Whiteness and Blogging: An Interview Request

A well-timed entrance, if I do say so myself.

Hey y’all, hope your week’s wrapping up nice like Saran. My name is Katie, and I’m an undergrad at Harvard surviving writing my senior thesis on whiteness in U.S. feminist and pro-feminist blogs. Evidently my interview with Jill the other day wasn’t too traumatizing: she’s generously offered blogspace to let me solicit reader participants — a.k.a. you! — for the research. Thanks again, Jill; it’s a trip to be posting on a blog I’ve read and loved for years.

A little bit about the research, then. In a nerdy sense, I’m fascinated by the process of “performing” racial identities and constructing selves (in this case, white racial identities and selves) in disembodied online spaces. How do people read each other racially in feminist blogs? What white racial cues, if any, do bloggers and blog readers (white or otherwise) offer each other? Do offline experiences of whiteness and white privilege translate into blogging practices? If so, how?

Academics are publishing some exciting stuff on whiteness these days: the current issue of Feminist Theory has a whole crop of articles on the subject, and a few works have popped up that deal with whiteness as “habit.” In another vein, there’s a wealth of cool scholarship on “cyberfeminism” that investigates questions of identity, power, and anti-sexist social action on the Internet. Unfortunately, at this point there’s not much overlap between the whiteness and cyberfeminism fields.

Scholastic geekdom aside, I want to learn more about white feminist bloggers’ and blog readers’ experiences with race and racism online. It’s a topic that’s dear to my heart: for the past two years (what’s that — a decade in blog years?) I’ve been writing on a group blog for progressive Harvard students, a process that’s been tremendously exciting and, as you might imagine, incredibly frustrating. (Flame wars + Ivy League entitlement + Harvard Republican Club trolls = “Why am I at this school, again?” Q.E.D.) My blogging teammates and I have sparred with campus conservatives, but also had some tough conversations among allies, especially regarding “identity politics.” So my interest in U.S.-based feminist blogs, and how they relate to anti-racist whiteness, also comes from a practical, personal connection to this fine little corner of the blogosphere.

Okay, now for the requesting bit. If you’re white, if you’re feminist or pro-feminist, and if anything about my project appeals to you, I would love to interview you over the phone. It only takes an hour and, as Jill and I learned after conquering an international calling obstacle last weekend, it can happen even from a location far, far away from Boston. Comments you make in the interview will not be connected with you whatsoever in the final publication: for blog readers, I’ll be using pseudonyms in order to maintain confidentiality, so nothing in the thesis will reveal your name or individual identity.

If you’re interested in participating in the research, email me at kloncke at fas dot harvard dot edu, and we can set up a time to talk. If not, I hope this note finds you in good health and high spirits — and, perhaps, that it might spark some reflection and strategy sharing. Jill shared some insights in her post update yesterday, so maybe they can serve as a starting point. How can we be ever more responsible, accountable, conscientious, and creative in our anti-racist feminist online communities? Among white folks, what’s working well, and what needs improving?

Thanks, y’all, and take care,


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51 comments for “Whiteness and Blogging: An Interview Request

  1. October 19, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Just curious, but why are you only interested in interviews with white people?

  2. Betsy
    October 19, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Katie,
    Welcome! One question, before I take off my TF hat: maybe you’d like to talk a little bit about why you’re only asking white readers? Is it simply to contain the scope of the research to a manageable load for the all-too-short senior year timeframe? Or are there more theoretical/methodological reasons? Because I’m guessing that there’s a lot to be learned about your questions from non-white people too.
    Good luck with your thesis!

  3. Betsy
    October 19, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Oh, Elaine beat me to it. But many people will be wondering this, so it’s definitely worth addressing.

  4. October 19, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I also was wondering, why just white? I suppose white attitudes and methods for overcoming our privileged and blinkered viewpoints are worth examining, but hasn’t most of western human history focused on whiteness? I can’t help but feel that studying this within the context of non-white and white would be more helpful.

  5. Tom
    October 19, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I also was wondering, why just white? I suppose white attitudes and methods for overcoming our privileged and blinkered viewpoints are worth examining, but hasn’t most of western human history focused on whiteness? I can’t help but feel that studying this within the context of non-white and white would be more helpful.

    I think her point may be to put white attitudes under the same scrutiny which non-white attitudes usually receive. History hasn’t really focused on whiteness, it’s presumed whiteness to be the default. That’s not really the same thing.

  6. October 19, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    I see your point. I suppose in the context of “performing” racial identities, it makes sense to examine how we perform whiteness….I just felt wierd reading this is all.

  7. Katie
    October 19, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Elaine, Betsy, and marcyfight — thanks for your very sensible question. :)

    Betsy, as you guessed, I’m limiting my interviews to white participants for both methodological and theoretical reasons. On the methods side of things, let’s say I talk with 25 people (that’s about what my department expects of me), two-thirds of whom are white and one-third of whom are people of color. Within the poc group, I might have folks who are South Asian, East Asian, Latin@, Black, Native American, etc. That doesn’t make for a very good sample because different groups likely have different relationships to whiteness within the feminist blogosphere. In order to do a rigorous, representative sampling without lumping all poc into a monolithic group (and running a great risk of tokenizing people), I would have to use a much larger pool and subdivide it in a meaningful way. As you say, senior year is too brief for that kind of thing. Although interviewing white participants also involves complications of class, gender, sexuality, nationality, and so forth, it’s a much more manageable scope of diversity.

    More importantly, though, for purposes of a humble project, I want to be able to study whiteness without relying on a counterpoint perspective of “the other.” I like this approach for a couple of reasons. One, I think it gives both credit and responsibility to white folks to be able to discuss whiteness and anti-racism among themselves (in this case, in a kind of time-delayed ‘dialogue’ among the participants of my thesis). In my experience, creating race-based safe spaces enables white folks to talk about racism without feeling so worried that folks of color will judge them. So it helps white people with the openness thing. In addition, I’ve noticed that a lot of the time people of color are expected to be authorities and spokespersons about whiteness. This makes a certain amount of sense from a standpoint-theory perspective: people of color know a lot about whiteness because they’re forced to recognize and negotiate it all the time. But in practice, I find that it also puts a lot of pressure on folks of color to ‘explain’ whiteness, and their experiences with it, to white people. Don’t get me wrong — I think cross-racial dialogue is great and necessary, but not all the time. White people can take it upon themselves to analyze and deal with whiteness, I think, without unduly burdening their poc friends. There’s a lot to accomplish that way.

    As for the important, very true observation that white folks are the focus all the time anyway, I think the beauty of whiteness studies is that it puts an explicit and critical focus on whiteness, rather than taking it as the unidentified norm. To me, there’s a big difference between someone talking about “people” when they really mean “white people,” (and usually “het white male people”), and someone talking up-front about “white people.” It avoids the problem of a false universal. But I’m really glad you mentioned that trap, because I think it is a real danger in academic whiteness studies, which create and glorify a few superstar critical whiteness intellectual celebrities.

    In some ways, then, I’m lucky that my project is relatively small and limited in scope. I’m not at all aspiring to, like, solve problems of whiteness through my dinky little senior thesis. Talking with a sample of white people and facilitating a sharing of ideas is only one small part in a much, much larger, multi-pronged anti-racist process that certainly involves a lot of contributions and leadership by folks of color. That’s how I see it, anyway.

    Sorry for such a long answer to such a short question. I’m happy to keep talking about the advantages and limitations of sampling only white folks, and I would love to hear more of your thoughts and experiences on this stuff.

    And thanks for the well-wishes and all the emails already!

  8. Kai
    October 19, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I think it’s a terrific research project, Katie. Whiteness is a strategic ideology that deserves far greater consciousness and scrutiny, especially because so much of its structure remains invisible to white folks, most of whom breathe it in and out as unconsciously as air. White people have certainly been studied enough, but not so much whiteness itself, since whiteness in our society is generally seen as the “universal viewpoint”; so I appreciate your initiative on this. It does get exhausting for people of color to constantly be asked to explain everything about race, including whiteness, to white people. As I see it, understanding whiteness — its structure, mechanisms, functions, and consistent social outcomes — is crucial to learning anti-racism. I think both people of color and white folks stand to benefit a lot from this type of project. So thank you.

  9. October 19, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    I have no idea why a line from the eminently forgettable Tommy Davidson vehicle Strictly Business is reverberating in my head, but I think a great title would be: “Straight Up Whiter than the Whitest White (Wo)man”

  10. October 19, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks, Katie, that makes sense.

  11. ellenbrenna
    October 19, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    I would agree that much of western history is about whiteness but from my perspective it has been devoted more recently to constructing whiteness from disparate European ethnicities through a combination of Anglo-Saxon bigotry and economic coercion (construction as opposed to violent destruction of African, Latin American, Asian ethnicities through imperialism and slavery)

    The model for “whiteness”, generally agreed to be a nothern and western European one (fair skin, straight hair etc), is not one that many Europeans actually conform to, so whiteness must be constructed and defined in opposition to the rest of the world. People go from being a very particular thing (Polish, Italian, Irish, Icelandic, German etc) to being this overarching category of white. That category only exists because it is useful to define white people as human and everyone you are tormenting and oppressing as less than human.

    The trouble with white is that is not a satisfying identity, it is too impersonal, it leads to constant striving to achieve some sort of ill-defined authenticity, it leads to allying your self or being tied to people who do not stand for the ideals you stand for out of a feeling of solidarity or a slight similarity in appearance and whiteness is too tied to violence and oppression that many white people would not conciously participate in. (Unthinking oppression is one of the defining qualities of American and European culture right now but most people do not understand how much their comfort is contingent on the suffering of others).

    Whiteness is problematic for everyone but the difference between whites and people of color is the difference between disquiet and disassociation from the category full human being.

  12. mom
    October 19, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    I’m probably too lazy to email you, but if I’m close enough to your profile (check my blog to see), you can interview me — I’m a whitey/feminist/blogger…


  13. Katie
    October 19, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Kai, thank you. :)

    norbizness, I’ll keep that title option in mind.

    mom (ha!), thanks for your interest; I’ll be in touch.

    Thanks again, everyone, for all your support!

  14. Kristen
    October 20, 2007 at 10:53 am

    More importantly, though, for purposes of a humble project, I want to be able to study whiteness without relying on a counterpoint perspective of “the other.”

    How can you do that, when Whiteness does not and cannot exist without “the other?”

  15. Betsy
    October 20, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Katie, thanks for your response. I assumed that would be an issue you’d talked through with your advisor(s), but I appreciate your going into it for us too.

  16. October 20, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I claim no race, and if anyone calls me a race (other than the human race) for whatever reason using the words I write on my blog or in comment sections then it is their boxes, their stereotypes that they should sort out. Which does not mean I do not see race or that I do not have my own way of categorising, however, I am working on that, because I will be damn if I form an opinion based on the race of a blogger, it will be based on their words or nothing! And if they identify themselves as a race other than the human race, I will be forced to try and sort through that revelation and get back to the original intent. Race, racism is a male tool. Something men have created and perpetuated to keep one type of man in power. If a woman supports race she is supporting male power.

  17. occhiblu
    October 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    How can you do that, when Whiteness does not and cannot exist without “the other?”

    Do you really think that’s true? I think there are definitely aspects of “white American culture” (I wish there were a better term that didn’t sound so Nazi-ish) that exist in and of themselves. An emphasis on individualism, a belief that rewards come through merit, a bias toward Enlightenment rationality over emotional or mystical thinking, fairly strong Protestant work-ethic sorts of beliefs, future-oriented worldview, a preference for doing over non-doing/being and an optimistic belief that doing will always help, a belief in mastery over nature rather than living in harmony with — or subjugation to — it.

    Not to say that all white Americans buy into all those values, or that non-white Americans (or non-Americans) may not also share some of them, but I think that on average, those are what I’d consider “white American values.”

    And I think it’s hugely important for whites to know that some of these values are not “universal human truths” but actually a culture-bound way of looking at the world.

  18. October 20, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    I agree that it’s very useful to look at “whiteness” as a phenomenon in and of itself. Otherwise, you’re buying into the whole notion that “whiteness” is the norm and everything else has to differentiate itself from it.

    If you can point out that “whiteness” itself is a construct, it undermines the other constructs that were created out of “whiteness.”

  19. donna darko
    October 20, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I claim no race, and if anyone calls me a race (other than the human race) for whatever reason using the words I write on my blog or in comment sections then it is their boxes, their stereotypes that they should sort out. Race, racism is a male tool.

    Critical whiteness studies looks at whiteness, the history of whiteness as separate from the norm or colorlessness.

  20. donna darko
    October 20, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Whiteness studies (also known as “critical whiteness studies”) is a controversial arena of academic inquiry focused on the cultural, historical and sociological aspects of people identified as white, and the social construction of whiteness as a social status. Major areas of research include the nature of white identity and of white privilege, the historical process by which a white racial identity was created, the relation of culture to white identity, and possible processes of social change as they affect white identity.

  21. zuzu
    October 20, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    OT, but donna — I think I may have figured out why you kept getting thrown into the spam trap. I think it was due to your email’s domain name being similar to one from a troll we banned long ago. Hopefully, we have things fixed.

    Though Akismet is *supposed* to learn.

  22. October 20, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I don’t know why Donna quoted my text because whiteness and whiteness studies cannot be associated with me unless someone else labels me something (particularly without seeing me, unless of course there are stereotypes in actions that categorise me by my written words) that I do not label myself. The construct cannot be deconstructed if people continue to construct in an attempt to deconstruct a construct. Vicious cycle. I am of no country, no culture, no ethnicity, no nationality, no anything other than human, and blogger. If someone outside of me attempts to label me then they must look at their need to label and why they continue to do so.

  23. donna darko
    October 20, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    bust magazine’s domain brought trolls? lol

    kitty, I hereby label you as white because whites label people of color as black, latino, asian all the time.

  24. Ghigau
    October 20, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    ekittyglendower, just to be clear, are you saying that ‘colorblindness’ and the eradication of the very notion of race or tribe is a desirable thing? Are you speaking only of the online/blogging world, or do your comments extend to “real life?”

  25. October 20, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Dear Katie,

    Let me make this very clear before I begin:
    I appreciate that you are taking the time to examine whiteness critically. I really do.

    But I have many grave reservations of your rationale/methodology for your project.

    First of all, I’m pretty familiar with the field of critical whiteness studies. I recently completed a year-long thesis project on whiteness and the Cronulla riots, in which I interviewed people. I am a woman of colour, an on-the-ground anti-racist activist, and a blogger. I’m from Australia, but I’m pretty familiar with the U.S. work in critical whiteness studies, having spent a good portion of the past year reading and thinking critically about it.

    I originally only wanted white participants for my study as well. I took to heart Ruth Frankenberg’s lessons about trying to solicit interviews with white women for White Women, Race Matters, and I imagined I could get around the taboos of race talk by framing my questions in a certain way. In my case, my ethics committee made the final choice for me — they didn’t want me explicitly mentioning whiteness in my participant information statement.

    But when one of my respondents turned out to be a person of colour, I continued with the interview and used it in my project. That’s because of a lot of work I did in reading for my thesis, most of which led back to the conclusion that not only did people of colour invent critical whiteness studies — the widely-cited Souls of White Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, is considered the first canonical work of whiteness studies — but the perspectives of people of colour are integral to its development as a discipline.

    That’s because whiteness only takes on significance in relation to the racial subordination of people of colour. The privileges of whiteness are the things that people of colour don’t have, or can only get access to at great cost. So reading white testimonials against the perspectives, priorities and positions of people of colour is integral to critical whiteness studies as a discipline. And most of the better work in critical whiteness studies does this by actively including the voices of people of colour.

    As such, your comment that “creating race-based safe spaces” where white people can “talk about racism without feeling so worried that folks of color will judge them” is seriously questionable on many grounds.

    Firstly, because critical whiteness studies has demonstrated that white race consciousness is deeply shaped by colourblindness and aversive gestures towards racism that limit white accountability for the oppression of people of colour. While white people can acknowledge racism and talk about it, this gesture can equally be turned into an opportunistic and solipsistic pursuit of virtue, or a generalisation about people of colour (which is also something critical whiteness studies focuses on). Part of the project of critical whiteness studies is to unpack the discursive manoeuvres that do limit white race consciousness, based on what they obscure. I.e. the lives and experiences of people of colour are obscured by white race consciousness and the operation of whiteness. This is a critical aspect of racial domination. This is why the many criticisms of race-matching in qualitative research apply doubly to the study of whiteness.
    Moreover, the project of critical whiteness studies is to understand the effects of this discursive closure. This cannot happen without recourse to the perspectives of people of colour.

    I’m sure you’re aware that the feminist blogosphere is replete with conflict over race. I won’t go into the specific conflicts, but there are a number of issues which women of colour bloggers have with white feminist bloggers. Yours is (one of?) the first formal study (AFAIK) of race in the feminist blogosphere. That means, methodologically, there’s very little material for you to draw on in contextualising a critique of whiteness. The blogosphere conflicts are specific to this arena. Understanding them is necessary to contextualise how whiteness operates in it. Ignoring women of colour in this study means that you’ll get an incomplete picture of the field. As such, I have many doubts about how critical your study will be.

    Your comments about why you’d rather avoid the perspectives of people of colour seem to indicate that you are unfamiliar with the work of women of colour bloggers and the specific criticisms and claims we make. While it is tiresome for people of colour to always be considered the authoritative voices on racism, that is mostly a response to white people not listening to us, and having to repeat ourselves. As such, I don’t see how your methodology will address your professed concern for the feelings of people of colour. Offering white people a “safe space” to talk about racism will only mean that the dynamic of exclusion and ignorance is reinforced.

    Moreover, the idea that:
    Within the poc group, I might have folks who are South Asian, East Asian, Latin@, Black, Native American, etc. That doesn’t make for a very good sample because different groups likely have different relationships to whiteness within the feminist blogosphere.
    presumes that people of colour in the blogosphere do not interact as poc, or recognise these differences for ourselves. In fact, the opposite is true — bloggers of colour have led the way in analysis of how different groups of poc relate to whiteness, and to one another. This is accomplished through the dense and lively multi-racial blog networks we’ve formed. Ignoring the internal structure of that, and its relation to the white blogosphere (for indeed, many of the networks we’ve formed arose from conflict over race with white bloggers), means that you’re missing a vital aspect of the race politics of the feminist blogosphere.

    Finally, I have huge issues with the claims that critical whiteness studies makes to “de-centring the white subject” and putting “an explicit and critical focus on whiteness”. In my experience, critical whiteness studies has limited anti-racist effects, and my experience has been borne out in the work of (white) critical whiteness scholars. In order to assert the claims to virtue of critical whiteness studies, the voices of people of colour are often drowned out. For instance, I have read pieces where white academics told people of colour that it was more important for white people to teach critical whiteness studies than for the critiques that people of colour made of whiteness to be heard. I’ve also had a teacher dismiss my concerns about my own interview project because she experienced “reverse racism” when trying to do research on Aboriginal people.

    All in all, I find that the project of critical whiteness studies is undermined by its own academic practices and its elitist epistemology. Many criticisms of the claims of critical whiteness studies are discussed at length by Sara Ahmed in this article from borderlands e-journal (it’s a peer-reviewed academic journal, so you can reference it in your thesis). I strongly recommend that you read over the article, and others from the same issue.

    In order to avoid many of those criticisms, it’s necessary that you examine how your own whiteness is operating in the context of the blogosphere, and your project. It might be outside the scope of your project, but I can tell you that including those concerns in a smaller, year-long project is not difficult (I included them in the literature review and methodology). Moreover, responsibility to the racial justice context which shaped critical whiteness studies fairly demands some attention to the concerns of people of colour, and a critical whiteness project is incomplete without it.

    If you’d like, I can refer you to a number of readings which will elaborate many of the points I made above, and I’m happy to elaborate on anything you’d like clarified.

    Good luck with your project.

  26. zuzu
    October 20, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    bust magazine’s domain brought trolls? lol

    Yeah, we had someone who used “busta” dot com as the domain; I think Akismet picks up partial terms as well. Which is great when Milorad Buggerov decides to visit the dumb bunnies again, not so much when a regular keeps getting sent to the spam trap.

  27. donna darko
    October 20, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    haha the bust boards are ok. for some reason, i never tried the ms. boards.

  28. October 20, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Well Donna you will be wrong and I daresay taking the liberty to perpetuate the oppressor’s behavior. You can only produce a label for your mind but it has nothing to do with me.

    Ghigau, yes I mean the blogging world. Perhaps it is an honest way to connect without all the layers that come along with daily life and power plays.

  29. donna darko
    October 20, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    kitty, i will always see you as a white person no matter what you think of yourself.

    people can identify with any race or gender they want to but the world sees people the way it wants to.

  30. October 20, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Perhaps it is an honest way to connect without all the layers that come along with daily life and power plays.

    I don’t think so. Perhaps more comfortable, for some, and a personal preference for others, but not honest and certainly not advancing anything. Very much keeping to the status quo, in fact.

    In the absence of all other markers, people mostly just assume that the person typing is white, Western, heterosexual, able bodied, probably of a certain income level, so on. This is especially true for those who, in their daily offline lives, have little or no interaction with those who don’t fit within those parameters or who challenge their comfort level.

  31. October 21, 2007 at 12:01 am

    In the absence of all other markers, people mostly just assume that the person typing is white, Western, heterosexual, able bodied, probably of a certain income level, so on.

    That is an assumption based on that individual. I do not default assume people are white, Western, heterosexual, able bodied, and of a particular income. And if you are then you are aiding the problem, the problem being that white is the default.

  32. October 21, 2007 at 12:06 am

    I do not default assume people are white, Western, heterosexual, able bodied, and of a particular income. And if you are then you are aiding the problem, the problem being that white is the default.

    In that case, you can excuse yourself from the critique. But the point is that many people do hold that assumption, and when many people do a thing it tends to have consequences. All we want to do is take those consequences seriously.

  33. Katie
    October 21, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Hi Fire Fly,

    Thank you very much for your concern and for taking the time to write such a long critical response. I find myself in something of a predicament because I’m spelling out my own thoughts on whiteness in the same forum from which I’m drawing my interview participants, which doesn’t match the progression of my earlier interviews. So part of me feels I’ve already said too much (though a brief explanation of ‘why only white people’ was probably warranted, since everyone seemed to be wondering), while another part of me is delighted that the discussion has elicited important insights like yours, and wants to see it go further.

    So I think this is what I’ll do: tomorrow morning I’ll write a longer response over on your blog. That way we can still have a conversation, and I won’t be broadcasting my ideas directly into my sample pool. ;) Plus, I’d be glad if it directed some reader traffic your way — just finished reading your post on the problems with socialist organizing: really thought-provoking, resonant stuff. Does that sound okay? Let me know if it doesn’t work for you for some reason.

    Thanks again, I’m very grateful for your feedback and the articles you mentioned: the Ahmed piece is terrific (though I don’t think it’s at odds with what I’m trying to do). Is she also the author of the ‘phenomenology of whiteness’ piece in the latest Feminist Theory? Seems great.

    More tomorrow,

  34. October 21, 2007 at 11:11 am

    What do you mean you’d be broadcasting your ideas directly into your sample pool if you continued the discussion here? Do you assume that no white feminist bloggers read my blog?
    Considering that, on this blog, my comments are contextualised as a critical response to your project information, while on my blog, they’re merely some thoughts I put together and re-posted, I think it’s more appropriate to have the conversation here. I’m not the only one who has concerns about your choice to limit your sample; I’m only exceptional because I used my background in critical whiteness studies to go into your premisses more thoroughly than anyone else.

    Furthermore, you’d hardly taint your sample by discussing your ideas about whiteness here. The feminist blogosphere has already discussed this many times. It’s an already politicised space in which many of the theories and analyses you’d be using have already entered and transformed. There’s no authentic, unmediated experience that would be affected by this discussion taking place in the context of a call for participants.

    It’s not the end of the world if your project changes as you go along. Mine changed a number of times, thanks to various circumstances cropping up. But you do need to acknowledge it methodologically and think critically about it. I think your examiners will appreciate honest, critical engagement with the issues more than a constructed sense of consistency in your work. (Hint: using the term “reflexivity” will get you marks.)

    I can’t speak for your intentions, but I think that taking the discussion to my blog would function as a deflection of criticism of whiteness and white feminists. Women of colour have consistently experienced the larger, white-dominated U.S.-based feminist blogs to be inhospitable. And that women of colour have consistently been prevented from entering a discussion on their own terms, or even terms favourable to us. This is a huge sore point for women of colour bloggers.
    Moving the locus of this discussion away from its first point of reference (your call-out) would merely repeat a dynamic of disengagement by white feminists. In this case, it repeats the dynamic whereby the critical discussion of race is “ghetto-ised” (I’m iffy about that term) into the less-prominent blogs by women of colour.

    So I’d rather have the discussion here. If there’s something you’d really rather not reveal about your ideas, you’re welcome to email me (and yeah, I know the feeling of wanting desperately to be original and to feel as if you’re making a contribution, and at the same time slightly worried that your ideas are boring and unoriginal, or will be stolen — sadly, that does happen in the academic world). But I’d rather this discussion was kept public, and that this space was kept open to the concerns of women of colour.

    -Fire Fly

  35. curiousgyrl
    October 21, 2007 at 12:27 pm


    Thanks for saying what we were all thinking, and for saying it so well.

  36. October 21, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I claim no race, and if anyone calls me a race (other than the human race) for whatever reason using the words I write on my blog or in comment sections then it is their boxes, their stereotypes that they should sort out.


    What would you say to me if I “claimed no gender?”

    Do you think that “I’m not a woman, it’s society that makes me a woman” is tenable?

  37. curiousgyrl
    October 21, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Here’s a critique of whiteness studies by noel ignatiev, one of its most famous recent contributors. He categorizes himself as an ‘abolitionist’ on the question of whiteness, and I think this essay gives a good background to why creating safe space for avowed “white” people to talk about race without fear of offending POC with their racism is probably not a good idea.

    Another reason not to create such places is that they already exist; eg racially exclusive social clubs and neighborhood pubs where the barkeep just ignores POC until they leave, or worse. The social club is an interesting example for demonstrating the problems with creating all-“white” spaces for “white” people to talk about race. These clubs are safe for white racism, not because they are all white; they aren’t –they generally have POC staff. They are “safe” for white people to let their hair down because race is a power relationship between “white” people and everybody else. The ability so say “I’m white” and exclude POC is always about power, and different in degree, but not in kind, from the obvious racism of white clubs where POC are not only excluded but exploited.

    Its my opinion that the only anti-racist approach to the study of whiteness is one which operates from the premises of abolitionism. Changing this project to one which uses an abolitionist approach would start with methodological suggestions firefly has already crafted.

    All that is to say that I wish you luck in your studies in that i also agree that whiteness and racism deserve more critical analysis and assault. However, I share Firefly’s reservations and hope you will consider seriously engaging with her suggestions. I know its hard to take criticism from your research subjects (I’m an anthropologist and spent the summer telling people I’m not a spy! I’m not a spy! I swear!), but listening carefully can be a big asset to your work. One great thing about the project you’ve chosen is that you’re informants are also a lot more likely than the general population to be familiar with the ideas you’re working with; many of us are students, profs and plain old smarties. We can help!

  38. curiousgyrl
    October 21, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    I mean *here’s* the essay:


  39. Katie
    October 21, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Firefly,

    Okay, your call. I don’t think that the conversation would have been “ghettoized” by moving it to your blog — using what I’ve learned from reading bloggers of color, I was hoping to shift the center of focus away from the super-big-time blog and onto a smaller (infrequent posts, probably less traffic) but quality site, that’s actually more “your turf.” I’ve heard the frustration expressed by many woc bloggers that they’re expected to join white feminist bloggers on their sites, on their own terms, rather than attempting to spread readership to woc-led blogs.

    That said, I appreciate where you’re coming from. My concern about my sample, which I didn’t explain very well, comes from the fact that while there’s no ‘pure, authentic’ pool, like you said, there are some people I’ve blabbed to before interviewing them, and some people I haven’t. This will likely make a difference in what people say to me, because it’ll influence what they expect I want to hear. So far, this Feministe experiment of posting a request for readers is the first time I’ve opened my mouth so much about whiteness before an interview, so, as you can imagine, I’m nervous. So I think you’re right — this fetishism of objectivity and empiricism in the social sciences is pretty bogus, and to me it’s more important to have the thesis be a meaningful process of engagement than a “precise” depiction of this slice of the blogosphere. Still, I’m aiming for imperfectly similar conditions in all my interviews as much as possible.

    Okay, on to the real ish.

    Part of the project of critical whiteness studies is to unpack the discursive manoeuvres that do limit white race consciousness, based on what they obscure . . . Moreover, the project of critical whiteness studies is to understand the effects of this discursive closure. This cannot happen without recourse to the perspectives of people of colour.

    I think this assessment is right on a large scale, but impractical on a small scale, based on the (evolving) stated aims of my particular thesis. First of all, the way I see it, just because the voices of people of color are essential in painting a full picture of the operations of whiteness, doesn’t mean that white people can’t do any work among themselves. Again, while I would love to read the academic work that does meaningfully incorporate both poc and white voices, I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that I’m trying to do something different. I think it’s possible for white people to recognize destructive or oppressive patterns in their own behavior, too. This may not be a “total” view of the U.S. feminist blogs I’m looking at, but then, what is a “total” view?

    Secondly, just because I’m not conducting formal interviews with folks of color doesn’t mean their perspectives are going to be completely absent from my thesis. Since part of my research and data collection is reading the (white) bloggers’ work itself, seeing what happens in threads, and retelling a rough history based on what I see, folks of color are going to be present in those observations. It seems like you feel I have an added responsibility (ethical, academic) to avoid “silencing” poc by actively including interviews with them, especially because not much work has been done on this topic. It was certainly a tough choice I had to make. But my project doesn’t need (or aspire) to accomplish everything. I really hope that one of its functions can be to gesture toward a need for more scholarship in this area — particularly, comprehensive work on how, as you say, “bloggers of colour have led the way in analysis of how different groups of poc relate to whiteness, and to one another.” (Happily, these kinds of studies are slowly beginning to appear.) Still, I approach my thesis with the view that, given my limited time, and given that in matters of racism, white folks have a lot of shit to work on in themselves, I’m interested in taking a look at how white feminist bloggers and white readers are conceptualizing whiteness in their online activities.

    I don’t mistake my thesis for anti-racist activism. At most, I hope it can be a tool for white people (and me) to think about how to do feminist blogging better. I hope this understanding addresses your concern, articulated through Ahmed’s stellar piece, that critical whiteness studies often falsely presents itself as performative, functioning as a hyper-articulate substitute for real action. (It reminded me of Catherine Jones’s wonderful article on a similar subject, called “The Work Is Not The Workshop.”) There are a lot of traps that I see, and continue to learn about, inherent in academic pursuits. Maybe amplified when it comes to a place like Harvard — I don’t have a whole lot of bases for comparison. So I don’t conceive of this thesis as an anti-racist accomplishment in itself, so much as a useful starting point to get folks thinking, talking, and — yes — listening to folks of color about what can be done to improve blogging practices, making them more effectively anti-racist. And although Ahmed advocates for whites to “turn away from themselves and toward others,” this doesn’t mean we need to give up on our critical response to whiteness entirely.

    In some ways, quitting the critical whiteness thing is tempting. I can relate to your negative experiences with whiteness studies: a lot of what I’ve read on the subject I really disagree with (“race traitors?” oy vey), although I’m fortunate to have a great academic advisor, a radical South Asian woman who’s studied whiteness in South African and U.S. contexts. I’ve also encountered a lot of encouraging stuff — organizations like European Dissent, incredible white anti-racist organizers like Sharon Martinas, and some pretty exciting scholarship, too. I absolutely agree that there’s a danger of reinscribing the superiority of whiteness in critical whiteness studies by deferring to white voices all the time. But I’m not talking about “all the time” here — just my senior thesis.

    Finally, I think it’s interesting — and understandable — that you advise me to “examine how your own whiteness is operating in the context of the blogosphere, and your project.” It probably wouldn’t change much for you if I told you I’m not white. (Though that disidentification/disavowal isn’t 100% true, either: I’m biracial [black dad, white mom], racially ambiguous on sight to most U.S. people, was raised with a lot of complicated white privilege, and am somewhat skeptical of the neat-n-tidy white/poc binary itself.) So yes, to me reflexivity is really one of the most important features of the thesis, and it has already been a great learning experience to see how people respond to me, race-wise. And my own experience as a woc blogger at Harvard was what got me interested in this topic in the first place.

    It sounds cheesy, but I really do thank you for calling me out like this, and pushing me to question the methodological protocol my professors expect, versus what I actually want to do with my time and energy. And I’ll certainly be using the Ahmed piece for my writing! I know it might seem unhelpful for me to minimize the import of my work when you point out its flaws and dangers, but I think the scope of this project really is an important determining factor. Maybe for my dissertation I’ll talk only to folks of color — who knows. If you’d like to talk more about your undergrad thesis, and how you avoided tokenizing or lumping together interviews with folks of color, I’d be happy and grateful to hear.

    So I would love to keep talking about this, even aside from my thesis. (Harvard survivalist mantra: “I am more than my academic pursuits.”) Publicly, privately, whatever. Thanks for your patience.


  40. Katie
    October 21, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Hey curiousgyrl,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Lesson learned here: read all the updated comments before posting my own. I wrote a snarky little aside about Ignatiev’s race traitor concept, without explaining why I actually disagree with it. But thanks for bringing it up. Basically, my impression of Ignatiev’s approach is that it pretends that race (or whiteness) is something we can get away from, when actually it’s something in which we’re immersed. His is a variant of the “colorblindness” approach, only it’s just whiteness we’re supposed to abolish, not all races, as some others believe we should. To me, whiteness isn’t something we can escape. As Sara Ahmed puts it in the piece Fire Fly linked to, you can’t “transcend” something you’re against, because being against it means you’re fundamentally engaged with it. So personally, I’m not looking to abolish whiteness, any more than I’m looking to abolish masculinity or heterosexuality. That doesn’t mean they don’t have serious problems, or shouldn’t be fundamentally challenged, but we can’t deal with the problems by trying to get rid of the whole concept — at least not at present. To put it as a question, maybe, how do you envision the process and outcome of abolishing whiteness?

    You’re so right that I’m lucky to have a lot of engaged, committed folks as my interview participants (whether formally educated/overeducated or not). Even folks who aren’t familiar with the jargon can see through to the concepts in especially helpful ways. I’m fortunate to be learning this much, from this many people, through a school assignment. :) And yeah, the whole researcher-subject thing . . . weird.

    As for “safe spaces” for white folks, to me there’s a big difference between an all-white (or white-dominated) space where people “let their hair down” with each other and talk about race, and one where the explicit purpose is exploring their own white privilege and racism. Again, a safe space for white people to work through ish isn’t the same thing as anti-racist activist work, and there’s a danger of conflating the two, but it can be a really helpful supplement, in my experience.

  41. Katie
    October 21, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    ps, Fire Fly, I’m gonna go ahead and cross-post my reply to your blog, hope that’s cool.

  42. Katie
    October 21, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Whoops, forgot the link. Your blog being this one. :)

  43. October 21, 2007 at 11:23 pm


    I’m not really interested in getting heaps of traffic from this site. I’m not really blogging for exposure at the moment, because I find the blogosphere quite U.S.-centric, while I’m in Australia and concentrate on Australian issues. If I spent more time on blogging, I think I’d be pitching my focus more to Aussie readers/bloggers. But at the moment I’m too busy to even post announcements and news!
    I’ve already seen a big spike in hits through this discussion, but since it’s not producing much engagement with what I’ve been saying, it’s not all that interesting to me. I’m more concerned with actually discussing these issues within the feminist blogosphere itself.

    I’m aiming for imperfectly similar conditions in all my interviews as much as possible.

    Since you’ve only done a couple so far, which leaves you ample time for analysis and write-up, might I ask why that is? I know it makes it easier to analyse if you do have similar conditions for each interview, but again, I think you might get better quality analysis if you follow through with the discussion here. I mean, part of the blogosphere is its dynamic nature, forged in politics, including the politics of whiteness studies — couldn’t it be useful to examine that dynamic?

    I know how nerve-wracking that can be, though. Let me just assure you that it’s very much possible to produce a good quality project when the research design changes over time. Mine changed right up to a couple of months before I finished. Assuming you started the academic year last month (?), you have loads of time to go, and you wouldn’t have been assigned this project if you weren’t capable of doing it.
    And given that it’s still the weekend over in yesterdayland the USA, talking to your supervisor about it will probably help too.

    while I would love to read the academic work that does meaningfully incorporate both poc and white voices, I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that I’m trying to do something different.

    Well, White Women, Race Matters comes out of Ruth Frankenberg’s own engagement with race debates within feminism. She consistently refers to poc experience (though she does miss some issues) in order to draw out problems with whiteness, and later on she engaged even more with poc experience through slave narratives — her article in the anthology The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness discusses the long history of poc analysing and critiquing whiteness for our own survival. I’d also recommend Mab Segrest’s article from the same volume. Robyn Wiegman examines whiteness against poc experience in American Anatomies and uses the work of poc frequently to shape her analysis. And George Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment in Whiteness consistently contrasts whiteness with poc experiences, positions and priorities. They all say that critical whiteness studies only makes sense through a critical engagement with the work and experiences of people of colour.

    In Australia, the matter is slightly different because the critical whiteness studies field has as almost as many people of colour working in it as white people. The leading scholars in the field are Aboriginal women. While that hasn’t prevented white academics from dodgy behaviour, it does mean that whiteness consistently gets analysed as something constructed out of racial domination. And that’s something I appreciate.

    I didn’t say that it was necessarily problematic that you’re ‘doing something different’, I said it was contextually problematic for the blogosphere.

    just because the voices of people of color are essential in painting a full picture of the operations of whiteness, doesn’t mean that white people can’t do any work among themselves

    I never said that white people can’t do work amongst themselves. I said that in the feminist blogosphere, white feminists “working amongst themselves” on racism produces highly problematic outcomes for women of colour. I don’t see how you’re going to incorporate that reality into your work if you don’t include the voices of woc in your project. The politics of the blogosphere is the politics of representation, and often, a lot doesn’t get said in threads on white blogs. In fact, the conversational dynamics of large white feminist blogs militate against woc voices being heard and representing ourselves on our own terms. For that reason, I don’t think that solely reading white feminist blogs will give you all the data about whiteness you need to critically analyse its operation in the blogosphere.

    Furthermore, most blog discussions actually occur over several blogs, not just in comments. Linking and responses by woc in our own blogs is quite common. And in my experience, those discussions are far more critical than the ones on white feminist blogs. Moreover, woc often feel like our words are misrepresented, and the discourse is turned against us. Again, I think going into specific instances wouldn’t be productive, but many woc are deeply unsatisfied with the discourse in the feminist blogosphere, and the spaces where the reasons for that dissatisfaction are discussed are outside white feminist blogs.

    It seems like you feel I have an added responsibility (ethical, academic) to avoid “silencing” poc by actively including interviews with them, especially because not much work has been done on this topic.

    Yes I do. Your project is, by your own admission, one of a very few that analyses whiteness in the blogosphere (I’ll admit, I don’t know much about internet research). Like any community, researchers into this one have ethical responsibilities. Your project will be representing us in the academic world. If we have problems with that representation, or the process of that representation being constructed, I think we’re entitled to voice them. It’s important that social research take into account the effects of its own processes.

    And of course, the issue of who gets to represent whiteness is paramount.

    I think including interviews with woc bloggers would mitigate those problems, but it’s not necessarily the only way to incorporate an analysis of the race politics within the blogosphere (although I think it would be the best way).

    my project doesn’t need (or aspire) to accomplish everything

    I’m not suggesting it should. I think your intentions for your project are admirable, but that your methodology will likely not live up to your aspirations. I actually think that your methodology might well reinforce racism in the feminist blogosphere.

    It seems to me like you see a clear separation between your research project and the blogosphere, when I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Research affects race politics in whichever field it’s operating. And the particular race politics of this field a heavily about speech and silence. In that context, I think your project will have an effect on this community, because it’s also about selecting speech.
    And selectively giving priority to the speech of white feminists will not only provide an incomplete and less-than-critical picture of whiteness, it will reinforce the silencing of women of colour.

    While many of my concerns are about critical whiteness studies as a field in general, I have many specific, overlapping concerns about the feminist blogosphere as well. They overlap because I’m concerned with how people of colour are positioned within the institutional practices of critical whiteness research and academic work, both inside and outside the academy. I think some ethical norms of social research are very important here, while others would be quite problematic. So these discussions need to occur for all our sakes.

    Finally, I assumed you were white because you described all-white spaces in the context of your rationale for your research design, so I assumed that you meant the interview context would be one such all-white space in which white people could examine racism. I agree that even people of colour need to understand how whiteness implicates us, and not always as completely Other. Especially when one is basically interpellated as a darker shade of white within the structures of class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and able-bodiedness in our specific contexts, and one can access aspects of white privilege (or other forms of privilege). This kind of self-examination is part of what woc bloggers do all the time.

    Raciality has a different effect in person than on the telephone. This is one of the reasons why I did my interviews in person. I think that colourblind ideology can really benefit poc who have a lot of class privilege/cultural capital and education, who can ‘pass’ over the phone. That response issue is something I thought about a lot, myself, for my project. And the racial ambiguity that gets filled in over the phone is what led to my interview with a person of colour in the first place. So I do see that ambiguity about racial privilege.

    So, you’re right. My response isn’t much changed by hearing that you’re biracial. That’s because it’s more about your methodology than the politics of white people representing race issues.

    As for minimising the problems with your work… well, these criticisms need to be aired somewhere. If it’s only undergraduate theses (which often do get published, or used as the basis for articles and conference papers) that I can have any influence on, then so be it. And given that you’re planning to do a dissertation as well, I think it’s been worthwhile to raise these issues.

    I’m pretty busy this week, but I’ll try to make time for discussion.

    -Fire Fly

  44. October 21, 2007 at 11:33 pm


    I disagree that “the only anti-racist approach to the study of whiteness is one which operates from the premises of abolitionism”.

    Robyn Wiegman engages with the question of “abolitionism” in ‘Whiteness Studies and the Paradox of Particularity’, confirming that its stance is contradictory.

    But ultimately, it seems to me that the project of “abolitionism” is yet again a white project undertaken by white people without consulting people of colour. It seems that many of the strategies aimed at “abolishing” whiteness — like challenging cops on whether or not a white arrestee is white — would merely reinforce its power by playing into colourblind ideology. Making whiteness ambiguous by sliding it into racial Otherness in the minds of white people doesn’t seem to me to be an effective means of challenging white supremacy. Rather, it seems to play with the disavowal of white privilege. How would it really challenge racial profiling or police brutality?
    And in Wiegman’s analysis, the “race traitor” school exhibits a yearning to possess the racial identity of poc… hardly healthy.

    Moreover, it creates yet another label for white people to claim as a badge of virtue, to deflect criticism and to harm people of colour. (And yes, I do have specific instances in mind.)

    -Fire Fly

  45. curiousgyrl
    October 22, 2007 at 12:10 am


    thanks for the response. I agree that the “race traitor” solution to whiteness has flaws (namely its strong tendency toward individualism, but there are others); I was more trying to push the abolitionists conception of whiteness, which is derived from DuBois and others’ earlier work. In that conception, whiteness is, as you say, something one does rather than something one is. That thing is to exercise and defend power over POC. Ignatiev, Roediger and that crew argue that this–what you’re calling privilege–is the content of whiteness. I also think its a misreading of this argument to read it as calling for only the abolition of whiteness and not other racial categories; in this tradition, race is a mutually constitutive social relationship. Abolishing whiteness would abolish subjugated racial identities as they currently exist. The difference between whiteness and POC identities for this argument is that ignatiev et all don’t see the content of Blackness and other identities as devoid of everything except oppression; they are at the same time expression of oppression and collective self-determination forged through resistance to oppression.

    I have several questions: What is the content of whiteness as you see it, which is something more than an expression of power/privilege? how do you “challenge” something you admit at the outset is here to stay? If whiteness has an endless future (despite its fairly historically recent invention), what is the purpose of “exploring” privilege? Why can’t we change a bad habit?

    I also want to address your comments about the politics of academic work; this is, of course, a question that all academics face, but saying “my work isn’t activism” doesn’t, I think, get any of us off the hook for the political implications of our starting assumptions or our conclusions. Academia, like politics, and particularly in the social sciences, is about making the case for a set of interrelated ideas. I find it troubling that a key premise here is the idea that whiteness is the inevitable end of history for race and racism.

    Thanks for your response, and if I continue with this thread, I will attempt in the future to direct my comments more to your particular project; I couldn’t help but be interested in the underlying framework.

  46. October 22, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    I think you could really use this thread as part of your study :)

    I’d be happy to help you. You can come over to my site Rachel’s Tavern and get my email from there.

  47. October 23, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    I had to announce specifically that I was white on my blog for people to believe it. They thought first that I was a Latino man, and then, when I came out as female, that I was a Black woman. All of this was because of my interests and opinions, but also my writing style, not effusive or emotive enough for a [white] woman.

  48. michelle
    October 26, 2007 at 6:23 am

    Hi Katie,

    I sent you an email about my agreement with Fire Fly’s concerns.

    I hope to hear back from you on it.


  49. Katie
    October 26, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Hi all, sorry I’ve been out of this for a while (well, a while in blog time — a few hectic days relative to midterm season). Fire Fly and curiousgyrl, I’ll be setting some time aside tomorrow to continue our conversations; thanks for your patience. And Michelle, yes, thanks for your email yesterday evening — I’ll be catching up on all things digital tomorrow.

    Yours in a complicated relationship to the pace of online interaction,


  50. October 28, 2007 at 8:02 am

    It’s okay. I get that sometimes you gotta focus on things other than blogs. :-)

Comments are closed.