Posted on April 18, 2021

What Is “Whiteness”?

Chris Roberts, American Renaissance, April 18, 2021

Treason to Whiteness

June 10, 2020, New York, New York: Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity. (Credit Image: © John Marshall Mantel / ZUMA Wire)

Academics, journalists, and liberals denounce “whiteness” every day, but no one seems to agree on what it is. Its definition is complicated because people who criticize “whiteness” don’t think race is biological.

Here are some definitions:

  • “Whiteness is a forced group membership that originated by oppressing people of color. And, it causes psychological and spiritual damage to White people just as it damages non-Whites.” — Monnica T. Williams, Psychology Today
  • “Whiteness is a public health crisis. It shortens life expectancies, it pollutes air, it constricts equilibrium, it devastates forests, it melts ice caps, it sparks (and funds) wars, it flattens dialects, it infests consciousnesses, and it kills people—white people and people who are not white.” — Damon Young, The Root
  • “Whiteness is on a toggle switch between ‘bland nothingness’ and ‘racist hatred.’ . . . Given that the monolithic definition of whiteness is antithetical to social justice, perhaps we should encourage a rebellion against it. . . .  Eliminating the binary definition of whiteness — the toggle between nothingness and awfulness — is essential for a new racial vision that ethical people can share across the color line.” — Nell Irvin Painter, The New York Times
  • “'[W]hiteness’ . . . is not a biological category so much as a set of ideas and practices about race that has emerged from a bedrock of white supremacy, itself the legacy of empire and slavery.” — Priyamvada Gopal, The Guardian
  • “Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to certain benefits from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.” — Paul Kivel, Uprooting Racism
  • “[W]hiteness is not the same thing as white people . . . whiteness is actually better understood as a political project that has emerged historically, and that is dynamic and that is always changing. And so whiteness as an ideology is rooted in America’s history of white supremacy . . . which has to do with the legacy of slavery or Indigenous dispossession or Jim Crow.” — Cristina Beltran, National Public Radio

Labor historian Eric Arnesen’s critiques this slippery but fashionable term:

Whiteness is, variously, a metaphor for power, a proxy for racially distributed material benefits, a synonym for “white supremacy,” an epistemological stance defined by power, a position of invisibility or ignorance, and a set of beliefs about racial “Others” and oneself that can be rejected through “treason” to a racial category. For those seeking to interrogate the concept critically, it is nothing less than a moving target.

“Whiteness” is an amorphous academic construct, but race is a biological reality.