home Commentary, North America, Racism, Society The invisible rule of whiteness

The invisible rule of whiteness

Writing critically about race is not an easy thing to do. We have tendency to avoid discussing race as it has been determined to be one of those “hot button” subjects. This silence about race allows whiteness to continue in its rule unchallenged and forces people of color to deal with daily assaults to our humanity. Comments that many view as innocuous, are often hurtful and serve to ensure that the racial gap continues to grow. Whiteness would prefer that we play sambo to its Missy Anne, regardless of how damaging it may be to our psyche.

To challenge what whiteness deems as its right to demean at will means being called angry or accused of being disrespectful. Whiteness it is all about tone. White people have become so accustomed to deferential treatment based in undeserved racial privilege that when people of color dare to speak, we are considered uppity.

People of color are continually reminded of our “tone. This is classic disciplining behaviour. We are informed that were we to raise our objections in a “gentler manner,” whiteness would be more inclined to listen. Despite such proclamations, it is not the form that the speech takes that is offensive, but the speech itself. No power has ever appreciated any form of challenge to its rule and whiteness is no exception.

People of color are not amused when we are accused of racism against whiteness when we challenge its social power. Racism equals power plus prejudice, but this basic 101 fact continues to be ignored in hopes of presenting our objections to white hegemony as somehow based solely in hatred. It is possible to hate the oppression and not despise those that use their undeserved racial privilege to oppress.

It is laughable that we, the oppressed, are placed into the position of constantly reassuring whiteness of its worth when it has acted systemically to ensure that we are devalued as human beings. To still be asked to say “honey chile” and smile as we shuffle through our day in 2009, evidences that the liberal rhetoric of equality just wants a new age sambo.

A person of color must constantly weigh the cost of speaking out versus continuing to live in silence. Things are getting better, we are told, and yet the violence against us by police is rising, our unemployment figures continue to be the highest, and we are still over represented in the prison population. Who exactly are things getting better for?

Being called a racist or told that your behaviour is racist has become a social shame, however, it is not the action that causes shame it is the label. What whiteness desires is the ability to continue on with its destructive behaviour and retain the ability to not be shamed or stigmatized for it. Any critique of people of color is asserted to be based in rationalism whereas a critique of whiteness is based on emotionalism. The emotionalism argument derives its strength from the myth that people of color are the eternal children of the world, in need of white stewardship. By positioning itself as morally superior whiteness not only seeks to avoid critique, but to establish a right to rule over other races.

If we are rightfully able to recognize and call out racism, whiteness is unable to maintain its panoptic rule. The truest expression of power is the ability to control without being seen or to force those that are oppressed to police themselves on your behalf. To be forced to answer for your behaviour means that limitations apply.

It is the very possibility that white hegemony can or should be reduced that whiteness finds so threatening. This is why it seeks to assert that they would listen more keenly if people of color spoke rationally or more politely. To control the discourse of what constitutes racism means that whiteness is able to act as judge and jury and therefore continually set the terms of debate in a way that is most favourable to its position. Language policing is always purposeful; to ignore its intent is to be blind to the ways in which power is wielded.


Renee Martin

Renee Martin lives in Canada and writes the famous Womanist Musings blog. She is as interested in socio-political issues as she is in television.

12 thoughts on “The invisible rule of whiteness

  1. wow all I can say is Amen and Amen. I concur 100%. At my university, we are creating dialogue circles based on raced. You should see the reception “we” have received as we began to educate others about white privilege.

  2. Don’t speak about white privilege too much though, that’s when they will all ban together and kill you but they will lie to themselves of course that they aren’t bad when they killed you, but that it was needed/a mistake/or they died on their own like the native americans who died by “diseases” (purposely placed on them and not given the cure of course)

  3. This has to be one of the most narrow minded racist rants i have had the misfortune to come across. Next time you post articles about your vehement distrust and general disdain for “Whites” remember one thing, if it wasn’t for these “racist oppressors” you would not have the freedom to speak your mind in the first place much less enjoy the advancement in society, science, and the arts due to the contributions throughout history of said oppressors. “Whiteness” as you so endearingly refer to is a consequence of a majority populations influence on a society, go to South America and see how far “Whiteness” spreads when Caucasians are not the majority population. In closing it must be noted your ignorance and closed minded attitude is what perpetuates the bigotry your assumed idealism looks to negate.

  4. “Whiteness desires is the ability to continue on with its destructive behaviour and retain the ability to not be shamed or stigmatized for it.”

    So true. This is essential Monday morning reading!

  5. Disgusted – lol, if it weren’t for “racist oppressors”, a lot of people would probably be a whole lot freer. You’ve never stopped to think about what happens when a country is colonized, raped of its resources, its people kidnapped and subjugated? You’re also assuming that people with light-colored skin somehow magically invented culture and arts and science. That’s a very arrogant assumption to make … and pretty racist.

    Renee – great article. Thank you.

  6. @MT: Actually: most times, especially at the beginning, the infections that wiped out the native Americans were not programmed. It was just that Europeans had developed immunity to the illnesses that came with their domestic animals and Americans had not – since the latter had not lived with those domestic animals. And neither had eveloped the idea of virus, so the ideas on how a disease spreads were quite vague. This does not makes the European criminals that gave away smallpox-laced blankets less criminal – quite the contrary, indeed. It’s just to be precise. (I include in “native Americans” the natives from both Americas in this case – I don’t know if it’s the correct term: if not, I apologize – and please tell me, so I won’t repeat the mistake).

    @Disgusted: … No, you’re not worth a reply. I guess that you also think that Jews are very cunning and good with money – right? And Gypsies and Mediterranean people cannot be trusted.

  7. Thank you for writing this article, Renee. I have only recently started to read your posts, so perhaps this question is addressed in earlier articles. When you write about what “whiteness” does to people of color and what it seeks to accomplish or avoid, I struggle to locate where that whiteness “resides;” in the abstract as its own entity or as an inherent motivation in white people? Your article seemed to me to treat it as a separate being with goals and fears, but whiteness cannot and does not exist apart from people who are themselves white. I know we all know this, but your article did not talk about how white people act to further the cause or protect the hegemony of whiteness, apart from failing to ‘recognize their privilege.’ I guess what I’m trying to ask is, given that whiteness cannot act on its own or perpetuate itself, how is the invisible rule of whiteness upheld?

  8. The truth shall set you free. Whites that have completely different, political, social, economic, etc.. views can all agree on one thing…don’t challenge our control. It does not take much to get slammed, even among white so-called “progressives” when you start questioning why they have their status. The LGBTQ is ruled by whites as is feminism. So, maybe the white players change regarding intra-white power dynamics but the result is the same–white supremacy.

  9. Being a white cisgendered person, this is so hard to read. And its a knee jerk reaction to say ‘not me! not me! i’m different, i am oppressed too, etc etc’.

    But it is me.

    Thank you for your insight. Thank you for making me think hard and be uncomfortable and learn something.

  10. I’ve come across plenty of white racist who think absolutely nothing of throwing their racism right into my face. A big part of this comes down to the simple fact that I strive for peace of mind and serenity. And these folks have minds that are on fire with envy, anxiety and resentment 24/7, so they resent me from the get go. I’ve got what they want and so they try to steal it from me, hoping that my mind will become as upset as their mind is in the process. That is what would bring them satisfaction and a smile to their face. God wants us all to fulfill our human potential. Who is it that does not?

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