White Identity Politics

14 May

My recent post, Blackness is the Fulcrum struck a nerve. It landed me on Blacking It Up, a radio show hosted by L. Joy Williams and Elon James White as the Asian man who opposes anti-Black racism. It was a valiant but sad performance. To all of you I’m supposed to be representing, I apologize in advance for the two shows I’m on this week. If you follow @nakagawascot, I’ll tweet you the pod casts.

I’ve been busy. But busy or not, I can’t help making trouble and I’m guessing this post will stir some up.

Here goes –

Whiteness has a political meaning as much as does Black or Asian or any other racial category. In order to define non-whites as inferior and deviant, whites needed to be defined as superior and normal. By claiming the category “normal,” whites imagined themselves outside the racial paradigm they had created. But, in fact, they were and are at the center of it.

For this reason, unless whites consciously oppose white privilege, their identities are defined by it.

I call the subtle and not-so-subtle ways this system of privilege/injustice works white identity politics.

In recent decades, overt white racial supremacy has met some serious challenges. It’s no longer socially acceptable to say that people of color are racially inferior. However, white privilege hasn’t been eradicated. In fact, measured in terms of wealth, the privilege gap between whites and non-whites is at it’s widest in 25 years.

White supremacy still exists in deed if not in word, and the fact is that we’re not doing much as a society to fix it. Worse, when programs like Affirmative Action are created to address this injustice, they are attacked as reverse discrimination.

No doubt it has become uncivil to claim white supremacy as a birthright. Credit goes to the Civil Rights Movement for that change. Instead, in the age of colorblind racism, overtly racist justifications for white privilege are avoided. Overt racism is substituted with a normative standard that begins with white privilege as a baseline of what is just, rather than as a political achievement of white supremacy.

In (not) post-racial America, white privilege is considered the baseline of fairness. No one, it is argued, should have to settle for less. However, because no one should have to settle for less, no solution that erodes white privilege is tolerated. Yet, white privilege is the basis of racism. As long as it is preserved, racial justice cannot be achieved.

Seem like a circular argument to you? Then you’re getting the picture. To me, it’s not just circular, it’s a downward spiral. And that spiral is white identity politics.

White identity politics is a game in which whites demand they be judged by what they intend, not by the unintended consequences of what they do. But what they do (including keeping the spoils of what their ancestors did before them) has everything to do with what they have relative to people of color regardless of intention, as evidenced in the Census statistics cited in the link about the wealth gap above.

Because of white identity politics, the suffering of people of color is acceptable until solutions can be discovered that don’t erode the value and meaning of whiteness. This me first mentality of the white majority requires efforts to materially address unjust racial relations to pass an impossible test. If the problem is economic inequality, the opening question of the test is: can you address the economic consequences of historical racism without changing the way that racism has distributed economic resources?

If you can’t, you fail the test. Either our solutions are only symbolic, or they eventually fall to white resistance.

That’s white identity politics. It’s a tough nut to crack, especially because it’s been business as usual for so long. It’s invisible to most white folks.

Lucky though that the value that accrues to whiteness in the white identity game isn’t evenly distributed. Most of the cash value of whiteness accumulates at the top. In order to address this problem, white folks need us, and they need to break with white identity as we’ve known it til now.

So we gotta call it out. White identity politics is essential to the perpetuation of racism.

13 Responses to “White Identity Politics”

  1. Rebecca Booth-Fox May 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

    Way to call it out, Race Files. Dead on.

  2. Ankhesen Mié May 15, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Exceptional as always. Consider the signal boosted.

  3. pt May 15, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    White supremacy still exists in deed if not in word, and the fact is that we’re not doing much as a society to fix it. Worse, when programs like Affirmative Action are created to address this injustice, they are attacked as reverse discrimination.

    Oh, please. There is ample reason to look askance at any program that classifies people by ethnicity to achieve some “ideal” racial composition — whether that means boosting admissions for “underrepresented” groups or curbing admissions of “overrepresented” groups. These two usually go hand in hand. Instituted initially for the purpose of discriminating against Jews, present-day “diversity” policies force Asian applicants to present higher grades and test scores than any other group, just to secure the same admissions odds as white people. As of 2004, controlling for geography, grades, SAT score, legacy status, athletics and other facially race-neutral variables, an Asian applicant was 30% less likely than a white applicant to be admitted to college. Another regression estimated that simply checking the box for “Asian” had the same effect on an application as subtracting 50 SAT points. By contrast, checking the box for “African American” was equivalent to adding 230 SAT points. Any intellectually honest person averse to the rankest forms of race discrimination must be troubled by these numbers.

  4. Adrienne Roach May 15, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Excellent post…I will share this and I am so glad that a friend introduced me to your blog!

  5. M May 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    *much applause*

  6. Nessa's Notions May 22, 2012 at 12:06 am #

    The dismantling of the Ethnic Studies/Raza classes in Tucson, AZ are a case in point. Rather than keep a program running that increased graduation rates of Latino students, Jan Brewer signed legislation that ended all ethnic studies classes in favor of promotion of the status quo. Racism, maintenance of the status quo, continues apace.

    • Race Files May 22, 2012 at 12:46 am #

      So true. If you have links to that story, let me know. I’ll write something about it. Thanks!

      • Nessa's Notions May 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

        Check out Precious Knowledge, Independent Lens, PBS for the documentary.

  7. thabomophiring November 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Reblogged this on Thabomophiring's Blog.


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