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Almost two weeks post election, the media is still fascinated by Mitt Romney's defeat and how America's ostensibly changing racial demographics will doom (or not) the Republican Party to obsolescence. The chattering classes are getting a bit more close to the foundational questions that we as a country should be reflecting upon in this moment.

Last week for example, The New York Times offered up an interesting, albeit brief, exploration of the relationship between immigration and American national identity. There, the amazingly accomplished historian, Nell Irvin Painter, an authority on the history of white people, was given too little time to explore the foundational questions that a longer and more sustained essay would have most certainly allowed her. In fairness, the other essays were insightful as well.

However, not one of these excellent short essays broached the basic question of how the black-white binary is dependent upon the fact that African-Americans are by definition "unassimilable." Blacks folks are not an "ethnic" group as classically defined by Sociology--we are the basement group against which non-blacks (and many Afro-Caribbean immigrants) define their position in the social hierarchy. For at least three centuries, this "public" calculus has remain unchanged in the United States.

Perhaps, such questions are political dynamite in the Age of Obama and post-civil rights multicultural America? This fact would explain the obvious evasion.

Moreover, we are not asking these important questions either:

Are demographics destiny? Do race and ethnicity neatly map onto political attitudes and ideology? Are racial categories static or changing? And how does a consideration of how race is a category defined by both stability and change upset all of this premature doomsday epitaph writing for the preeminent power of Whiteness in American politics?

I believe in first principles. As such, we should always strive to define our terms.

Social scientists are trained to the idea of the sociological imagination--ironically, many of them forget the power of the quotidian, and how real folks live these concepts, even if they do not have the vocabulary to describe their lives in such academic terms.

To point. I would suggest that the Mitt Romney postmortem of white people, and the role of a particular type of Whiteness in American politics, is both very premature and misspecified.

Before we work through the details of this error in reasoning by the pundit classes, it is necessary to meditate on some basic matters: "Whiteness" as a term and concept is circulating throughout the public discourse during this political moment; let's try to define the essential attributes of Whiteness before talking about its changing relationship to the future of American politics and social life.

For me, Whiteness is many things. These observations are far from exhaustive.

Whiteness is separate and apart from "white" people. There are many white people--and some people of color--overly identified with and invested in Whiteness. However, the socio-historical and political concept known as Whiteness does not necessarily tell me anything about a given white person.

Whiteness is a type of privilege and property. Whiteness is also typified by invisibility and a sense of normality for its owners. As such, in America, to be "normal" is to be white.

Whiteness is benign and innocent for its owners and allies. Whiteness is also terrifying, violent, destructive, and belligerent towards those who have suffered under it.

How would you define Whiteness? Complete the following sentence if you would: "To me, Whiteness is..."

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Comment Preferences

  •  Whiteness is (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mallyroyal, a2nite, Chi, mungley, Larsstephens


    Invincible, invisible, inevitable, indelible.  

    It matters not whether the person in comparison is cultured, well-educated, well-spoken, thoughtful; a person of integrity and character; an unimpeachable work ethic, generous and kind, a model parent, son, daughter, a champion of justice and peace.  

    Whiteness trumps.  Just because.  

    Don't practice. Train.--Brian Harvey

    by luvsathoroughbred on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 12:50:46 PM PST

  •  To me whiteness is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    a responsibility of handing a torch to the next demographic.  Through our history it has been the portuguese, to the spanish, to the english, to the german, to the italian, to the irish, etc etc.  Now we have exhausted all white imigrant groups, and it is time to pass this torch on to the next.  

    Just as before, the english did not lose any rights when they were granted to the next group, so and so on and so forth, so neither shall "whites" lose any rights in the future.

    What we will lose however, is "white priveledge".  And rightfully so.  If you are white, and you don't know what white priveledge is, then you are the very definition of it.  

    95% of all life forms that once existed on earth are now extinct. It is only a matter of time until the Republicans follow suit.

    by PRRedlin on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 12:51:23 PM PST

  •  There are a set of cultural traits (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    that associate roughly with "white" identity, although not perfectly since culture is fluid and individuals overlap:  Less identification with ancestral homelands (with some exceptions, e.g. Ireland), more socially liberal but less economically progressive, less misogynistic (GOP notwithstanding) but more racist (however, also a lot more ashamed of racism), much less hung up about seeming weak (hence the greater prevalence of "emo" style, acceptability of self-mockery, etc.), marked emotional reactions to rock music, less emphasis on conformity (owing to the sense of white being a "neutral" or "normal" state), less emphasis on conformity, and egoism (greater proclivity to live in one's head rather than in relation to others).  

    Being different from norms is also a culturally acceptable point of pride, whereas in other racial subcultures people who defy internal stereotypes often feel defensive about it within their own communities.  This too could be a result of the perception that "white" is a neutral state, and thus motivate people to differentiate themselves, while other identities are perceived as specific and thus divergences as negative.

    "They fear this man. They know he will see farther than they, and he will bind them with ancient logics." -The stoner guy in The Cabin in the Woods

    by Troubadour on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:06:17 PM PST

    •  add the willingness to embrace "diversity" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      which often, in my experience as a lawyer working in the "family" court, expresses itself in the acceptance and embrace of mixed race babies, as well as their parents,  among the white lower/no/ income class

      here in northern appalachia, 100 miles from nyc

  •  Whiteness wins always in America at least for 400 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    years. Whiteness trumps merit, always.

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:10:58 PM PST

  •  I was sick of whiteness before I became a teenager (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, isabelle hayes, mungley

    We moved around a lot due to my father's work.

    My best friends were usually

    the wrong color
    the wrong religion
    from the wrong state
    had the wrong accent when they spoke
    and usually, anyone who didn't grow up there (where ever it was that we moved) was wrong for thinking they could just move in and expect people to be decent human beings.

    I learned the 'wrong' lessons growing up in the south.

    See, 2 of my best friends were Korean
    1 of my best friends was Catholic
    Several of my friends were from 'up north', or yankees as my southern peers liked to call them even if they had no idea why they really did so.

    Living in SC, the only friends I could have were those that were also not 'from there' because the White Southern Baptists in Lexington/West Columbia had a lock on prejudice of anyone who wasn't like them and they made sure their kids were as bigoted as they were.

    NC wasn't as bad, but has problems also.

    People wonder why I am so down on the South, being from the south and being a white male. Growing up, my southern peers taught me to dislike them, every day. It's a lesson I have not forgotten, and won't.

    When I hear southerners wax poetic on freedom, I know they really mean they wish they had the freedom to openly be bigots and not be called on it.

    -6.38, -6.21: Lamented and assured to the lights and towns below, Faster than the speed of sound, Faster than we thought we'd go, Beneath the sound of hope...

    by Vayle on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:16:25 PM PST

  •  I'm not sure what whiteness is. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm white so let's get that said right off the bat. But lately I think whiteness is about white people [some] of them coming to grips with the fact that they may have to expend some effort to be/do something. IOW, it's not enough to be white, now white people have to accomplish something and actualize what they already know, ie., that black people are people. People just like them, capable, intelligent, competent. [although a large contingent of white people have been skating]. I think the economy exacerbates this in that it causes more competition and thereby resentment. Where before some white people would automatically dismiss the abilities of other "colors", they can't now because they have skills.

    I'm on the outside looking in though.

  •  Whiteness means the same thing to me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drumwolf, mungley, billmosby

    as it did 50 years ago.

    It's just a cultural thing, easy to spot. Embodied by the right-wing culture today.

    "Societies strain harder and harder to sustain the decadent opulence of the ruling class, even as it destroys the foundations of productivity and wealth." — Chris Hedges

    by Crider on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 01:51:02 PM PST

    •  Holy shit. Thank you for posting this video. XD (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It really has to be seen to be believed.

    •  So I looked it up on Wikipedia, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and this performance is written up there. Brewer and Shipley said the song was written as a joke while preparing backstage for a performance.

      Brewer also said about this performance,

      The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing and introduced it as a gospel song. That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.
      I'm filing this in my "You learn something new every day" compartment. lol.

      Moderation in most things.

      by billmosby on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 07:49:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  No modifier, no "where you from?" or "what are u?" (0+ / 0-)

    Adjectives and questions that don't seem to apply to white people.

    As a person of mixed heritage, I always hear "your mother is X, and your father was American."  I patiently reply that "my parents were both American citizens, what you mean is that my father was Cajun. "    

    Sometimes I torture people by pretending to take their questions literally (I'm an Aquarius!  My background is the Navy!  My folks are from the Northwest/used to be beatniks!)  for as many iterations as it takes before they admit (with hangdog looks) that they want to know my ethnic heritage, because I look so... different.  But on me it looks good (ha).

    If I were ever to get the idea that I'm a normative American, it wouldn't be long before someone asked me "what are you?" or "where are you from?" to remind me of my eternal outsider status.   May as well go for the burn and be subversive.  

    "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity" -W.B. Yeats

    by LucyandByron on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 04:27:27 PM PST

  •  'Whiteness' means bigotry to me (0+ / 0-)

    I watched Selma on tv when I was a kid.  I knew who was right and who was wrong.

    You can draw a straight line from Bull Connor to Rush Limbaugh.  That is how the GOP has wanted it to be for 40 years, and that is how it is now.

    A new birth of freedom..

    by docterry on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 05:12:46 PM PST

  •  Whiteness is an incidious process. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a light skinned caucasian with dark blonde hair, a northern european mutt. Through the last 4 decades, I have noticed that, in the US, non-northern european ethnicities and races often seem to place a higher beauty value on those in their own race/ethnicity who have lighter colored skin and more typical european facial features. I despaired that my dark skinned classmates in high school didn't feel 'as beautiful'. I despair now that many of my hispanic friends don't cherish their Mayan round faces or their proud Aztec/Inca noses and foreheads. To me, this acceptance of european features as the 'gold standard' for beauty is a very visible and disturbing example of the culture of whiteness.

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