Ten Things to Keep in Mind When Talking About How White Men are a "Problem" in the Age of Obama
1. When we talk about "Whiteness" what do we mean? Defining terms is essential here. Alternatively, are you talking about white people as individuals? Are you thinking about some sense of shared identity among and between white people? Are you trying to explore the connections between white people and white racism? These are important distinctions.
2. Not all white people are "White" in the same way. How do class, gender, age, sexuality, ability status, ethnicity, and other identities impact a given person's relationship to Whiteness? Have you thought about the difference between an inherently politicized type of White identity that is inseparable from White Privilege, and one where there are individual "white" people who are located in different ways relative to these social institutions?
3. Race is a social construct. It is also real. Race and racism are also relatively recent inventions. Race and its meaning have changed over time in the United States and the West. It also has some long running historical continuities.
When you are talking about "Whiteness is..." or "White people are..." what do you mean specifically? Is this true in some time periods, places, and not others? Is it a constant? How do you separate those categories?
4. White people who are not conscious (or in profound denial) about White Privilege tend to have a very different understanding of how American society actually works as compared to those of us who have thought about and researched these topics. Where do these myths come from? Why do so many white people actually believe that America is a meritocracy, that racism is "dead," or that they are somehow disadvantaged and "oppressed" by "affirmative action" or "reverse-racism?" The answers to these questions are very important in thinking about how we discuss Whiteness with white people.
5. If you are a white person who is writing about Whiteness, are you unconsciously reproducing systems and patterns of White Privilege and Whiteness in your own outreach, scholarship, and activism? As a white person who is writing and thinking about Whiteness, have you taken your own personal accounting of how you are invested in these systems (or not)?
6. When discussing Whiteness and White Privilege, are you also thinking in a systematic way about both institutions and structures? Are you asking yourself about how they relate to one another?
7. It is increasingly common following the Newtown massacre, the Aurora shootings, and in response to the racially resentful conspiranoid fantasies of the Republican Party and the Right in the Age of Obama, that Whiteness and White Masculinity are being described as "pathological" in nature.
We have to be careful here: pathology means something sick, maladaptive, destructive, or disease-like. The label "pathological" is often imposed by the in-group on the out-group, from the powerful on to the less powerful, in order to legitimate and naturalize social inequality and injustice.
But before surrendering to the allure of words such "pathological," we must ask ourselves the following question: how has Whiteness actually hurt its owners economically, politically, or socially?
As Joe Feagin discusses in his book White Party, White Government, White Privilege has long been sustained and supported by the United States government. White people have enjoyed huge transfers of resources to create the suburbs, develop land and property under the Homestead Act, go to college and universities under the G.I. Bill, as well as many other opportunities that were systematically denied to people of color.
White people are also the single wealthiest group, by orders of magnitude, in the United States. This was largely because of how white racism enabled the amassing and transfer of vast amounts of inter-generational wealth within the white community to the exclusion of others.