Social Justice Usage
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.
Critical scholars define racism as a systemic relationship of unequal power between White people and people of Color. Whiteness refers to the specific dimensions of racism that elevate White people over people of Color. Basic rights, resources, and experiences that are assumed to be shared by all, are actually only available to Whites. 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.
New Discourses Commentary
Whiteness, in Critical Social Justice, is to be understood as the defining property of being classified as white, according to the social constructivist understanding of race. Whiteness is therefore also the “property,” in terms of “social and institutional status and identity imbued with legal political, economic, and social rights and privileges that are denied to others” (see also, people of color) that white people have unjust access to by virtue of having been classified as white. It is therefore also connected to an ideological stance of white supremacy, which roughly means a belief that white people deserve these “unjust” advantages for whatever set of reasons.
White people are believed to be inherently invested in whiteness by having been socialized to accept it as normal and good and to enjoy its benefits (see also, privilege, internalized dominance, and anti-blackness). A great deal of Theory in Critical Social Justice is dedicated to describing how white people are invested in whiteness and work to keep it, including myriad concepts like white comfort, white complicity, white equilibrium, white fragility, white ignorance, white innocence, white silence, white solidarity, white talk, white woman tears, racial stress, the racial contract, aversive racism, anti-blackness, cultural racism (see also, new racism), a lack of racial humility and racial stamina, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, and privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, not to mention excluding other ways of knowing (see also, racial knowledge) through epistemic injustice, testimonial injustice, hermeneutical injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence, which deny alternative “knowledge(s)” and devalue members of minortized groups in their status as knowers. That is, critical whiteness studies obsesses about this topic.
As with everything in the Theory of Social Justice, “whiteness” has to be understood as a socially constructed system of power that is ultimately self-interested, whether by intention or merely by the corrupting influence of privilege, that defines and maintains white dominance and the oppression of people of color. Theory insists it must be critically examined and dismantled (see also, antiracism, critical consciousness, wokeness, and revolution). Whiteness is believed to be the foundation of the hegemonic force in society that critical race Theory exists to unmake.
While white people are alleged to be automatically complicit in whiteness by virtue of the accidents of their birth (see also, white complicity), since whiteness is a system or a kind of social property, whiteness is not something that is limited to white people only. People of color can also subscribe to, support, maintain, or legitimize whiteness by adopting “white supremacist” attitudes that “white” ways of doing things are effective or better than other alternatives. Such people of color might be accused of any of the following for supporting (or merely failing to criticize) whiteness in a systemic sense: white supremacy, white adjacency, acting white, being a race traitor, being a model minority, internalized racism, internalized oppression, being a conservative (of the status quo), or suffering from some other form of false consciousness or self-serving reward seeking such as seeking white approval. These accusations are a way of discrediting or silencing the voices of people of color who do not support Theory.
White people—and people of color, in their own ways—are expected to take up a “lifelong commitment” to an “ongoing process” of “antiracism” work as a result of their inherent complicity in whiteness. This entails engaging in a critical examination of the ways in which one is complicit in, benefiting from, supporting, maintaining, legitmizing, or failing to criticize whiteness in all of its manifestations. As critical race educator Robin DiAngelo puts it, the goal is not to construct a “positive white identity,” which is impossible (see also, good white), but instead to endeavor “to become less white.” In antiracism work, there is no neutral. Either you are an anti-whiteness activist, or you are complicit in whiteness, which is to say a racist and white supremacist. White people must develop a critical consciousness in this way, i.e. become “woke,” which is to say activists who operate from a position of Social Justice-oriented critical theory.
One of the major objectives of antiracism “work,” as it is called, for white people is to attempt to critically examine the meaning of being white, i.e. to put social significance in the racial identity of being white (thus whiteness itself) and to problematize it by understanding the injustice inherent in the privilege it carries. This is considered difficult because of a variety of Theoretical concepts that begin with racial knowledge (see also, episteme) and standpoint epistemology, the idea that one’s social position (i.e., identity—here, race—and its relationship to systemic power dynamics as analyzed critically via intersectionality) influences what it is and is not possible to know (especially about the lived experience of marginalization or oppression).
Particularly, it is believed that privilege blinds a person to an understanding of oppression, say by racism, and affords the ability not to have to engage with its realities, thus leaving the white person in a state of “white ignorance.” As noted above, this is profoundly Theorized through a variety of concepts. Take, for example, an alleged “racial contract” maintained throughout whiteness that agrees to perpetuate white advantage, the notion of “racial stress” that is uncomfortable for whites and upsets their “white comfort,” and a lack of “racial stamina” to engage the critical view of whiteness authentically (read: such that and until one agrees fully with them) that induces “white fragility” and other attempts to maintain one’s privileged status (e.g., privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, active ignorance, willful ignorance, and pernicious ignorance, among others). These have the effect of discrediting and silencing any reasoned opposition by white people or those who are deemed white adjacent (and, frankly, bullying them).
People of color, on the other hand, are admonished that the “master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” and are therefore instructed to identify “white methods” (e.g., white empiricism, white science, and white mathematics) as being manifestations of whiteness that need to be eschewed, avoided, criticized, and dismantled, including by acts of strategic resistance (see also, strategic essentialism, strategic ignorance, and strategic racism). These “master’s tools” can, drawing from critical race educator Alison Bailey and others, include reason, logic, science, liberalism, reliance upon evidence, civil discourse, philosophical dialectic, and so on (see also, ways of knowing), and in practice have included such concepts as being on time to meetings and making to-do lists and carrying them out in an orderly fashion, including in legislative settings (e.g., in the state of Washington’s Equity Task Force). That this is unlikely to improve anything is beside the point, which is a revolution that destroys anything that “dominant groups” have built, value, utilize, or esteem (because the assumption that the values and interests of dominance are intrinsically baked into all such systems).
Acting white; Active ignorance; Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Authentic; Aversive racism; Complicity; Conservative; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Cultural racism; Dismantle; Dominance; Engagement; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equity; False consciousness; Good white; Hegemony; Hermeneutical injustice; Identity; Ideology; Injustice; Internalized oppression; Internalized racism; Intersectionality; Knower; Knowledge(s); Legitimate; Liberalism; Lived experience; Marginalization; Master’s tools; Model minority; New racism; Oppression; People of color; Pernicious ignorance; Positionality; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Problematize; Race; Race traitor; Racial contract; Racial humility; Racial knowledge; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Revolution; Science; Social construction; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Standpoint epistemology; Status quo; Strategic essentialism; Strategic ignorance; Strategic racism; System, the; Systemic power; Testimonial injustice; Theory; Voice; Ways of knowing; White; White adjacent; White approval; White comfort; White complicity; White empiricism; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White mathematics; White science; White solidarity; White supremacy; White talk; White woman tears; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010, p. 9.
While the definition of whiteness is difficult to pin down, there is widespread agreement that whiteness is a socially constructed category that is normalized within a system of privilege so that it is taken for granted by those who benefit from it. Ruth Frankenberg defines whiteness as
. . . 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.
Cheryl Harris suggests that whiteness is best understood as a form of property rights that is systemically protected by social institutions such as law. Thus whiteness is not merely about skin color alone but involves a culturally, socially, politically and institutionally produced and reproduced system of institutional processes and individual practices.
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: 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.
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. 213.
Whiteness. See also White supremacy.
Source: Applebaum, Barbara. Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy. Lexington Books, 2010. Kindle Edition, p. 9.
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. While the definition of whiteness is difficult to pin down, there is widespread agreement that whiteness is a socially constructed category that is normalized within a system of privilege so that it is taken for granted by those who benefit from it.
Revision date: 2/24/20