Posts in: RM309

Let’s Be Clear: The “Dear White People” TV show Is NOT Racist

In the second week of this class, we watched the movie Dear White People. Have you seen it? It came out in 2014 and Netflix ordered a TV version of it, also named “Dear White People” last May. While there was some backlash at the time to a tv series of “Dear White People,” it was nothing to how many (white) people reacted to the trailer that was released yesterday.

The video garnered over 1 million ‘dislikes’ in one day, with many taking to Twitter, denouncing the show for being “racist” and encouraging “white genocide” and cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.

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Let’s be clear. Let’s be super super clear. There is no such thing as reverse racism. You cannot be racist towards white people. All together now: Reverse racism does not exist.

Why is being racist towards white people NOT a thing? Because to be racist you need two things: power and prejudice. Racism connotes a system that disadvantages those based on race. Therefore,people of color cannot be racist– they can be prejudiced– but not racist because they do not hold power in a racist system and thereby cannot benefit from this system.

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When white people argue that people of color are being racist toward them, it is just untrue because this understanding of racism refers more to when someone (usually non-white) makes them feel bad (cue white tears) for their identity. This understanding also completely ignores structural systems of oppression that has and does consistently disenfranchise people of color in obvious and in invisible ways.

In the online article “What is Reverse Racism and Why It Doesn’t Actually Exist in the U.S.,” Phillip Lewis argues “But in reality, the United States has a long legacy of racism that makes it difficult for people of color to receive quality health care, access affordable housing, find stable employment and avoid getting wrapped up in the justice system.” (hyperlinks in original)

Thus when white people cry “racism,” it ignores this legacy of racism that still disenfranchises people of color in concrete and tangible ways.

Let’s say it all together just to make sure the people in the back heard us: REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

Rather, these conversations about “reverse racism” or a TV show that questions race has much more to do with whiteness.

In “The Social Construction of Whiteness” Martha R. Mahoney (1995) argues “Whites have difficulty perceiving whiteness, both because of its cultural relevance and because of its cultural dominance. . .like culture, race is something whites notice in themselves only in relation to others. Privileged identity required reinforcement and maintenance, but protection against seeing the mechanisms that socially reproduce and maintain privilege is an important component of privilege itself” (331). And, I would argue, protection against these mechanisms that produce whiteness is an important aspect of whiteness.

When white people operate off the understanding that racism is just when someone of another color is mean to you, it simply reinforces the category and supremacy of whiteness to begin with. Learn your non-white history, read some articles like this one or this, and stop pretending reverse racism is a thing.

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What is Whiteness Studies??

When I told some of my white friends that I was taking Critical Whiteness Studies, I was met either with chuckles or furrowed brows and questions like “What even is that?”

Let’s talk about it.

Are you white? If so, how do you know you’re white? Did someone tell you?

Many of us know that race is socially constructed. But not many of us are able to draw the connection that being white is socially constructed also; white is a race.

 

In “Growing Up White in America?” Bonnie Kae Glover argues, “White is transparent. That’s the point of being the dominant race. Sure the whiteness is there, but you never think of it. If you’re white, you never have to think about it. Sometimes when folks make a point of thinking about it, some (not all) of them run the risk of being either sappy in the eyes of other whites or of being dangerous to nonwhites. And if white folks remind each other about being white, too often the reminder is about threats by outsiders–nonwhites– who steal white entitlements like good jobs, a fine education, nice neighborhoods, and the good life” (34)

From this perspective, whiteness is only visible when in relation to “other” races. It’s there, as Glover states, but it’s not a charged category. Being white is neutral, while other races are abnormal.

For me, I thought I was white for a long time. Growing up speaking only English, I understood most of what my mom would say as she spoke rapidly in Spanish to our relatives, but I never concerned myself with learning the language. I was the light sister, with dark blonde hair as a child. The only indication that I was not totally white were my heavy eyebrows, inherited from my Chicana great-grandmother. It was only until I was in high school and began learning more about my family’s heritage did I begin questioning my whiteness.

 

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Whiteness is purposefully hard to see and demarcate. Peggy McIntosh  characterizes whiteness as an “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools,, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”(291). (I bet you’re catching on to why this class is called Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack)

Whiteness is protected and insulated by the very mechanisms that reinforce and reproduce this dominance. In other words, the very fact that white people cannot see or notice the ways in which they may benefit from white privilege is one of the very mechanisms that bolster whiteness as a neutral or invisible category.

Even though I do not identify as white, I pass as white and people treat me like I’m white. I benefit from looking white, but I can also see its detrimental effects especially enacted upon my friends who are people of color.

Peggy McIntosh even writes a list of 46 items she is allowed to do as a white person to illustrate in more concrete terms what her whiteness affords her:

“17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. . . 25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure that I haven’t been singled out because of my race. . . 40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places that I have chosen”(293-4)

Being white is not neutral; white is a race. Whatever your race is, in America it constitutes your experience– it decides if you can be putting pussyhats on police officers and taking pictures or if those officers will be charging at you in full riot gear on the street.

*Note I do not own these pictures*