Posted on July 26, 2021

White Is Not a Colour – White Is an Ideology

Hamid Dabashi, Al Jazeera, July 23, 2021

The rising public conversations about race and racism in the United States have once again confused millions of well-meaning Americans into believing that if they look like what is now socially codified as “a white person” then they must feel guilty about the racist history of their country. This is a false guilt. Looking at any person and judging the content of their character based on the complexion of their skin is blatant racism, predicated on a false and illogical premise. It is only white supremacists who benefit from the confusion of the term “white” as a colour of skin designation with “white” as an ideology of racial supremacy.

A reactionary propagandist named Christopher Rufo is now identified as the chief agent provocateur mobilising racist Americans against a figment of their own imagination they call “Critical Race Theory” by way of conflating racism with the designated colour of a person’s skin. The objective is to frighten people to think that if the colour of their skin is coded as “white” in this country, then they are the targets of their so-called “coloured” compatriots’ demands for racial justice.

But the word “white” in the context of talking about racism is not a signifier for skin colour. In this vital context, “white” is an ideology. You are only “white” in this sense if you think you are entitled to certain privileges that must be denied to others whom you in the same breath call “Black”, “brown”, “red”, “yellow”, etc.


“There is no such thing as race, none” – this is how master novelist late Toni Morrison broke it down very simply in a famous interview. “It’s the human race, scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct, and it has benefits, money can be made off of it, people who don’t like themselves can feel better because of it … so it has a social function. But race can only be defined as a human being.”

Precisely in that sense, the word “white” is a signifier of that racism, its ideological register, its coded symbol. That is all. No human being at birth is “white”, “Black”, “brown”, “red”, “yellow” or any other colour. They are all eventually coded with these colours to divide and rule them better. East Asians are called “yellow”, West Asians and Latinx “brown”, Native Americans “red”, Africans “Black”, all of them set against the fictive centrality of the Caucasian “white”, which Europeans have racialised and reserved for themselves and gave to their settler colonial extensions in North America or Australia as a signifier of superiority. The historical origin of all such racist designations come to full “scientific” blooming during the period Europeans call – without the slightest sense of irony – their “enlightenment”.

Racism is the colour codification of the relation of power and abuse, precisely as sexism is the gendered codification of the selfsame social malaise. Racism is a byproduct of the colonial conquest of the world for economic exploitations that needed a cultural alibi and ideological justification. If you think you are superior to other human beings because you are “white”, or you come from a superior civilisation because you are “white” then you are a racist – namely, you assume you come from a fictitious race that is superior to other races, whom you therefore feel entitled to abuse and exploit.


Predicated on this illustrious past, being “white” is today an ideological conviction people acquire as they ignore such histories and are indoctrinated not just into racism but even more basically into racialised thinking. Being “white” is not a biological predicate by virtue of which one is condemned to hatred and bigotry. No one is. Being “white” is an ideological conviction by virtue of which you are convinced you are a superior human being.


If you are not racist you are not “white”, no matter what you have been assigned as in that colour codification of power. In the same vein, if you do not feel a victim of the very same colour codification then you are not Black, brown, yellow, red, or any other colour thus designated by the same code. You are a human being. {snip}