Escaping Whiteness

whiteness

Part 1 of 8

by Paul Alexander

White American Christians need a liberation theology of their own to free them from the denial of their own past. White Amer-Europeans must courageously own their past—without guilt but with great intentionality—to change the present and the future.

This means Amer-Europeans will have to engage in a collective or corporate type of confession and repentance that looks incisively at the systemic and ingrained violence that has been such a consistent part of the American experience….[1]

In this eight-part series I’m going to riff on Whiteness and White Supremacy and see if there’s a way to escape it, because it’s very painful and is continuing to hurt a lot of people. This is part one.

What we call the “United States of America” has emerged in the spaces and times of White Supremacy and light-skin privilege. The oppressive systems of Whiteness had been racing people as White for privilege and as less-than-White for exploitation,[2] for the construct of Whiteness was created for oppression. It was created to transform diversity into uniformity for the sake of privilege. This magic was enforced with law and violence. The many of some parts of Europe become the one of Whiteness, and this Whiteness sought to colonize and ‘civilize’ the rest of the world. However, Whiteness had a beginning, and it is going to have an end, and I want to theorize toward that end with the metaphor of a biblical story.

“Whiteness” is a system in which people with lighter toned epidermis use power (violence, the threat of violence, constructed knowledge, information, etc.) for wealth, social status, and control. Alice Walker coined the term “colorism” to address the social inequalities resulting from socially constructed meanings attached to skin pigment.[3] “Pigmentocracy” is another term for a society in which social status is connected with epidermis.[4] Pigmentocracy occurs in human populations throughout the world. As a Homo sapien whose ancestors evolved to have lighter skin to protect against vitamin D depletion because they lived in geographical areas with relatively less sunlight than equatorial regions, I am working to dismantle privileges based on this evolutionary adaptation.

If you think of yourself as white, consider instead thinking of yourself as “raced-as-White.” More particularly, think of yourself as “raced-by-Whiteness-as-White-for-privilege.” White racing is a super-ordination that subordinates the Othered, and we need to get beyond it.

Paul Alexander is the director of the Sider Center.

Notes:

[1] George E. “Tink” Tinker, American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 150, 160.

[2] I do not intend to communicate that nothing good has happened in the United States of America and that only the USA is hopelessly mired in Whiteness. I think that much of the world remains mired in Whiteness and the construct of Whiteness must become history.

[3] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1983), 290-91.

[4] Richard Lynn, “Pigmentocracy: Racial Heirarchies in the Caribbean and Latin America,” The Occidental Quarterly 8 (2) 2008: 25-44.


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