Monday, March 23, 2009

POC's Special Knowledge of Whiteness

This is the first in a series of three guest posts by whatsername.

Hey there!  I'm whatsername.  :D  A little about me, well, I'm a 24 year old, married, pagan, white (and Mexican), Green Day fanatic (hence my alias, and ZOMG did you hear new album in MAY?! *cough*), currently living in and loving Oakland, and a part of the Feminist Cat Collective (but if Renee can forgive me, so can you) as well as a current college student... I've been running my blog, The Jaded Hippy, since October 5, 2007.  I started it because I wanted to reach out to and participate in the feminist community in the blogosphere.  It's been a really interesting journey since then, and as a direct result of that participation, race has become a topic that has become very important to me.  In fact, I honestly thank the gods that I started blogging before I went back to school to finish my degree, because it really helped me figure out what sort of program I wanted to be involved with, as well as things to look out for to discover whether I was in a department I wanted to be in or not.  As a result I ended up at San Francisco State, in a transnational WS department and taking classes predominantly in both Womens Studies (my major) and Ethnic Studies (if I had time to double major, it would be in this).  So, that's where I'm coming from.  The essay Renee asked me to post here is one I did for a class I'm taking this semester, "Making Whites: Race-making in America", a Whiteness Studies class (the only one offered).  And I hope you enjoy.

Part I:
First, I thought it would be helpful to acknowledge something about the prompt I'm writing to, a basic concept I assumed in writing and thus did not argue in the essay itself; that people of color do in fact have a unique understanding of whiteness that differs from white folks understanding of whiteness.  As discussions here in the past have proved, this is something that people like to argue about, but I have assumed it here to be true, and have gone about addressing how and why it operates, not whether it exists.  So, with that said...

“Blacks, I realized, were simply invisible to most white people, except as a pair of hands offering a drink on a silver tray.”(1) It is a profound thing to be deemed beneath the notice of other people. One will never see another human being in quite the same light as they can when put in such a position. Anyone who has worked in retail or food service, or as a woman amongst men, or a person of color amongst white people, can speak to this phenomenon. When one is believed to be beneath notice she is no longer someone to impress or to whom standards of civil conduct apply. This is the root of the “special knowledge” bell hooks states black folks have of whiteness(2); a root shared in divergent manifestations by all bodies oppressed under kyriarchy.

It is only when something is said or done that is generally acknowledged as specifically offensive to a body with her qualities or configuration (a sexist, able-ist or racist joke, for instance) that quite suddenly all attention is on her to see how she will react; whether she will absolve the privileged bodies around her or prove to be one of those “unreasonable” people who “can’t take a joke”. While an understanding of what is hurtful to say to people of varying genders, ability and races has become more widely disseminated this same situation plays itself out over and over again; not just in the workplace but in feminist and/or anti-racist organizations and conferences as well.(3)  Even these supposedly safe spaces are not immune to the imprinting of kyriarchy, where the person occupying the privileged position is capable of choosing to ignore the other people around them.(4) This is integral to the special knowledge people of color have of white folks, because it demonstrates how saturated our daily existence and lived realities are with the hierarchal values of kyriarchy.

(1)hooks, bell. "Whiteness in Black Imagination." Displacing Whiteness. Ed. Ruth Frankenberg. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. 168
(2)hooks, bell. 165.
(3)Smith, Barbara. "Racism and Women's Studies." In All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: But Some of Us Are Brave, Barbara Smith Patricia Bell Scott, and Gloria T. Hull, 25-28. : The Feminist Press, 1985.
(4)Martin, Renee. "Negotiating White Spaces." Womanist Musings.

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