Emilie Townes on Whiteness: let’s start talking about it.

From Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil

“Whiteness as a part of uninterrogated coloredness is a thoroughgoing evasion of color. It assumes that there is no richeness within the worlds of White folks and proclaims a vanilla (as in color, not spice) neutral existence where whiteness, ultimately, is the norm” 70

“When taken to the extreme, it assumes a noncolored self who, when disrobed, is actually whiteness redux.” 71

“We have logoized versions of ourselves: Native Americans are reduced to spiritual, Blacks are reduced to hip-hop, Asias are reduced to intellect, Latinos/as are reduced to salsa, and Whites…well, Whites have no culture, no is-ness, they are simply…White.” 97

White people need to be able to talk about being white. We need to be able to recognize our cultural position as our cultural position, and disrobe it of its notions of ‘objectiveness’: to place our tradition in its time and place, up against its good and evil actions. ESPECIALLY in the Academy. Too often we take off the racial qualifier that defines our histories: human history is not Euro-American history–not the Greco-Roman-Christian-Euro-American progression that we often claim is universal and the singular narrative of human progression.

The current stance, in which whiteness is non-racial, non-ethnic, non-deviant also functions to keep whites incomplex and complacent in this non-ness that makes all others deviations from a norm. Whiteness is a race, constructed and smoke-and-mirrors like all races are: but to assume that it is ‘devoid’ of the qualities of race that are ‘owned’ by Black people and Asian people and Latino people–this is a grave mistake that further perpetuates us-and-them attitudes. It keeps people from coming to the table as equals.

Leave a Reply