By Molly Jones
Identifying whiteness helps to undo the normalization of whiteness in our daily lives that positions people of color as racial others, and helps to place accountability on acts, people and organizations who contribute to systemic racism.
However, there is a distinction between labelling whiteness as a means to undo this normalization and labelling whiteness (if you are a white person) in an attempt to socially distance yourself from other white people, which fails to acknowledge your own contributions to and benefits from white supremacy.
It’s become a trend these days to hate on white men. On the one hand, decrying white men places accountability on white men for perpetuating and benefitting the most from institutional racism and patriarchy, but, depending on who is speaking, seems to have become an excuse for white non-cis-men to centralize the issue of white supremacy as being caused by one group, which is all too easy and simple to do.
In an Odyssey article (this one’s good, I swear) titled “3 Ways Being Woke And White Doesn’t Exempt You from Your Whiteness,” Fatema Elbakoury writes:
“A woke white person is still a white person. They still benefit from white supremacy and therefore need to recognize that in benefitting, they are not an anomaly amongst white people. To be woke and white is to understand that because you’re conscious, it doesn’t mean you have officially distanced yourself from overtly racist white people, as if you are somehow not white anymore or are now inherently different from other white people for knowing what your textbook should have taught you.”
Elbakoury further adds, “to be woke and white is to come to terms with one’s self as a racial being as well as a beneficiary of whiteness.”
Essentially, for a white person to say, “I hate white men” seems like a cheap redirection to distract from their own involvement with and perpetuation of white supremacy. It is as if to say that white men alone are responsible for causing oppression because they are the embodiment of white patriarchy. But this only overlooks the many power relations within white patriarchy and furthermore appropriates the language and anger of people of color, specifically femmes of color, who experience oppression by white men in a much more violent way than white non-cis-men.
I truly believe it is important to identify and label privilege, and I encourage normalizing this use of language. But in examining your surroundings, don’t forget to recognize your own social position, which is up to you to use to help dismantle white, ableist, cis-hetero patriarchy.