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Social Construction of Whiteness

This is a introductory talk about "race" as a social construction, the history of "whiteness" and a call to anti-racism.

Lauren Rea Preston

on 28 October 2014

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Transcript of Social Construction of Whiteness

Social Construction of Whiteness

"Race" is not based on genetics.
"Race" as a social construction
"Biologization" of culture replaced genetic arguments, but is equally flawed.
Differences between different "races" defended as genetic, now debunked.
Changing constructions throughout U.S. history
"Whiteness" is a social construction.
The result of an infinite number of daily interactions between people in a society.
Social Construction
See also "Social Construct"
More than "Cinco de Mayo" multiculturalism
History of de jure and de facto racial privilege and oppression in U.S.
"White Privilege"
1654 African Chattel Slavery
1876-1965 "Jim Crow" laws in South and de facto segregation in North
1968-present, Post-Civil Rights Movement and "colorblindness"
Unearned, systematic privileges accrued as a result of being white.
"White Privilege"
Corresponds to racial oppression or "systemic racism" = systematic and interrelated racial barriers not of one's own doing.
Individuals experience difference levels of privilege or oppression based on other facets of identity (i.e. class, gender, religion, etc).
White/black as axis of "race."
Definition of who is and who is not "white" change from country to country.
Global "whiteness"
U.S. Historical Context
Historical Constructions of Whiteness
1899 European immigrants were "not quite white" (i.e. Jews, Italians, Irish)
Accompanied by changing definition of who is "black."
"White" appears for first time in colonial laws in 1687.
All other racial groups somewhere on the spectrum of white/black.
Ex. Asians and Hispanics
1863 Emancipation Proclamation
1863–77 Brief window of reconstruction, reparations, and racial equality.
1955-1968 African American Civil Rights Movement
1990s to present, increasing racial inequality and de facto segregation on par with "Jim Crow" era
Racial difference is then the product of these daily interactions.
In general, "whiteness" is privileged globally due to colonization and African chattel slavery.
So race is not "real" but still has very real material and symbolic consequences.
Greetings and Caveats
Recognize the dominant ideology still based on essentialist and cultural racism, but now also subtle "colorblindness."
Realize racial discrimination, both blatant and covert, in daily interactions is still a reality for people of color.
Everyday antiracism in education
But what can I do?
Realize that "race" doesn't matter, but it does.
Develop a positive racial identity not based on hierarchy.
Listen to people who are "different" than you.
Resist stereotypes and simplistic answers about racial inequality.
Talk about "race" in strategic ways. How does "race" matter in your institution?
Look for ways to "level the playing field" where you live and work.
Focus on equal outcomes, not just "equal opportunities."
A few more words on "race"...
Humans discriminate in a multitude of ways; "race" is the primary means in U.S.
"Race," "culture," "ethnicity" relate to white people, too.
And constantly changing census categories.
Deculturalization through education
Racism affects all racial groups to different degrees.
"Race" is not based on culture.
"Race" created to maintain hierarchy and economic inequality, in other words, a class-based system.
Example: In Brazil, based strictly on phenotype, whereas in U.S. it is a combination of phenotype and ancestry.
Whiteness as "norm" and without culture
Systematic deculturalization of Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, specifically through education
"Enlgish only" movements
Also impacts Irish, Italian, Jewish, etc. with pressure to assimilate to the Anglo "norm"
A system based on racism hurts everybody.
Be aware that school and neighborhood racial segregation is getting worse, not better.
Stop & Think
When was the first time you thought about "race"? Did you every ask your mom or dad about "race"? What was their reaction? What do you remember about that incident?
Stop & Think
Is this new information to you? Have you heard any of this before? If not, does this information seem credible to you? Why or why not?
Stop & Think
If you identify as a White person, how does this information make you feel? If you identify as a person of color, how does this make you feel?
Based on this information, is it possible to have a healthy White racial identity? What would that consist of?
Full transcript