It’s become customary to suppose that a measure of discrimination is built into whiteness itself, a racial category that has often functioned as a purely negative designation: to be white in America is to be not nonwhite, which is why it was possible, in 1961, for a white woman from Kansas living in Hawaii to give birth to a black baby. In a marvellously splenetic essay, “On Being White . . . And Other Lies,” James Baldwin argued that America had, really, “no white community”—only a motley alliance of European immigrants and their descendants, who made a “moral choice” (even if they didn’t realize it) to join a synthetic racial élite…
In 1994, the white labor historian David R. Roediger published an incendiary volume, “Towards the Abolition of Whiteness.” Paying special attention to unions and strikes, he traced the unsteady growth of American whiteness, a category that eventually included many previous identities that had once been considered marginal: Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish. “It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false; it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false,” he wrote. “Whiteness describes, from Little Big Horn to Simi Valley, not a culture but precisely the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn’t and on whom one can hold back.” In his view, fighting racism wasn’t enough; white people who wanted to oppose oppression would have to do battle with whiteness itself.
This guy gets it. This is what I’ve been trying to explain in this blog. Whiteness is white privilege. To all those who’ve commented claiming that they are “European American” or “Caucasian” or “English” or whatever don’t realize that whiteness is really the nullification of past cultures and to conjure up one’s Irish heritage here and there is the privilege. A black person or an Asian or any American of color, often doesn’t have this ability. They are forever seen as Other and not “real” Americans. For a person of color to cast off their racial identity, to be just American, is near impossible. They can do it personally of course, but there are many, many people ready to remind them of their “place,” and abject to their authenticity.
It’s important to understand this before one can begin to talk about race. This is lesson one, right here.