Philip S S Howard. Race, Gender, and Class. Volume 11, Issue 4, October 2004.
The global postmodern social climate is a complex one by any reckoning. However, the complexity is seldom as evident as when one begins to analyze it with respect to matters of race and racism. This is in large part because of the prevalence of discourses that deny and legitimize racism, running counter to the racial realities lived by those upon whom racialization and racism are imposed. For example, dominant commonsense discourses—those that gain easiest access to dissemination through media and other pedagogical channels—declare that the battle against racism is one that “we” are winning; that racist incidents are becoming less prevalent; and that racism is perpetrated by ignorant bigots and/or extremists. Yet, in recent years—and notably so since the events of September 11(th) 2001—the number and type of racist acts and racist rhetoric, as well as blatantly racist policies are great cause for alarm. These, of course, are often thinly veiled in “color-blind” discourses of security and economic expedience, and are widely accepted and seldom understood as underwritten by racist understandings and logic. We(a) find that racial dominance is remarkably adaptable and finds multiple ways of re-articulating itself so as not to relinquish its dominance.
It seems clear, then, that if the struggle against racism is to be effective in the contemporary socio-political climate, the antiracist worker must be extremely vigilant. Discourses of denial and legitimization, and the slippery nature of white racial dominance, work together to make it such that what may not appear to be racist at first consideration may well be found to be so upon closer inspection. This phenomenon is particularly insidious when that which claims to oppose racism turns out to reinforce the racist status quo
This paper addresses what I suggest is just such an instance—that is, the re-articulation of whiteness in ostensibly antiracist spaces. My argument is that certain trends and arguments in (in this case) the domain of Critical Whiteness Studies, which purport to undermine the dominance of whiteness, are built upon faulty understandings, which if left unchallenged, may become racist in their effects—re-inscribing white dominance in the very domains which purport to challenge it. Too often, the declaration of antiracist intent and other good intentions have been received in such a manner as to move the work of the (white) antiracist worker beyond appropriate scrutiny. I write this paper as part of what I, as a Black antiracist scholar, see as an expedient critical intervention that will move us toward establishing appropriate grounds and terms upon which a multi-racial antiracist agenda might be based.
Here, I discuss the main tenets of a critical antiracism theoretical framework, largely advanced by George Dei, that are relevant to this paper.
Critical antiracism insists that the phenomenon of racism is a structural one—that is, one that is much less about individual prejudices and stereotypes than about the way that power is distributed along racial lines to produce and reproduce inequity. Critical antiracism holds that the notions of race and racialization, as well as the power dynamics associated with them, are crucial to understanding how contemporary societies function—particularly in a global context where Euro-American dominance increasingly imposes itself through globalization(s). To fail to engage a discussion that makes clear the lines of power and exclusion that work along the axes of race is, quite simply, to misunderstand contemporary societies (Thompson, 1997).
In acknowledging the importance of the concept of race to an understanding of social dynamics, however, antiracism does not reify the notion of race, nor does it reinforce it. Antiracist discourse understands that race is a social construction, yet resists the kind of understanding of the term social construction that would suggest that social constructions are of no consequence. Omi and Winant (1993) make the assertion that while race is clearly not rooted in biology, it cannot be dismissed as imaginary, nor can it be deemed “a kind of false consciousness” (p. 5) that is more accurately understood as determined by other social relations (such as class relations). Indeed, historically, the concept race, in and of itself, though a construct of shifting meaning(s), has been quite consistently salient in producing advantages for some, and very real punitive consequences for others (Dei, 2000:27; Okolie, 2002:3). Thus, while we reject essentialist notions of, and fixed meanings for, the concept `race,’ we bring attention to the persistent effect of skin color, whatever it might mean, to determining social standing.
At the same time, while insisting on the importance of race as an axis along which power relations are set up, critical antiracism discourse also understands that race oppression is intertwined with class, gender, and ability oppressions. Antiracism recognizes that racial identity is not a monolithic and homogeneous identity within any particular racialized group, and it contemplates the way in which other axes of oppression interact with race to locate individuals differently. Since they are not experienced separately, the messiness involved in the way that these locations interact must be appreciated.
Yet critical antiracism remains resolute about the “salience” of race (Dei, 1999:28). Without this politically motivated insistence, race tends to get lost among other oppressions and result in an exaggerated postmodern focus on the alleged shifting nature of racial identity that belies the powerful racially-motivated power dynamics that impact the lives of those targeted by racism (see Dei, 1999:28-29). Thus, while many scholars (see, e.g., Calliste & Dei, 2000; Hill Collins, 1989; Razack, 2000), have correctly complicated the notion of race to show where it is constituted by and constitutes other socially constructed axes and discourses of difference, such arguments are, I think, misunderstood and misused where they lead to an insidious sort of post-race discourse that insists upon, as Dei has written, “commatizing race,” or upon undermining the salience of race by over-invoking contextuality and fluidity (Dei, 1999; Dei, 2000). Thus, again, while I neither wish to use essentialist reasoning, nor to simplistically conflate race and politics, I do wish to assert that race, with all its fluidity and contextuality, still acts in broadly predictable ways and through well-rehearsed narratives to position whiteness as superior to non-whiteness in Euro-American influenced society.
Critical antiracism further interrogates the way in which racial dominance is invested in maintaining the racial/racist status quo and evading notions of responsibility and accountability for racism. This is achieved partly through the perpetuation of a liberal individualist meritocratic model of achievement and social justice (Goldberg, 1993:4,6) and highlights individual attitudes, behaviour, and “merit.” This way of understanding the world has become hegemonic in Euro-American societies and expresses itself through societal common sense (See Hall, 1977) As such, any particular individual’s espousal of such ideas may or may not be held with a conscious view toward perpetuating racism. Critical antiracism, however, considers a discussion of the intentions of the perpetrators of racist acts or discourses to be unproductive since the consequences of racism for its victims must clearly be the primary concern (Essed, 1991: vii,45; Dei, 1996:253). I now move to a discussion of whiteness.
Whiteness Studies and Whiteness
As far back as 1920, Black scholar, W. E. B. Dubois, noted that the workings of racism are not properly understood by focussing solely upon the racially oppressed. While it is of undeniable and vital importance to investigate subordinated discourses and the strategies of resistance that the racially oppressed undertake, it is also necessary to lay hare discourses of whiteness and racial dominance. This insight is a crucial insight that provides balance in the study of racism because a) it undermines the tendency to see the racially oppressed as the source and location of the problem of racism, and b) it returns the racially dominant gaze, mitigating the tendency to perpetually commodify and objectify the racial “Other” by means of the academic/researcher gaze.
Since Dubois, other non-white scholars, such as Morrison (1992), and hooks (1992), have undertaken and furthered this project. However, in more recent times, in response to (or in tandem with) politically conservative backlash and the “crisis of whiteness” of our particular historical juncture (see Andersen, 2003:21; Doane, 2003:5)—which has, among other things, marked whiteness in the sight of Whites themselves—the study of whiteness has not only been named, but it has also ballooned, and largely become the domain of racially dominant scholars.
This is cause for some caution since, I argue, racial location—which results from how the body is read, and which frames the experiences one has in a racialized society—has broadly predictable (though by no means rigidly predetermined) effects upon how one comes to understand the racial context. Narayan (1989) supports this perspective where she writes:
Our concrete embodiments as members of a specific class, race, and gender as well as our concrete historical situations necessarily play significant roles in our perspective on the world (p. 262).
The racially dominant body, benefits from white-skin privilege in a white-supremacist society and is encouraged by dominant discourses, through such pedagogical channels as media and education, to see this privilege as normal, universally available, and/or accruing to him/her purely on the basis of merit. As such, I suggest that gaining an awareness of the operation of whiteness and power, as well as the white body’s implication in a system of white racial privilege (regardless of that individual’s politics) are a crucial part of the education of the white body seeking to become involved in antiracist work. It involves a profound reorganization of the way s/he understands her/himself and the social context, and a commitment to work from her/his location to help to dismantle racist structures (see Van Dyk, 2003:178). To the extent that this awareness may be incomplete or entirely wanting among many whites working in the domain of Whiteness Studies (Andersen, 2003:21), it is not surprising that in some cases, the work produced in Whiteness Studies is reactionary and has been completely dislocated from any imperative to combat racism.
However, many whiteness scholars, particularly those who style themselves Critical Whiteness Scholars, profess to study whiteness with a view toward dismantling white dominance. Yet, I suggest that the lack of a sufficiently critical understanding of the positioning of the white body in white supremacist society still allows the infiltration into this body of work of ideas that support the racist status quo such that it often fails to mount any substantial challenge to that status quo. The rest of this paper is devoted to a critique of some of the work within Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS). In particular, I discuss the work of Annalee Newitz and Matthew Wray (1997a, 1997b) dealing with the notion of white trash, as well as the related, more widespread project of attempting to re-articulate whiteness in a democratic project (e.g. Giroux, 1997a, 1997b). I suggest that, upon close inspection, these projects are shot through with some of the very arguments and stances that have historically supported the white racism they purport to oppose. As we shall also see, many of these arguments hinge upon a particular, and I argue, erroneous, understanding of essentialism that leads to a dangerously overstated (from the point of view of antiracism) anti-essentialist angst. It is my hope that this analysis might point to the theoretical blind spots involved where dominance of any form studies and critiques itself apart from the sustained critical input of those upon whom this dominance is imposed.
The White Trash Project
The White Trash project in Critical Whiteness Studies involves examining the discourse around the term white trash. Much of this work consists of an insightful class analysis that speaks to the discursive functions of the term in capitalist society, and the reasons for the sudden recent popularity of the term white trash in the media. However, this body of work is much weaker where it attempts to also make an antiracist intervention.
The professed antiracist slant of white trash work is based on the generally well accepted premise within Critical Whiteness work that the dominance of whiteness has depended upon its being unmarked, and seen as internally homogeneous (see e.g., Chambers, 1997). The mining of the concept white trash, then, as one instance where whiteness is both marked and made “Other,” is seen as holding out the possibility of deconstructing whiteness and undermining its dominance (Hartigan, 1997; Hartigan, 2003; Newitz & Wray, 1997a; Newitz & Wray, 1997b). Newitz and Wray express this notion saying:
…we are suggesting that an alternative and as yet unexplored way to deconstruct whiteness is to examine the differences within whiteness. We thus argue for the necessity of breaking down whiteness by examining how, for instance, discourses of differences among whites tend to de-stabilize and undermine any unified or essentialized notion of white identity as the primary locus of social privilege and power (1997a: 169), and
Our anthology is intended as an intervention in this field, offering a critical understanding of how differences within whiteness—differences marked out by categories like white trash—may serve to undo whiteness as racial supremacy, helping to produce multiple, indeterminate, and anti-racist forms of white identity (1997b:4).
I proceed here to analyze this premise, suggesting that its main arguments function, instead, to undermine the significance and scope of white-skin privilege, thereby exacerbating the invisibility of, not white identity/ies, but white privilege. I suggest that these arguments function to provide a means whereby the individual white body is able to distance itself from its implication in racism and white privilege. My critique comes in three parts. First, I critique the understanding of the term white trash as racist. Second, I critique the notion that the whiteness in white trash is not privileged, and third, I critique the overarching assumption that exposing the differences within whiteness necessarily undermines white dominance.
a) Does the term “White Trash” signal anti-white racism?
Newitz & Wray claim that by virtue of the words that make it up, the term white trash, is both a “classist” and a racist designation of those who are so labelled (1997a:169-170; 1997b:2). I argue, however, that while the term is without doubt a “classist” epithet, and may even make whiteness visible by invoking its status as a racial identification, the term white trash certainly does not also signal anti-white racism when used by the white middle and upper classes against the white working class(b). Indeed, the presence of the adjective “white” serves to distinguish the people it targets from other kinds of “trash” who are implicitly assumed to be non-white.
While Newitz and Wray are quite right that “discourses of class and racial difference tend to bleed into one another” (1997a:169), it is important to understand the complex manner in which this occurs making it tricky to track which bodies, in which moments, are being referred to by which dimensions of these blended discourses. Amid all the derogatory implications of the term white trash, the descriptor “white,” far from signalling some anti-white racism, actually signals the assumed superiority of the white body and its presumed incompatibility, under normal circumstances, with “trash.” The term “white trash” actually serves to police the existing discursive boundaries between whiteness and degeneracy, and to entrench, quite effectively (and paradoxically), the white supremacist project.
It appears, then, that the conclusion that the term white trash is a/n (anti-white) racist epithet depends upon liberal color-blind reasoning—whereby mentioning race at all is considered racist (Schofield, 1989; see also Kailin, 1999; Lipman, 1997), and/or upon the notion that any form of discrimination, whether on the basis of race or not, counts as racism (see Newitz and Wray, 1997b:1-2). Newitz and Wray further demonstrate this color-blind confusion where they recognize (correctly) that there is no equivalent trash term for non-whites (such as black trash or Asian trash), but miss the reasons for this and proceed to compare the term white trash to the hypothetical term “nigger trash” (p. 169), rather than to what would be the more analogous term—”Black trash.” To accept this comparison would lead to the absurd logical conclusion that “white” and “nigger” are somehow corresponding, equally derogatory terms. Continuing in this vein, Newitz and Wray go on to conclude that the terms white trash and nigger are comparable (p. 169). This is, of course, not true since for this to be so, “nigger” would have to signify classism and anti-Black racism, while “white trash” would have to signify classism and anti-white racism. However, for the reasons that I have discussed above, while both terms involve both class and race, the racism in both terms is decidedly anti-Black! This is the crucial distinction.
b) Is the whiteness in “White Trash” privileged?
A second related assertion made in Newitz & Wray’s analysis of white trash argues that the term signals an instance where whiteness does not mean privilege and, thus, is in some ways equivalent to non-white status. Newitz and Wray (1997a) claim that “the whiteness of `white trash’ signals something other than privilege and social power” (p. 169) and that “white trash…is a way of articulating racial disempowerment (p. 173, emphasis added).
However, since privilege and power are relational terms, this assertion begs the question, “With respect to whom?” Certainly, the person labelled white trash does not have the privilege associated with bourgeois white status. However, does this mean that those labelled white trash have no racial privilege? It is important to note that just as there is uneven distribution of privilege among whites (as these scholars so adamantly assert) so Black identities and other racial identities are not monolithic and involve multiple locational possibilities along other axes of difference. It is not reasonable, then, to speak of the disempowerment of white trash subjects without considering the heterogeneity of those to whom they are being compared. Thus, while it is conceivable (yet quite futile) to try to evaluate the relative disempowerment and/or privilege of, for example, a wealthy Black woman and a poor white man, a much more useful question would be to ask, “When all other axes are held constant, can those labelled white trash be deemed racially privileged?” In other words, can the social mobility and possibilities for the poor white man and the poor Black man, for example, be considered different? I suggest yes! And if this is so, the whiteness of white trash is still privileged. To further investigate this point, we might consider the following:
1. Hartigan (1997) indicates that one of the most derogatory terms the self-named “hillbillies” he interviewed in Detroit used among each other was “nigger.” In that “hillbilly” in his analysis is somewhat equivalent to “white trash,” it seems obvious that these subjects recognize the social stigma (and, therefore, lack of privilege) of blackness and actively distance themselves from it. By this means, whatever other privilege they do not have, they assert and entrench (their) white racial privilege. Further, while Blacks do refer to poor whites as white trash (see Hartigan, 1997:47-48), I have yet to hear of poor Blacks calling each other white trash, while it is, unfortunately, not uncommon for some to call each other “nigger;”
2. a number of white academics with their attendant middle-class status, claim white trash beginnings (see, for example, Dunbar, 1997; Wray, 1997); and
3. even more striking is that Hartigan (2003) speaks of how former U.S. president Bill Clinton has been referred to as a “hillbilly”—again, a term similar to white trash and which also usually signals white poverty and deviance—while Dunbar (1997) refers to former U.S. president Andrew Jackson as white trash that “made it” (p. 75). Clearly, then, “white trash” or “hillbilly” (male) status does not mitigate social mobility in the same way that poor non-white or even white female(c) status does. Women and non-whites (male or female) try as they may or may not have, have, so far, not been able to gain the U.S. presidency. As much as the individual cases of those poor white individuals who “made it” to the presidency cannot be used to negate the very real material constraints caused by class oppression, the fact that they do exist for white males and not for women and non-whites strongly suggests the further constraints resulting from gender and racial oppression. Further, while we acknowledge that no one should necessarily have to, we also note that it is possible, if difficult, to abandon the markers of class in the interest of social mobility, while it is much more difficult, if not nearly impossible in this historical juncture, to abandon the physical markers of gender and race.(d)
Thus, white trash identity, in that it is white, still involves racial privilege. Though they quickly admit that it might be “problematic” to do so Newitz and Wray still posit that “a white trash position vis-à-vis whiteness might be compared to a `racial minority’ position vis-à-vis whiteness” (1997b: 5). For the reasons that I have presented here, it is indefensible for Newitz and Wray to suggest that white trash and non-whiteness are comparable in racial terms.
c) Does exposing diversity within whiteness undermine white dominance?
The observation that privilege is unevenly distributed among whites is not a new one. Marxist and feminist discourses, which, historically, have most often assumed the white subject, attest to this. That is, Marxism has usually considered differential class privilege among whites, and “western” feminism has, until very recently, only considered the asymmetric gender relations between white women and white men. The existence of these discourses has not guaranteed the dismantling of racism, and the assumption of the white subject has, in many cases, only exacerbated racism. Note, for example, attempts to reduce race to class, and the ongoing critique of the totalizing discourses of dominant feminism by non-white feminists—both of which have functioned to re-inscribe racism. Thus, it is puzzling that CWS scholars feel that highlighting the uneven distribution of privilege within whiteness by examining white trash will be any more successful. Throughout history, the virulence of white racism has existed in spite of the varying degrees of privilege among whites, and where whites have chosen to be antiracist, this has often been in spite of their privilege, not because of a lack of it. This point is also crucial and moves us into a discussion of the project to rearticulate whiteness and the way it mobilizes the notion of (anti-) essentialism.
To conclude the discussion of “white trash,” then, I suggest that making white racial identity visible is not necessarily equivalent to making white privilege visible. Indeed, Newitz and Wray’s theoretical blind-spots make it evident that the project of making white identity visible (through, in this case, the consideration of white trash) can be simultaneously imbricated in the process of making white privilege invisible. Likewise, to advance that exposing the diversity within whiteness undermines white dominance is to ignore the historical evidence to the contrary, inspire a false hope, and perpetuate racism through diverting honest antiracist intent into unproductive, dead-end avenues. That Newitz & Wray and other whiteness scholars fail to understand the racial privilege of poor whites speaks to a poorly grounded analysis of race privilege, as well as to the issue of dominance not being able to recognize and acknowledge its own privilege.
Whiteness and Essentialism
I move now to a discussion of the attempt to rearticulate whiteness in a democratic project, and through that, to a critique of the understanding of whiteness/essentialism that seems prevalent in both the rearticulation work and the work on white trash.
Critical multicultural scholars, notably Giroux (1997a; 1997b) and Rodriguez (1998, 2000), among others, have posited the need for a “pedagogy of whiteness” which will “rearticulate `whiteness’ in oppositional and transformative terms” (Giroux, 1997b:296). The stated goal of this work is to help head off white defensiveness as well as white guilt in white youth who, it is felt, are becoming increasingly conscious of their racial identities (1997b:294). Yet, the talk of guilt betrays what seems to be a deeper underlying concern with these scholars.
In reading the work of CWS scholars, I am struck by the anxiety evident in the way these scholars articulate the relationship (or alleged lack thereof) between white skin and white racism. Several quotes will serve to call attention to this anxiety. Newitz and Wray (1997b) write:
Perhaps white trash can also provide a corrective to what has been called a `vulgar multiculturalist’ assumption that whiteness must always equal terror and racism. It is our wish that `white trash,’ and White Trash [the title of their edited work], start to lay the groundwork for a form of white identity that is comfortable with multiculturalism, and with which multiculturalism is comfortable as well (p. 5).
Likewise, Giroux wants to “move beyond the view of `whiteness’ as simply a trope of domination” (1997b:296) and create “a theoretical language in which White youth can refuse to reference their Whiteness only through the common experience of racism and oppression” (1997:294). Both works imply what Gallagher (2000) states explicitly when he protests:
the rush to critique whiteness as a sociohistorical category results in an essentialized and ultimately racist discourse [in which] the internal variation within [whiteness] is levelled (pp. 75-76).
The persistent theme of the diversity within whiteness rears its head again. We see that it undergirds both the white trash and rearticulation projects. These quotes also suggest the reason for this insistence. It would appear that these scholars consider a critique of whiteness to involve a monolithic and, they claim, essentialist rendering of whiteness, and therefore understand that critique as a form of “reverse racism” whereby all whites are beaten with the same stripes. Their urgency in asserting the diversity and uneven distribution of privilege among whites seems to express a need to stress that there are whites (among whom they, by implication, count themselves) who are not racist. It is not farfetched to imagine that they might be motivated by their own discomfort with inhabiting white bodies in a context where white racism, which has historically been normalized, is being scrutinized.
However, this understanding of essentialism, and the talk of white guilt, suggest a preoccupation with the notion that racism is an individualized phenomenon dependent upon individual racist intent, which, as I have mentioned earlier, has no place in a project that would be antiracist. I suggest that this intrusion of liberal individualist reasoning (posing as anti-essentialism) into a domain that seeks to challenge structural inequities, and motivated largely by an effort to defend one’s positioning, is a source of confusion that works to entrench white privilege while denying the rootedness of racial ideologies in the body.
While we agree that race is a historically, temporally, and spatially contingent social construction, the workings of racism have always been, and still are, tied to a logic that is anchored in phenotypic characteristics—however difficult it may be to trace the contours of this logic, and however contradictory and inconsistent this logic may be. In this historical juncture, then, while we would agree that not all whites are necessarily bigots, we cannot so easily dismiss the salience of white skin and the way it operates to set one apart for privilege regardless of the intentions of any particular white individual. When whiteness scholars speak of reconfiguring whiteness, then, they should realize that the historical processes that normalized whiteness and entrenched white supremacist ideology created a system whereby the white body would automatically be marked for privilege—all other factors being equal—with respect to those who are constructed as non-white. Whiteness as a construct, then, constitutes and is constituted by racial domination. It is always already dominant and cannot be made otherwise within a racialized (white supremacist) society. To acknowledge this is not essentialism—not even strategic essentialism. It is simply a recognition of the impact and durability of historically derived racial constructs—due, in part, to their flexibility and adaptability to changing political realities. To call this acknowledgement essentialist is to co-opt the antiracist function of anti-essentialist thought—which encourages us to consider the ways in which we are positioned as dominant while we consider the ways in which we are positioned as subordinate (see Razack, 1998:157-170)—and twist it to normalize and make invisible the privilege of whiteness.
This is, of course, quite different from saying that all whites are bigots or that individual whites cannot choose to live out oppositional white identities. The concepts “white identity/ies” and “white ethnicity” as the multiple and varied ways white individuals (choose to) inhabit their bodies in the world, and the concept whiteness, which refers to the system of domination that confers privilege upon white bodies at the expense of the racially oppressed, are different concepts. However, they have become intricately intertwined. The work of Roediger (1991) and Ignatiev (1995) (among others) lays bare the way that European immigrants to Noah America sought to trade in their different ethnicities in order to distance themselves from blackness and acquire white privilege. Further, other work challenges the notion that the whiteness of white European immigrants was ever in question even though they were racialized and mistreated (Guglielmo, 2003). Thus, through deliberate action and historical processes, the notions of whiteness and individual white identity have become confused. Therefore, one cannot hope so easily to divorce these two concepts, claiming the one, while ignoring the importance and impact of the other. Discourses that do not adequately theorize the concepts whiteness and White identity, and advance that, in the name of White agency, the concept whiteness should be made to include oppositional White identities, are, to me, a (perhaps inadvertent) retreat to an ahistorical ideology of liberal individualism that firmly enables the continuance of the racist status quo. While it is understandable that some whites wish to undo this confusion of whiteness as racial domination with white identity, it is imperative that they realize that this is not done simply by the individual choices of a few. There must also be a concurrent serious consideration of what that confusion has meant historically and, more importantly, what it has done and still does to position them in contemporary society despite their choices. Only the habit of white privilege could allow any white body, antiracist or otherwise, to feel that s/he can, at will, easily shake off the manner in which one’s body is taken up by a white supremacist system when people of color have been struggling to do so for centuries. For white scholars not to consider the enduring meaning and salience of race and skin color while they try to forge out antiracist positions for themselves reads like a trivialisation or disregard of the realities of those of us who, on the basis of skin colour, continue to be buffeted by racism whether we like it or not. This type of disregard is demonstrated in another statement from Gallagher (2000:80) who says, “apart from the benefits that accrue to whites because of their skin color no single metanarrative of whiteness exists.” To underestimate so casually the meaning of white privilege speaks of a poor understanding of racism! On this basis, we deem ostensibly antiracist work that uses the fronting of the complexities within whiteness as its main strategy to be, at best, misguided, and at worst, devious and dishonest.
It is imperative that we take into account the gravity and materiality of a system of racism and racial privilege. It is imperative that we understand whiteness as a structural ideological system of domination that cannot and will not be dismantled solely through attitudinal change in a few Whites. Indeed, one characteristic of whiteness as domination is the disposition to create ways for the white body to deny its privilege and claim innocence of its implication in a racial hierarchy (Howard, 2002; Huhnsdorf, 2001; Scheurich, 2002). As Scheurich writes:
One of the ways…racism works among white scholars who are critical of racism is that they want…to create “new” subjectivities and subject positions that are not interfused with white racism. It cannot be done. Trying to find or construct these `outs’ is an indication of a misunderstanding and an underestimating of the ontological nature of white racism (Scheurich, 2002:8).
I suggest that it is vitally important that racially dominant bodies that would take up anti-racist work and live out oppositional whiteness realize that their choice to do so does not stop the privilege of whiteness from converging upon their bodies, nor does it guarantee that they have escaped the looming possibility that whiteness will find expression through their bodies and work(e). Dominant antiracist scholars need to consciously and continuously take responsibility for their implication in whiteness regardless of their personal politics. Without a constant conscious swimming against the tide of whiteness the fallback position in their lives will always be one of white privilege. Without constant vigilance, constant interrogation of themselves, and, I would add, constant, thorough engagement with the critical anti-racist work of those positioned as racially subordinate in a white supremacist system, whiteness will easily be re-inscribed in their work.