Uncomfortable Conversations: How Valuing Whiteness Perpetuates Racism.
Part 2- How Valuing Whiteness Perpetuates Racism.
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” ― Toni Morrison
I used to think that white people were racist on purpose, I mean how could they not know that what they were doing was racist. It took me a while to realize that white people are trapped between the created social construct of whiteness and human nature. Human nature dictates that we unconsciously like people who are like us. We rarely choose friends who are vastly different from us. Human nature also dictates that we socially punish people who are not in the norm, if you need proof of this visit any high school in America. Children are bullied for no other logical reason than they don't have the "right" name brand shoes, jacket, or phone. We want to think that we are more mature than children, but we're not. I would even argue that children learn to bully from adults.
While we would like to believe that success in this world is largely based on meritocracy, the reality is that it's actually based on nepotism. Opportunity is provided not to those who work hard, but to those who we like. This is just like high school. The class president is usually never the same as the valedictorian. When you combine whiteness with human nature, you get racism; when you combine whiteness, human nature, and white-run institutions, you get institutional racism. We vote in, vote out, hire, fired, notice and, look over based on who we like, and for white people likeness is whiteness.
At the higher level, white people in positions of power make decisions based on their lived experiences and values, which are all rooted in whiteness. This is why institutions, against their better white judgment, should place people of color in decision making positions to add balance and eliminate unintentional racism. You think this type of affirmative action hiring is prejudice to white people, and that regardless of race the best candidate should have the job, the problem with that thinking is that when a white person is doing the hiring “best” will be based on attributes of whiteness and therefore a white person will always “seem” more qualified.
Unconsciously and unintentionally, we carry whiteness as a value with us throughout our day, at work, at school, in the store, while hiring a new employee, or firing an old one. Our unconscious bias from our value in whiteness causes us to mistreat and judge people unfairly. We think we have befriended the new hire because he/she is friendly, but unconsciously you are attracted to their whiteness. Vice versa, you believe another co-worker is standoffish, but the truth is we are not attracted to his/her cultural affinity for something other than whiteness. All around us, we reward whiteness either in literal skin color or in emulation.
Most professionals of color that have matriculated to higher management have either grown up in white communities and therefore lack cultural affinity for their own culture or have become very good at emulating whiteness while at work, we call this code-switching. The normality of whiteness creates racially toxic environments for people of color. You often find people of color meet in small circles at work to vent about their exhaustion from pretending to be white or sometimes just to have a safe place to be their natural selves for a moment before getting back into code. While white people seem to be oblivious to whiteness, people of color are fully aware. We are aware that at any given moment too much cultural affinity could cost us a job, a promotion, or an opportunity.
Valuing Whiteness as a Society
Not every white person is a racist, but the genius of racism is that you don't have to participate to enjoy the spoils. If you're white, you can be completely oblivious, passively accepting the status quo, and reap the rewards. ~ Mychal Denzel Smith
Question: If you were hiring someone to be the new director for a new dance program, all things considered equal, would you hire someone with 15 years of experience in ballet or 15 years of experience in hip-hop?
Take a second to digest what I am saying. Remove the word whiteness from your mind and replace it with formal. If I asked you what do you consider "formal" music, would you say classical and opera? What about formal dance? Would you say ballet and ballroom? What plays would you deem worthy of Broadway? Why are Shakespeare and Homer must-read authors? When you think of proper English, what accent does that person have? Is it British? What would you consider a proper name? What would you recognize as an "un"respectable name? It's already established through various studies, that whiteness is the standard of beauty, so no need to prove that.
White culture is valued more than all other cultures, and therefore, white cultural expression is valued more than all other forms of cultural expression. We believe that we value these cultural expressions because we admire skills and talents not attained easily, or because they represent what's proper in society. The same amount of talent and practice is necessary to perform hip-hop dance as it is ballet, but we place more value on ballet not because it’s a higher level of artistic expression but because it's a part of whiteness.
White people are not the only people responsible for a society that values whiteness. People of color, because of the long history of punishment and reward for emulating whiteness, promote and teach their children how to emulate whiteness. We fawn over lighter skin adults and children with less coarse hair telling them how pretty they are. Those who are not born with straight or curly hair use chemicals or hot irons to get the desired look. We dye our hair to make it lighter, brighter, or blonder. We shy away from ethnic names.
We code-switch when around white people. When I was a child, I would laugh at my mom for changing her voice when she was taking care of business, which always meant she was talking to a white person. When I became an adult, I found myself doing it, too; I often joke with my wife and tell her it's my "non-threatening voice."
Most importantly, we don't place any value on being a person of color. That statement may sound contradictory. You may think "isn't placing value on a race how we got into this situation?" Yes. Whiteness, however, has already been given a value, and that value isn't going away anytime soon. The solution then isn't devaluing or getting rid of race altogether, as a social scientist might suggest--but making all races valuable. As a society, we need to teach the value in all races; more specifically, we need to teach the value of non-white races and their contributions to the betterment of mankind.
Today, the conversation about race is about bringing awareness to how whiteness as a norm perpetuates racism and putting a stop to the unspoken caste systems that punish people of color for their non-whiteness.
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