Posted on Saturday, September 13th, 2008 at 12:30 pm
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
John McCain is white; conversely Barack Obama is African American. It is an obvious but important statement to make.
McCain’s whiteness is often ignored in the mainstream press. Conversations about race and the election centre on Obamas blackness as though the whiteness of McCain is an insignificant racial fact. The galvanizing power of whiteness is clearly obvious from watching the Republican National Convention where the delegates were mostly white. Even the protesters were white.
McCain’s whiteness is normalized and invisible because white hegemony thrives on invisibility. The fact that his body is just as problematic as Obama’s black body will not be acknowledged, because to do so would force a conversation about the ways in which white power is maintained.
Discursively there is the proposition that we live in a post racial world but this is an impossibility because we continue to fail to discuss whiteness. We react to statements like, “Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they’re a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they’re uppity.” which has been attributed to Rep. Westmoreland by The Hill as racist against blacks. But what does it say about whiteness?
Westmoreland can make the aforementioned statement because it is assumed that power belongs to whites and any usurpation on the part of an ‘other’ is thwarting the natural order. Not only is McCain seeking the presidency for the privilege of ruling, he seeks it to maintain white hegemony.
Since the United States became a country it has been run officially by whites with blacks and other bodies of colour functioning in a support staff role. With a tradition of white headship that is over 200 years old, the idea that white rule is natural and normal has become ingrained in American society. The construction of whiteness as meant for power is daily reinforced by the agents of socialization, thus when McCain announced his bid for the presidency we viewed it as a standard affair.
Socially we have made some racially progressive growth and therefore McCain cannot say: “vote for me because I am white and Obama is black.” However, the lack of discussion of what his body represents makes that statement for him. We accept without his explicit declaration that he is not racist simply because today whiteness does not publicly present its biases as it is considered gauche; it simply acts in its best interest without comment.
The silence in reference to white hegemony means that McCain will never be interrogated on issues regarding racial privilege. How he truly feels about bodies of colour and their role in American society will never be questioned because it is assumed that whiteness has progressed to the point of wanting equality. This is a fallacious assumption as equality with bodies of colour would reduce the value of whiteness as a power structure.
No ruling group in history has ever willingly relinquished power and it is a false assumption to believe that whites will do so, or have done so without a revolution. Each exchange of the master slave binary necessary involves revolt because power is seductive.
If we believe that power is everywhere and in everything there is always power, the failure to address whiteness and the coercive control under which bodies of colour live necessarily infers that oppression of the strong by the weak is required for the cohesion of society. We constantly perform the social stigmatization placed on the body without recognition that the body is already problematized due to the dissonance of worth and value based in race.
It is a panoptic dance of discipline, construction, and tyranny in which all participate. When McCain seeks to rule, his body is representative of a salve for whites because socially we have concluded that power to oppress necessarily means worthiness of headship.
McCain’s whiteness is invisible in this election just as whiteness is invisible in the larger social world. We will continue to speak about the historic nature of Obama’s accomplishment, without acknowledging that we refer to it as such because of the oppression and racism that is alive and strong in American society.
Obama is falsely expected to be a representative of his race but the same demand is not expected of McCain. What position he may take politically is irrelevant socially, because even when not working in tandem, each action on the part of a white person that does not unpack the knapsack of privilege is necessarily an act of perseverance of white hegemony.
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