Subverting Whiteness

This article on John Brown and White people’s anti-racism is really thought provoking and I strongly recommend reading it, especially if you identify or are identified as White.

In the essay, the author argues:

“The “white” subject position is formed by and predicated on an assumed superiority over “non-white”. The entire history of whiteness is produced towards this end. More specifically “white” was/is produced, originally, in counterposition to “Black” and “Native” providing the ethical basis for African Slavery and Indian Removal. Alternately put, white supremacy is inhered in whiteness and there is no articulation of whiteness that is not also an articulation of white supremacy. This is to say that whiteness is defined by its subject position, not cultural production; it is the product of the colonization of Turtle Island and enslavement of Africans rather than an accumulation of traditions and influences. Whiteness’ only real tradition is white supremacy.”

[…]

“If, as white people committed to ending white supremacy in all its manifestations, we are serious, then we must consider our subject position forfeit. This is not the same as pretending positionality doesn’t exist and must not be carefully navigated. We must continue to undertake anti-oppression practices that somewhat mitigate our subject position’s power while doing the work to abolish it.”

I agree with the author that it’s not possible to subvert Whiteness by ignoring it. This “colorblindness” was the strategy of my own upbringing. There was never any explicit mention of my family’s Whiteness. Yet, it was also clearly demonstrated that non-Whites were an Other to be avoided. We were moved out of integrated public schools into segregated Catholic schools. We lived in segregated neighborhoods. Each action was done with good intentions, always with the pretext of “safety.” But by never discussing or asking why Black neighborhoods were unsafe or Black schools were inferior, I was taught that this is just the natural order of the universe. This silence taught its own lesson.

Rather than colorblindness, I think it is important for White people to be attuned to how Whiteness plays out in their lives, and utilizing this awareness take active efforts to dismantle the White subject position and cultivate an alternative subject position in its place.

This means speaking openly and honestly about the sociopolitical structures that privilege the position of Whiteness, particularly as they play out in our own lives. The purpose of this exercise is not cultivating guilt or shame, but to achieve a clarity of vision about how race works in the world.

Once we have gained some clarity on how Whiteness plays out in our lives, then we can work to subvert and sabotage the sociopolitical structures that privilege our Whiteness. This means calling attention to and actively resisting any space that we occupy that is disproportionately White. This means recognizing when we are offered credibility, congratulations, or promotions over peers of color and rejecting those benefits.

And if one feels that an alternative subject position must replace that of Whiteness, let that subject position be that of the anti-racist. Identity as action and action as identity. Such action will get you labeled as Race Traitor and likely care with it financial and interpersonal penalties. However, if one’s resistance to racism is only to the point of discomfort, then one is not resisting racism at all.

If you’re a White-identifying person interested in subverting Whiteness, here are some resources to start with:

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Author: Harrison Kalodimos

I'm a family medicine resident at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.

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