Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is a Non-Racist White Identity Possible?

When the story of Megan Williams (20) broke there was the usual universal horror. How could this happen in 2007? What kind of people would do such a thing?

“Well white people” I said to one of my liberal white colleagues. “Not so” she responded with agitated annoyance. “This is a case of serious deviant delinquency. The six abductors have an astonishing cumulative record of 108 criminal charges between them since 1991. This kind of thing is an aberration and it tells us more about class and impoverishment than it tells us about racism,” she concluded.


So poor white people are the agency of racism in America? “No I did not put race in there” she replied.

OK, so poor people, particularly the rural poor, are the agency of racism in America. And in this case, the rural poor just happen to be white then? (Ms. Williams was alledgedly kept in the shed to right of the picture.)

She looked at me flustered and angry. Then she told me about the dangers of imputing a race theory into acts of deviance and delinquency. “Most decent Americans, including white Americans, would not approve of assaulting an innocent woman in this way,” she said.

So I guess most Black people who see this as white racism would be wrong then?

My colleague did not respond directly. Instead she went on to tell me that blaming this case on racism “is not helpful.”

Helpful to whom I wondered?

Ms. Williams is certainly not being helped by this kind of race denialism (racism). She suffered through a week of sexual abuse, eating rat droppings, drinking from the toilet, being stabbed repeatedly, and being called a "nigger" by six white Americans.

What about denying that white racism explains this brutality is “helpful” to Ms. Williams? Will she feel better knowing that if she was white the same thing would have happened to her? Should her family feel safer now that the race of the brutes is obscured by their class and geographic location?

Who this is "helpful" to is obvious.

My colleague identifies as white but wants to believe that you can be white and not be racist, or part of the system of racism.

So this begs the question. Is a non-racist white identity possible? In other words, can whiteness evolve beyond the racism that established it in the first place?

Well my colleague would most likely think it is at least plausible. Being white allows her the kind of flexibility to abhor racism, deny its biological assumptions, and still self-identify as white in racism's hierarchy of privileges.

In Darwinist terms, we should believe that whites are evolving to an uber whiteness that is above racism. But evolution is, of course, not an even process. Some whites will devolve or at least remain behind.

Ms. Williams’ six abductors are of the not evolving kind. They are what Darwin would determine to be the ‘least fit’ in the species. And if one carries this logic further, it would seem that their ‘unfitness’ has removed them from the privilege of being white.

They have been worked out of the race. They are now just rural poor deviants and delinquents. Perhaps we should call them previously-white.

My colleague epitomizes the evolving white identity. She is white without the tedious baggage of racism. Her white identity is sophisticated. Not rural, not poor, and certainly not deviant and delinquent.

In her terms and condition, racism in America cannot just be regarded as an outcome of whiteness.

So I guess we will have to get used to the idea that racism is a previously-white thing. And worse, it may even be a Black thing and a ‘people of color’ thing.

And I am, therefore, obviously a racist for thinking that what happened to Ms. Williams is white racism.



Cero said...

Well, there are a few simple test questions one could try out.

From some of my experiences this weekend:

If you are white and you do not have to be as dressed up as a Black person to get a normal level of respect, you can tell that you are part of the system of racism (whether you like that fact or not).

Just as, if you are shopping at Office Depot rather than working a second job there or in the factory that makes their products, you are part of the economic class system (whether you think that is a good thing or not).

It's not really that hard to see.

Ridwan said...

Prof Zero thanks for the test questions.

My colleague would absolutely disagree with both your questions.

She will point to Black people who do the same to her. So there would be a circular argument.

Tit for tat racism. I saw some of that at a blog called Racilicious tonight.

Black people can be anti-white and, therefore, part of the system of racism.

So, racism is an individual thing. Not a white thing in America.

On the second test I can hear her say that class and money do not necessarily equate.

Academics make less than carpenters or plumbers she may say. Does than mean that both these are a class above the underpaid intellectual?

I know these arguments. Heard 'em thrown at me so many times.

There is always the way out.

Thanks for looking in PZ.


Dave J. said...

At one point, one of Williams' captors cut her ankle with a knife and used the N-word in telling the woman she was victimized because she is black.

Enough said.

There is a huge difference between saying white people are capable of this type of hatred, than saying all white people are like this.

But, in the face of evidence that it was racially motivated, to then argue that it was not, isn't that guilt by association?

Ridwan said...

Absolutely Dave. There is a "huge difference" as you say.

I am still surprised to hear other folks see the racism in this case but then deny that this is a racist problem ... or a mainstay of racism.

As you know my position is that whiteness has to be subverted and then abondoned.

Race as a system must be abandoned and in these terms there can be no white, black, or brown.

This is a central tenet of Black Consciousness (BC) ideology as developed by Biko and others.

There can't be a reform of a system that perpetrates the kind of brutality that happened to James Byrd, Amadou Diallo, and Megan Williams.

And yeah I think you are right that there is a "guilt by association" when folks make excuses for this kind of racism.

Thanks for looking in Dave.

Peace brother,

nunya said...

Your first article link is dead.

From reading this and the other article you linked to, I'm a bit baffled as to why the hate crimes charges were dropped. Probably had more to with some corporate lawyer needing the courtroom to defend against his paymasters malfeasance, rather than the merits of this case.

White racism is more prevalent among the criminal class. Prisons are hotbeds of racism. That is my observation.

On to class issues. Randi Rhodes says that "the only color that matters in the suburbs is green." I was raised there, that is my observation also.

Ridwan said...

Nunya they decided not to pursue hate crime charges because they were in-effect too restrictive for the merits of the case.

The prosecution felt that they could get stiffer charges and penalties if they dropped the hate crime angle.

This is not unusual from what I understand.

I would have to disagree with you on racism and the white criminal class.

There is no such justification in the literature or any studies that I know of.

In fact, we would have to start by asking you how you define racism.

Poor any-people are not in charge of systems that run racism.

Now if you are talking about racist attitudes, it is a different conversation.

But still, I would disagree and can point to many studies that belie the faith in class as a means of trumping race, racists, or racism.

And each category must be treated separately in any argument about causation.

In these terms, Randi Rhodes (a talk show host if I remember) is simply wrong.

The susburbs were created in racist terms of the post 1945 GI Bill and other benefits that were accorded to whites in a disproportionate manner.

And the outcome was creating a class consciousness among whites ... a widening of whiteness even (Jews became white for example).

There is also the issue of gentrification that nullifies Rhodes one liner.

Whites, particularly rich whites, have come back to claim the inner cities all over America.

The result is, ironically, the suburbinization of the poor and people of color who are poor.

I am distrustful of liberal theorists who see class as trumping just about everything.

Thanks for your comment :0)


nunya said...


Alas my dear Professor, I have not immersed myself in academia, nor have I read studies on racism.

I can only know what I know, and that is based on my personal observations of human behaviour. I have spent most of my adult life scraping by for a living and some of the people I have had no choice but to associate with have been poor and white and racist and ex-felons. (Gotta put food on my fambly :) They would show different attitudes, masks, faces to me than they would to you, right?

As far as Randi Rhodes goes, well maybe she and I lived in different suburbs than you did?

I didn't say class, & neither did Randi. The green meant money. Everybody in America considers themselves "middle class" even if they are the working poor. I know I've read that somewhere.

Anybody ever call you a racist because you didn't let them borrow your comb? Happened to me. I'm a racist because I don't know how to get hair grease out of my comb, & my hair looks dirty with hair grease in it? It was a test that I failed, I guess. Frankly, I thought her hair looked fine without combing it.

Thank God for the two black counselors who knew me from three years before hand and whisked my ass out of the "ghetto" (Job Corp nickname, not my choice) dorms and into the "honor" dorms earlier than usual. I smile when I think about B and L, they protected me from what I think they thought I didn't need to know. B was one of the warmest, sweetest, best huggers I've ever met. Smart too, she could see through anybody's BS.

OK then.

Ridwan said...

Thanks for the reply here Nunya.

I know that you appreciate that race and racism are professional areas of study that lend themselves to rigorous analysis.

Still, I am conveying what I know about the issue of class, race, and racism from a multi-faceted perspective.

There may be an experience with racist talk among poor whites that seem to imply a system of racism, or that poor whites are most racist, but it is simply not so.

Poor people (inclusive of those who have criminal records) are not the ones who run the power crucible of racism even where they may harbor offensive racist beliefs.

The comment about suburbs and green is not unique, with respect.

The underlying assumption is that the suburbs are a middle class marker.

Rising up to live in the middle class means that social, but also capital movement, has been achieved.

The inner city, or ghetto, is not the suburbs. It is the antithesis of the suburbs in fact.

So when Rhodes levels the slogan that the suburbs are run on green there are a lot of liberal assumptions that underwrite that statement.

And that Rhodes may not have mentioned class does not mean that class is not implied.

But you did raise it as a class issue (On to class issues. Randi Rhodes says that "the only color that matters in the suburbs is green." I was raised there, that is my observation also.)

What is most disturbing about that kind of sentiment (Rhodes) is the nonsense that race is displaced by money.

It is not. It is a much more complex question.

Racism is a system of beliefs and actions that can be backed up by structural power.

The incident you mention was unfortunate and not a kind/nice thing to experience but it was not an act of racism forced on your person.

If it was, you would be forced everytime to comply with the discrimination you faced. It would be systematic but would not only stop there.

Your hair and person would be structurally made to weight your oppression whether or not you experienced the incident or not.

Inside of racism, the individual experience is not the focus of analysis. In fact, the individual is mostly a liberal hangover that can cloud a structural analysis.

Liberal theory of course includes both adherents of the dominant political parties in the US.

I am using the usual theoretical assumptions that are derived from the 'age of reason' to define liberalism.

On the point of middle class, sociologists often point to the manner that myths and myths making often show coherence in incoherent phenomenon.

The US is not only a racialized society, it is also one based on class distinctions.

That most Americans believe they are middle class in nothing more than part of myth making.

Most Americans are not middle class.

And even if we use middle class (approximately $65k per annum for a nuclear family) we would find that racism makes it more expensive to be Black and middle class, than white and middle class.

Blacks and Latinos pay more for credit and houses (see the Toyota/Nissan cases and the redlining of real estate studies in Detroit and Chicago, for example).

These are just two of the structural costs that belie the assumptions that green is what runs life in the suburbs (unless of course I have an absolutely different idea of what you mean by the suburbs).

Hey now, this is almost a post.

Thanks for your thoughts here Nunya.


kg said...


While reading this post, when you answered some the test questions ( Prof. Zero) about racism. The part about Blacks can be anti-white, and therefore racist.

I was like hold on a second, did Ridwan get captured by the Conservatives. Once I finished reading I knew, you were still on the right track. I think it is basic, people need to learn the proper definition of what racism is.

Maybe your classes should be compulsory? You taught us that Racism is a power structure, you must have power to be a racist. You can be prejudiced, but in order to be racist, your power must be able to hold another person "down".

When reading the latest media blitz, about the Obama/Clinton campaign. Journalists so flippantly throw around the word "RACIST". It seems as though, America still won't realize that this country was built on Racism, and Social Darwinism.

Ferraro's comment was nothing more then another scare tactic, this country (U.S.A.) will have to decide this fall which was more disruptive, Racism or Sexism?

America is on a crash course to disaster, our belief that we are better than other countries, is one of the many things that needs to be modified ASAP. Until we can confront our awful past, and stop using fear to sedate this country we will never truly be free.

I love you Ridwan! Thanks for all that you have done.

Eric J. Kellogg II

Ridwan said...

Hello Kellogg! Thanks for your comment brother. I am very happy to hear from you and I am humbled by your kindness.

When I wrote this post I was furious. A white liberal woman was trying to tell me that if Ms. Williams was white and poor the same thing would have happened.

She wanted to show that all women are equal victims of patriarchy, and that Ms. Williams race was not the most important reason behind her assault.

This she argued despite the fact that white women were half of the victimizers of Ms Williams.

She also ignored the n-word used by all the perpetrators.

Her argument is not just a blind spot.

It is rather a racist predilection among some white liberals who want to downplay the role of racism, and their relationship to racism, in the US.

These folks would even go further to deny that Black women are not uniquely discriminated against.

The structural issue of being a woman, poor, and Black is often overlooked.

Why? Well for me it has always been a matter of racism.

Ferraro, for example, is obviously uneasy with Jackson and Obama.

How can a Black man be more "successful" than a white woman? Even if the white woman can hardly claim to be a feminist or a spokesperson for gender inequality issues.

She is not alone as you know. And she is not alone in ignoring how white women are beneficiaries of racism.

Also, she will hardly tell us how
white women benefit (the most) from Affirmative Action.

As for my question in this post, I do not believe that a post-white identity is possible in any terms.

Whiteness is a system of oppression that privileges those who define as white.

And whiteness can't be 'reformed' into a system of non-racial identity.

Again, thanks for looking in here brother. I appreciate your input as always.

I hope we run into each other sooner than later. I will be back stateside in mid-2008.

Much love to you and your family.


Anonymous said...

I saw on a slide in economics class that white women get paid on average less than both black men and black women. Hardly the beneficiaries of racism, huh?

Ridwan said...

Anonymous I would like to see the data your professor was using and also understand the point(s) s/he was trying to make.

I expect that you must understand that racism is more than a single slide.

While it is true that Black men earn more than the average white women it is not true that Black women earn more than white women.

Black men however have been in the formal workforce in greater numbers than white women and for a longer time.

The first mass entry of white women into the workforce came during WWII and certainly thereafter.

Though Black men earn more they are employed at lesser numbers than white women.

Black women earn less than Black men even though they have been in the formal work force more than white women and Black men.

Latino women earn the least amount of money and are the most vulnerable of all wage earners in the US.

Still, white women are the most privileged beneficiaries of Affirmative Action.

And they are absolutely beneficiaries of racism beyond the myopic emphasis on averages and income.

Thanks for your comment.