“White is Right!”
The burning desire for Eurocentric features
“Whiteness” is an unconscious phenomena, that minorities tend to adhere to. But, how does this whiteness get to be coined as “whiteness”? This is an idea that Sarah Ahmed, gives light to in her work “Phenomenology of Whiteness.” She brings in an idea from Fanon, known as “corporeal schema” and this dates back to the histories of colonialism.
As Fanon’s work shows, after all, bodies are shaped by histories of colonialism, which makes the world ‘white’, a world that is inherited, or which is already given before the point of an individual’s arrival. This is the familiar world, the world of whiteness, as a world we know implicitly. Colonialism makes the world ‘white’, which is of course a world ‘ready’ for certain kinds of Ahmed: A phenomenology of whiteness 153 Downloaded from fty.sagepub.com at Royal Institute of Technology on September 19, 2011 bodies, as a world that puts certain objects within their reach. Bodies remember such histories, even when we forget them. Such histories, we might say, surface on the body, or even shape how bodies surface (see Ahmed, 2004a). Race then does become a social as well as bodily given, or what we receive from others as an inheritance of this history.
This notion of whiteness as an orientation, gives way to believe that whiteness is predisposed in our world and minorities bodies can only take up their given space in it. A great example of this phenomena being put into play can be seen in many third world countries, including the Philippines. Lighter hair, lighter skin, and lighter colored eyes are features that are typically sought after. Generally speaking, these characteristics can be defined as Eurocentric or ‘White’ features in which many minorities aspire to be seen as more beautiful. “Women (of color) use skin-whitening cream and walk around with umbrellas on sunny days to keep themselves as close to white as possible.” They even partake in harsh surgeries such as thinning out noses and getting rid of mono-lids.
The Philippines is known for following in the footsteps of the United States of America, from their television shows to even their features… but why? “Many researchers in the field of Filipino-American psychology attribute this desire for whiter skin to the American colonial rule of the Philippines, which began in 1898 and lasted for nearly fifty years.” This statistic is still rolling through today. “Due to events like the widespread colonialism of the 1800s, the European societal norms have lingered in other societies and have taken away from different cultures’ own values of beauty. When you walk down the streets of Milan, London, Paris, or New York City, you see billboards featuring the typical tall, slender, Caucasian models.” Coming from a Filipino background you see this “white out” practically everywhere. There are many ad’s on whitening products. Whitening products such as papaya soap, became the new fad. All the celebrities are rocking this new fashion!
Another point Sarah Ahmed gives in her article, is whiteness being a “background to experience.” Being a “background to experience” gives way for people of color to come into play with whiteness. “It’s all in the performance of the body and how we strategically use it.” Filipino celebrities can be using this whiteness to their own advantage through fashion. Being whiter makes them seen as more beautiful or appealing, in turn having everyone else following in their footsteps.
Taking it back to Ahmed and Fanon’s arguments, this whiteness can date all the way back to colonialism. The world was already set up in which minorities are restricted to play in their own little playgrounds. Being able to see this, we can work our way around whiteness and use it to our advantage. “We can get stuck in this position, endlessly caught up in describing what we are doing to whiteness, rather than what whiteness is doing.”