Social Justice Usage
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, p. 9.
Critical whiteness studies begins with the acknowledgement that whiteness and its concomitant privileges tend to remain invisible to most white people. In order to dislodge whiteness from its position of dominance, whiteness must be studied in order to “make visible what is rendered invisible when viewed as the normative state of existence.” From this perspective, racism is essentially a white problem. Whiteness is mainly invisible to those who benefit from it. For those who don’t, whiteness is often blatantly and painfully ubiquitous. For white people then, it is impossible to gain an understanding of systemic racism without naming whiteness and understanding how whiteness works.
New Discourses Commentary
Whiteness studies (sometimes, critical whiteness studies) is the critical study of whiteness, in the sense of applying critical theory to the idea of whiteness and its social manifestations. As such, it is sometimes classified explicitly as a part of critical race Theory (which is, in some sense, the critical study of race and racism, under the same meaning of critical), although this is not always the case.
As can be read above, critical whiteness studies “begins with the acknowledgement that whiteness and its concomitant privileges tend to remain invisible to most white people.” This is how and why it is a critical study in the sense of critical theory (see also, Cultural Marxism, Neo-Marxism, and New Left). The entire program of study begins with the assumption not only that there are inherent privileges (that is, unjust unearned advantages) associated with being white, via whiteness and white dominance, but also that there is some sort of false consciousness around them that requires identifying, exposing, disrupting, dismantling, and deconstructing (see also, Marxian, consciousness raising, critical consciousness, antiracism, internalized dominance; white ignorance; white innocence; willful ignorance; and woke/wokeness). White people are deemed to be complicit in the system of whiteness, which benefits them, and this is a deeply entrenched problematic that needs to be critically examined (see also, white complicity).
Whiteness studies indicates that whiteness itself contains various features that make it impossible for white people to understand racism (see also, white innocence). It also makes white people unwilling to attempt to understand racism. The belief of critical whiteness studies is that these problems can only be overcome by identifying the white racial identity (which can never be a positive), naming its features “whiteness,” understanding how whiteness works, and then ensuring that white people understand that it renders them complicit in the unjust system of domination known as systemic racism (and white supremacy). This, allegedly, isn’t supposed to make white people feel bad or guilty, but it is supposed to motivate them to want to take on an ongoing lifelong process of self-awareness and self-critique to recognize their own participation in this system and therefore work to dismantle it (see also, antiracism). That’s the ultimate goal of whiteness studies.
The “need” (according to the Theory of Social Justice) for critical whiteness studies is to highlight, particularly to white people (as they’re the only ones Theorized not to realize it), that white racial identity is a racial identity like any other in one dimension (see also, social construction) but unique in its dominance in the dimension of systemic power. That is, while the white racial identity is yet another socially constructed racial category, it is also one that rather uniquely creates oppression for minoritized racial groups (see also, people of color). In other words, critical whiteness studies exists to problematize whiteness and to teach white people to put social significance into the racial category “white” and to ensure that that social significance is understood to be intrinsically negative and problematic because of its dominant position with respect to unjust systemic power. (NB: They say whiteness isn’t inherently bad: “no one chose to be socialized into the system of racism, so no one is bad, but no one is neutral,” but in practice, not least since they say there is no such thing as a positive white identity, this is a distinction without a difference.)
Antiracism; Complicity; Consciousness raising; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Cultural Marxism; Deconstruction; Disrupt; Dismantle; Dominance; False consciousness; Identity; Injustice; Internalized dominance; Minoritze; Marxian; Neo-Marxism; New Left; Oppression; People of color; Position; Privilege; Problematic; Problematize; Race; Racism (systemic); Social construction; Social Justice; Socialization; Systemic power; Theory; White; White complicity; White ignorance; White innocence; White supremacy; Whiteness; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, pp. 9–10.
A major area of study in critical whiteness studies involves white privilege. Whiteness, as Barbara Flagg explains, is a “location of power, privilege, and prestige.” Peggy McIntosh’s influential essay lists the social, political and cultural advantages of being white in the United States. Her metaphor of white privilege as an “invisible knapsack of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious” is often cited in courses that teach about systemic injustice. McIntosh maintains that without acknowledging the “colossal unseen dimensions” and the “silences and denials” surrounding white privilege, white people cannot contribute to the eradication of racism and, in fact, contribute to its maintenance. Whiteness benefits all those ascribed whiteness and it is white people’s investment in whiteness that can obscure how white people even with the best of intentions are implicated in sustaining a racially unjust system. It is the complicity of well-intentioned white people that is the central focus of this book.
Revision date: 3/5/20