Friday, March 27, 2009


So, I was keeping up with a conversation at Renee's, as I often do, and this go around we had a very angry Irish person criticizing her for discussing the "Black Irish", but what was more interesting to me was this person's claim that Noel Ignatiev (who wrote How the Irish Became White) was a racist. As usual, when a white dude tells me someone is racist I immediately narrow my eyes and ask them to tell me why. "O rly?" I said, "why don't you link me to what you're talking about." "I will not provide traffic to racist sites!" says indignant white dude. (But of course he tells me what to Google so I can find the essay...which gives the site traffic...)

So I read it, and I'm sure this will surprise you all, but I don't see anything racist here! In fact, it's brilliant enough that I felt I really should share it!

Whiteness is a social and political construct rooted in white supremacy. White supremacy is a structure and system of beliefs rooted in European and US imperialism in which certain racialized bodies (non-white) are selected for premature negation whether through cultural, physical, psychological genocide, containment or other forms of social death. White supremacy is at the heart of the US social system and civil society. In short, white supremacy is not just a series of practices or privilege, but a larger social structure and system of domination that overly-values and rewards those who are racialized as white. The rest of us are constructed as undeserving to be considered human, although there is significant variation within non-white populations of how our bodies are encoded, treated and (de)valued.

Now, for one to claim whiteness, one also is invested in white supremacy. Whiteness itself is a political term that emerged among European white ethnics in the US. These European ethnics, many of them reviled, chose to cast their lot with whiteness rather than that with those who had been determined as non-white. In short, anyone who claims to be white, even a white anti-racist, is identifying with a history of European imperialism and racism transported and further developed into the US.

However, this does not mean that white people who go around saying dumb things such as "I am not white! I am a human being!" or, "I left whiteness and joined the human race," or my favorite, "I hate white people! They're stupid" are not structurally white. Remember, whiteness is a structure of domination embedded in our social relations, institutions, discourses, and practices. Don't tell me you're not white but then when we go out in the street and the police don't bother you or people don't ask you if you're a prostitute, or if people don't follow you and touch you at will, act like that does not make a difference in our lives. Basically, you can't talk, or merely "unlearn" whiteness, as all of these annoying trainings for white people to "unlearn" racism will have you think.

Rather, white people need to be willing to have their very social position, their very relationship of domination, their very authority, their very being...let go, perhaps even destroyed. I know this might sound scary, but that is really not my concern. I am not interested in making white people, even those so-called good-hearted anti-racist whites, comfortable about their position in struggles that shape my life in ways that it will never shape theirs. I recently finished the biography of John Brown by DuBois. The biography was less of a biography and more of an interpretation by DuBois about the now-legendary white abolitionist. Now while John Brown's practice was problematic in many ways--he still had to be in control and he had fucked-up views that Blacks were still enslaved because they were too "servile" (a white supremacist sentiment)--what I took from Brown's life was that he realized that moral persuasion alone would not solve racial problems. That is, whites cannot talk or just think through whiteness and structures of white supremacy. They must be committed to either picking up arms for other people (and only firing when the people tell them so), dying for other people, or just getting out of the way. In short, they must be willing to do what the people most affected and marginalized by a situation tell them to do.

That's just a taste, go read the whole thing, really.