Social Justice Usage
A socially created “racial” group who historically and currently receive the benefits of racism in the United States. The category includes all the different ethnic groups of European origin, regardless of differences in their histories, ethnicities, or cultures.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 119.
Although many Whites feel that being White has no meaning, this feeling is unique to White people and is a key part of what it means to be White; to see one’s race as having no meaning is a privilege only Whites are afforded. To claim to be “just human” and thus outside of race is one of the most powerful and pervasive manifestations of Whiteness.
Source: Kendi, Ibram X. How To Be an Antiracist. Random House. Kindle Edition, p. 38.
Some White people do not identify as White for the same reason they identify as not-racist: to avoid reckoning with the ways that Whiteness—even as a construction and mirage—has informed their notions of America and identity and offered them privilege, the primary one being the privilege of being inherently normal, standard, and legal. It is a racial crime to be yourself if you are not White in America. It is a racial crime to look like yourself or empower yourself if you are not White.
New Discourses Commentary
“White,” to Critical Social Justice, is a political contrivance of white people for the purposes of dominating people of color. It is, specifically in that sense, the identity group marker for the alleged beneficiaries of “whiteness,” “white supremacy,” “(white) racism,” and “white privilege,” as these are described by Theory, particularly critical race Theory and whiteness studies.
As indicated in the examples provided, “white” is deemed to be a socially constructed racial category. With this, many critics of Critical Social Justice would probably agree, not merely because there’s much factual basis in the claim (see also, race and critical race Theory). Where Critical Social Justice loses many people is in naming “whiteness” as a “social and institutional status” that is intrinsically identifiable with the domination of people of color, with privilege and unearned advantage, with exploitation, and with a certain privileged ignorance (see also, white ignorance, and also active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, and willful ignorance). As such, Critical Social Justice believes that “white” simultaneously represents a mindset and exclusive access to societal reward, position, and power. It is therefore only superficially understood to have much to do with skin color, save that by virtue of having “white” skin, all white people intrinsically benefit from the political contrivance that they have created (see also, white privilege).
In many Critical Social Justice sources (e.g., Sensoy and DiAngelo, p. 101), racism is Theorized to be that which white people do with regard to racial relations, so being racist is also a property of being white (see also, complicity and white complicity). This is because a white racial identity is by definition positioned on the dominant end of racial power dynamics. (To wit: “Although commonsense understandings about social power often have us thinking in terms of numbers, as we have argued, power is not dependent on numbers but on position. In other words, power is dependent on what position a group holds and their ability to affect other groups from that position.” Source: Sensoy and DiAngelo, p. 120.)
The view from critical race Theory is this: racism is Theorized as the thing white people do to people of color, after having invented the very concept of race specifically to be able to do it, and it was done so that they can maintain their power, dominance, and privilege (unjustly greater access to the resources and rewards of society). “White” is the race they invented and grant exclusive access to when they deem you worthy of receiving in those spoils, on certain conditions. Furthermore, it is alleged that they created the white race as the race that doesn’t need to be named, as the default race against which all other races are othered. That is, whiteness exists as the norm and for the purposes of designating certain other people “not white” and therefore not worthy of certain privileges and opportunities. This is deemed a feature of white privilege (see also, white comfort, white equilibrium, white innocence, white silence, white solidarity, and racial stress). This picture is painted explicitly in the sources provided (e.g., Sensoy and DiAngelo on p. 99).
Throughout the Critical Social Justice literature, whites are Theorized to be epistemically inadequate (see also, white ignorance and standpoint epistemology), self-serving (see also, white complicity, good white, interest divergence, and interest convergence), comfortably complacent, weak, and ignorant in their privilege (see also, white comfort and racial stamina), participants in an implicit racial contract to keep people of color marginalized (see also, aversive racism, colortalk, and white talk), emotionally compromised (see also, white silence, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, willful ignorance, pernicious ignorance, active ignorance, and white fragility), racially naive (see also, white innocence), and morally limited or deficient (e.g., intrinsically racist and/or white supremacist or at least complicit in these, and self-interested via interest convergence/divergence, privilege, and whiteness). Critical whiteness Theorists/educators like Robin DiAngelo attempt to obfuscate on these accusations by blaming these features of “being white” on socialization into white racism (see also, internalized dominance) rather than being racist by intention and making mealy-mouthed statements such as “No one chose to be socialized into racism so no one is bad, but no one is neutral.”
White people are expected to address this state of affairs by actively taking up antiracism, which may include becoming a white ally or acting in solidarity with people of color while taking care not to position themselves as good whites. (Passive antiracism, Sensoy and DiAngelo tell us, p. 166, does not exist, and such a disposition is, in fact, yet another form of racism.) This form of antiracism is not the commonly understood idea of being “against racism.” It carries a specific expectation to engage fully in a “lifelong commitment to an ongoing practice” including self-reflection, self-critique, and social activism. Indeed, as DiAngelo tells us, “no one is ever done.”
White people who appear to be “non-racist” are assumed to wearing a “mask” that hides the racism that critical theories of race and whiteness assume must be present beneath the surface. (NB: Multiple theorists, including DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi, have explained why it is impossible to be non-racist – see also, antiracist – DiAngelo explains in White Fragility, p. 149–150, that there is no possibility of constructing a “positive” white identity, and Sullivan has written an entire book, Good White People, excoriating middle-class liberal white people for trying to craft good white identities.) Throughout the literature, it is explained that white people are socialized into talking about white superiority, albeit in coded ways (see also, anti-blackness), and that this socialization is fundamental to what it means to be white. We will not be so bold as to suggest these Theorists are telling us more about themselves than about society with these accusations.
Of some note, white allyship is particularly fraught, as it is to the white person’s alleged benefit (in that it increases their “education” – see also, wokeness – and thus ostensibly decreases the likelihood that they will be damagingly accused of racism or white supremacy). This is heavily Theorized (see also, good white), and white progressives are a rather surprisingly frequent and heavily bombarded set of people from within Critical Social Justice. Yet again, we restrain ourselves from calling these accusations projection.
To understand this, at least in part, under the auspices of “interest convergence,” white motivations for engaging in allyship are always likely to be problematic. A white ally must therefore take pains to avoid positioning herself as a good white, must nurture active and authentic relationships with many people of color, must avoid speaking over or for people of color at all times, must learn about systemic racism from people of color who experience it (see also, lived experience and knowledge(s)), must avoid asking people of color to explain systemic oppression (see also, epistemic exploitation), and should take pains to avoid the erasure of the voices of people of color. In practice, because anything can be problematized, particularly on close reading, this is functionally impossible, placing all white people in a double bind of compelled antiracism and allyship that cannot be adequately performed.
In practice under Critical Social Justice, “white” is a socially constructed racial category upon which nearly all of the problems of society can be placed. This is specifically because, whatever the origins of the racial category, liberalism has worked diligently and steadily to decrease the social significance in these categories and has seen much success in the project, especially in recent decades (see also, colorblind, equality, universalism, individualism, and colormute). Being explicitly anti-liberal in orientation, Critical Social Justice openly rejects liberalism and this project as a scam perpetrated by white people to maintain white dominance by leading people of color to fail to appreciate how oppressed they really are (see also, false consciousness, internalized oppression, status quo, and internalized racism).
Acting white; Active ignorance; Ally/Allyship; Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Authentic; Aversive racism; Code; Colorblind; Colormute; Colortalk; Complicity; Critical; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Dominance; Epistemic exploitation; Equality; Erasure; Eurocentrism; Exclusion; False consciousness; Good white; Identity politics; Individualism; Interest convergence; Interest divergence; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Internalized Racism; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Lived Experience; Marginalization; Mask; Norm; Oppression; Other (v.); People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Position; Postmodern; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Problematic; Problematize; Race; Racial contract; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Socialization; Solidarity; Standpoint epistemology; Status quo; Systemic power; Theory; Universalism; White adjacent; White comfort; White complicity; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White silence; White solidarity; White talk; White supremacy; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness; Wypipo
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy, revised edition. New York: Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 150–152.
Ruth Frankenberg, one of the premier white scholars in the field of whiteness studies, describes whiteness as multidimensional. She states (1997), “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” (p. 1). Let’s break this description down and clarify each of its three claims.
First, Frankenberg describes whiteness as a “location of structural advantage, of race privilege.” By this she means that to be white is to be in a privileged position within society and its institutions— to be seen as an insider and to be granted the benefits of membership. This position automatically bestows unearned advantages. Whites control all major institutions of society and set the policies and practices that others must live by, while not allowing their voices or interests to be “at the table.” While rare individual people of color may be inside the circles of power—Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Barack Obama— this is usually because they support the status quo and do not challenge racism in any way significant enough to be threatening, and certainly not in enough numbers to be threatening. While this does not mean these public figures don’t experience racism— indeed, Obama has endured insults and degrees of resistance previously unheard of—overall the status quo remains intact. Thus, whites collectively control the resources and are in the position to decide how to allocate them. …
Second, Frankenberg describes whiteness as a “stand-point, a place from which whites look at ourselves, at others, and at society.” By this she means that a significant aspect of white identity is to see oneself as an individual, outside or innocent of race— “just human.” To be white means seeing white people and their interests as central to and representative of all of humanity. Whites also produce and reinforce the dominant narratives of society— opportunity is equal, anyone can make it if they just tries hard enough, and there are no structural barriers. Therefore we view society and the positions of the various racial groups within it through the lenses of individualism and meritocracy. Using these ideologies, we can congratulate ourselves on our success within the institutions of society and blame others for their lack of success.
Third, Frankenberg says that whiteness refers to a set of cultural practices that are unmarked and unnamed. By this she means that rather than isolated acts of individual race prejudice that only bad people engage in, racism is a network of norms and practices that consistently result in advantage for whites and disadvantage for people of color. These norms and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives, and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only afforded in any consistent way to white people; they result in white privilege. When she says that these cultural practices are unmarked and unnamed, she means that the dimensions of racism that serve to advantage white people are usually invisible to whites. We are unaware of, or do not acknowledge, the meaning of race and its impact on our own lives. Thus we do not recognize or admit to white privilege and the norms that produce and maintain it.
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. What Does It Mean to Be White?: Developing White Racial Literacy, revised edition. New York: Peter Lang, 2016, p. 148.
Whiteness is similar to the previously discussed concept of androcentrism, applied to race. Whiteness is not simply the idea that whites are superior to people of color, but a deeper premise that supports this idea—the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm. Whiteness remains invisible in all contexts except when we are specifically referring to people of color, at which point an actress becomes a black actress, and so on. Dyer (1997) states that “There is a specificity to White representations, but it does not reside in a set of stereotypes so much as in narrative structural positions, rhetorical tropes and habits of perception” (p. 12). We might think of these structural positions, narratives, and tropes as rooted in what Feagin calls the white racial frame. The white position is represented in society as unracialized. This contributes to a kind of blindness, an inability to think about whiteness as a state of being that could have an impact on one’s life and perceptions, and thus be a source of meaning. Whiteness is not recognized or named by white people, and a universal reference point is assumed.
Source: Sullivan, Shannon. Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism, SUNY Press, 2014, p. 16.
Above all, I am concerned that in the case of white ethnicities, insisting that whiteness always be considered in connection with other axes of identity tends to erase race and deflect attention away from white domination. Whiteness means different things for Irish Americans and Italian Americans, for example, and these two groups of white people have different racial histories and therefore at least somewhat different racial presents. But the full meaning of whiteness is not contained in those different ethnicities. There is something to being white that being Irish or Italian alone does not capture, and that something is a pattern of domination, exploitation, and oppression based on race.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 99.
Reflecting on the social and economic advantages of Whiteness, critical race scholar Cheryl Harris (1993) coined the phrase “Whiteness as property.” This phrase captures the reality that being perceived as White carries more than a mere racial classification. It is a social and institutional status and identity imbued with legal, political, economic, and social rights and privileges that are denied to others.
Revision date: 2/24/20