Monday, May 30, 2011

Whiteness as the Default

Whitephoto © 2010 J. Enokson | more info (via: Wylio)

Tami has a great article about White people feeling excluded from conversations about diversity that I really think that you should check out.  This article struck a very particular note with me, after a very uneventful shopping trip yesterday.  I decided that I wanted to buy some makeup.  This is abnormal for me, but I have really felt like getting my girl on recently.  When I went to the largest chain pharmacy in Canada to pick up a foundation, I was absolutely shocked to discover that there was not a single one to match my dark skin tone.  I eventually had to order a product from the states. 

After more thought, I realized that this should not have come to a surprise to me, because the only place that I can buy Black hair care products is at our local Walmart.  There are multiple products for White hair and yet one leave-in conditioner for Black hair and maybe 3-4 shampoos. If the few products that they have don't work on your hair, then you are out of luck. There is not a single salon that caters to Black women with processed hair, let alone natural hair. The closet hair salon for me is in either in Buffalo, NY (40 minutes away) or Hamilton, Ontario (40 minutes away).

For even basic needs and wants, I experience exclusion, and so the fact that some White people are worried about not feeling included in conversations about diversity really freaking irked me.  There is no place that you can turn where the needs and wants of Whiteness are not central.  Even in situations where a White person directly confronts an ism, like sexism, classism, ageism, etc., they can count on their Whiteness to make the experience less difficult than a person of colour.  Whiteness is valued, because it is in all situations the marker of a default form of humanity.

I recently watched Company Men with the unhusband.  Company men is basically the story of three White men who have been downsized, their difficulty finding work, and re-evaluating what it means to be a man.  They did manage to add Eamonn Walker  as basically a sidekick for Ben Afflack, but how a Black man's masculinity was challenged by unemployment, and how it effected his ability to support his family was simply unimportant enough to be central to the story itself. We were meant to feel empathy as Afflack's character was forced to sell his house, and his Porsche, because he could no longer afford them. When he announced that he had finally found a job, but that it only paid him 80K a year, half of what he normally made, we were meant to feel as though this wage was better than nothing. The entire time I watched this movie, I kept asking why these White men, men who exist as the most privileged human beings to walk the earth are the focus to this story?  If we are truly to understand the cost of prolonged unemployment, would it not make sense to focus the issue around people of colour?

The experience, wants, and needs of people of colour, are deemed irrelevant because we live in a White supremacist society. White as the default is not only acceptable, it is normalized because it is ubiquitous, and yet Whiteness clamors for more inclusion. How much more representative can Whiteness be? Whiteness demands that we say some White people instead of Whiteness.  To acknowledge that Whiteness is institutionalized, is to admit that the colourblind world that they have so careful crafted, is nothing more than a poor work of fiction.  Whiteness is the absolute denial of the humanity of people of colour. It manifests in everything that we see, or experience, and it lays like a dead weight upon the shoulders of people of colour, as we attempt to negotiate this world.

I think what galls me the most is the constant attempt to justify the existence of Whiteness, and the consistent effort to minimize the effect that racism has upon people of colour.  Even as White people were complaining about a lack of inclusion in conversations regarding diversity, I wonder if they bothered to ask themselves why people of colour should care?  People of colour have nothing to learn in conversations about Whiteness, and it places them into the position of once again being forced to teach, and even at times plead to have our truth validated. In a conversation regarding diversity, Whiteness should absolutely be de-emphasized, because it absolutely dominates society.  What White people need to learn to do is listen without leading, and to empathize without making it all about them. If a White person has not reached the point where they can engage in a conversation without asking what about me, then the conversation is futile.

What about me stalls conversations specifically because it is a call for validation in a world that centres Whiteness.  It stabilizes hierarchy in a conversation meant to challenge the ruling order.  A large part of the reason these conversations fail, is simply because Whiteness refuses to make an effort to self educate and to challenge its privilege. Multiculturalism has become a trigger word for faux inclusion whereby; Whiteness can take on the label of anti-racist without actually making a shift in thinking.  I won't deny that certain experiences mitigate the degree to which one can take advantage of racial privilege; however, even in discussions of various isms, Whiteness is always central.  If we cannot have one conversation in which White people actively listen, and take a secondary position, then it is pointless to continue the sham of multiculturalism.