cultures. This follows from a view that our society has decided that “white,” “white people,” and “whiteness” (the cultural properties white people have claimed unto themselves under a theoretical doctrine of “white supremacy,” viewed as a kind of exclusive club that does not permit people of color to share in the fruits of society equally) are on the positive side of a presumed hierarchy, while black and brown people and the cultures of brown and black people (see also, blackness) are on the negative side (see also, anti-blackness). By having more interest in “white” culture and less interest in “other” (racialized) cultures, whiteness is systemically racist against those other cultures.
This idea follows from the belief in Theory that dominant social groups construct the system (and its use of knowledge) to benefit themselves and preserve their interests, while being neglectful at best or hostile at worst to the interests of others (see also, epistemic oppression). This normalizes the system and gives the dominant within it both privilege and a sense of superiority that they are then motivated to maintain (see also, racial contract and white solidarity). In that critical race Theory views racism as an issue of systemic power, which is maintained primarily through discourses (how things are talked about) and representation, cultural racism would be understood to be a systemic problem that can only be solved by dismantling the cultural system that allegedly privileges white culture over others (see also, master’s tools).
Of note, elements of “white” culture here may include the kinds of things that we might normally associate with it—manners of speech and dress, preferences in music and art, and so on—but it doesn’t stop there. Other things tend to be considered elements of white culture as well, such as liberalism, meritocracy, science, reason, logic, punctuality, work ethic, and using organized methods (at work) to get things done. (The first of these examples are detailed as such frequently in the critical race Theory and postcolonial Theory literature; the middle ones are described as such, for example, by critical whiteness educator Alison Bailey; and the last three examples have been explained as features of “white supremacy” even within the chambers of a task force commissioned by and for the Washington state legislature.)
Of some note, the assumptions upon which this idea rests can lead to situations in which people of color who don’t act in the appropriate stereotypical ways described by Theory—or more importantly who don’t say the right identity-political things—to be labeled inauthentic members of their race (e.g., “coconut,” “Oreo,” or “Uncle Tom”—see also, acting white and white adjacent). In that sense, this term begins with a denial of individual autonomy and agency for people of color and thinks of them primarily as authentic or inauthentic members of demographic groups, with race theory determining that which is and isn’t authentic.
It should be noted that this idea begins with a gross conflation of demographic identity (e.g., race) with culture. This—the belief that cultures are owned by and essential to particular identity groups—is at the heart of cultural racism (see also, positionality). That is, it begins from an assumption that certain cultural mores are typical of or characteristic of certain identities, particularly races. This is typical of Social Justice approaches to “culture.”
Acting white; Anti-blackness; Authentic; Blackness; Critical race Theory; Discourses; Dismantle; Dominance; Essentialize; Identity; Identity politics; Ideology; Institutional racism; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Master’s tools; Meritocracy; Normativity; People of color; Position; Power (systemic); Privilege; Racism (systemic); Science; Social Justice; System, the; Theory; White; White adjacent; White solidarity; White supremacy; Whiteness
Revision date: 7/8/20