The Racism of Today's Use of "Whiteness"
There are uses of "racial essence" terminology that are innocuous and even helpful and some humorous.
A stand-up comedian cracks a joke about a guy's "whiteness" making him dance lousy. Or a black New York Times writer who I once read describing the essence of the African American experience--or as he wrote: their "blackness".
Today, we see the term "whiteness" to engage and disrupt the idea of long-standing racial hierarchies in society. I have little doubt this term used this way comes from a place of trying to do good. I also have no doubt that this use is glaringly racist.
See the images below.
This use of the term "whiteness" recently occurred in a Seattle, where city employees underwent a training called: “Interrupting Internalized Racial Superiority and Whiteness.”
First, this training was segregated to just the white employees. A special training for a specific race. There, they were to work on "undoing your own whiteness." They were to also learn how to give up their "white normative behaviors."
A space alien observing us humans--or, heck, any person from East Asia--would see this training description and scratch their heads at the apparent racism.
Any white person off the street would approach and wonder: "Undo my whiteness? Give up my white behavior? What is that even supposed to mean, and how would one undo who they are?"
The biggest source of this confusion is that "whiteness", in these situations, means something along the lines of: "indoctrinated beliefs and behaviors that enforce racial hierarchies." Studying the source and reduction of these injustices is great. But calling it "whiteness" implicates every member of that group (no matter where they are in the world) and indicates it's a defect all people of one group are born with. It's inherent. It's original sin.
This inappropriate labeling then allows for abuses such as racially segregated trainings trying to get those in attendance to undo their own harmful essence. And it enables worsening racial relations, because it enforces the idea of inherent, threatening differences.
Anytime someone uses a demographic label as a definition for something negative--particularly when in a serious way--it's unethical. Whether it's saying "gay" to mean "lame"; or saying "Jew" to mean "haggle"; or in this case, saying "white" to mean "racially exploitative."
In my lifetime, we're going to look back and wonder how this vein of racism was so openly prevalent. (Today there are whole college departments on "whiteness studies".) Maybe we can hasten this realization by recognizing it for what it is.