How whiteness serves as a background within society, pushing acts of division and inequality
White Privilege, did that make you uncomfortable? Does the genocide of Native Americans have the same effect? Maybe the enslavement of Blacks? Interesting enough, whiteness is something that serves a major role in America yet it often goes unnoticed. Why do people fear discussing whiteness or the concept of white privilege? How can years of racism simply be forgotten because it’s “in the past?”
Sara Ahmed argues “how whiteness functions as a habit, even a bad habit, which becomes a background to social action.” Basically, whiteness is the norm in society. The system is set up to support whiteness, while devaluing those of color. Imagine being a woman of dark color trying to find the right foundation at Sephora, then imagine being a white woman doing the same. Who do you think would have the easier experience? The issue here is that whiteness has always been a part of society that is not focused on. Instead, those of color are ostracized and treated as the other, meant to be feared. Ahmed argues that by paying attention to whiteness and all of its perks, the system that attempts to tear apart those of color, can be challenged.
Whiteness is often dismissed in talks of race or politics, simply because it makes people uncomfortable. It is able to be overlooked because it has become a universal norm of society. The intriguing thing to note is that most times, whiteness is not even something that people understand as being such a huge portion of the system. Thus, white privilege becomes something that angers those under the category of whiteness. Often times, white people tend to create arguments claiming that their whiteness is out of their own control and they should not feel ashamed for being white or accepting certain benefits, like not getting shot by an officer simply because of skin color. Of course those falling under the category of whiteness should not feel as though they are the enemy or the problem, but they should take time to realize that whiteness has always been supported by society while those of color have had to face a much harsher reality.
Ahmed also mentions that “white bodies do not have to face their whiteness.” She argues that being white is not something that ever needs to be explained because it is universal and accepted. On the other hand, those of color often have to explain their culture, language, physical attributes and so on because they are the exotic other. Around a month ago, I made a new friend on campus and when we finally got the opportunity to sit down and talk, the first thing he asked was, “So where are you from? Like, really from?” I was torn between wanting to laugh and resisting the urge to walk out of the room. Where am I from? I was born in America and have only left the country maybe once or twice, but because the color of my skin is brown I am automatically questioned.
Privileged or not, being white in America offers a sense of security and safety that others do not experience. Take a look at the photo above, the highest standard of living is only given to the wholesome white family and that is the American way. America was founded through the mass killings of the so-called Indians, followed by the taking of their land. Whiteness has always been something deemed superior and although the dark history of America is gone it will not be forgotten. A lot of people tend to argue that racism is no longer as big of an issue as it once was. They say things like, “That happened so long ago” or my favorite, “Get over it already.”
Yet it’s 2017 and unarmed citizens are being killed by the police because their skin is dark. It’s 2017 and white men can get away with rape and mass shootings simply because their skin is fair. It’s 2017 and people of color still have to explain why they deserve to be treated equally.
If the term white privilege or whiteness makes certain white people uncomfortable, they are the lucky ones because they don’t have to worry about the color of their skin being a threat to their existence. Whiteness is something that is often dismissed because it has become the norm, but if we choose to ignore it we choose to ignore the fight for equality. We can pretend whiteness does not offer certain benefits but all we are doing is allowing the system to continue to exploit and oppress those who do not fit within the category of whiteness.