I want to have a conversation about different ways in which whiteness is figured in different contexts. Whiteness is constructed as the default identity, the proper one, an invisible one, for contexts in which it dominates. Let’s start with my context.
I live in a country in which the population is ninety per cent white. You’d think that Australian whiteness would be a varied and complex thing, therefore, but it’s actually constructed in a pretty monolithic way. I was talking to Queen Emily of Questioning Transphobia about this, and she said that in the United States whiteness is produced from assimilation and sometimes erasure of a range of ethnic backgrounds and associated cultures in exchange for the hierarchical placement of whiteness. On the other hand, in Australia, whiteness is largely constructed from Anglo-Saxon identity and culture, because that is the dominant background here.
So, what whiteness means here is quite different to what it means in the United States and, I imagine, a lot of other contexts. I mentioned Greek and Italian Australians in my last post, and how white status for those groups is very new. It’s also partial: people of those backgrounds are considered as having a particular substrand of whiteness, a whiteness that isn’t quite. Any form of whiteness that isn’t Anglo Australian isn’t quite as properly white. This throws my Greek and Italian acquaintances and I into some odd moments of sympathy and solidarity in a way that, I gather, wouldn’t be possible in a context in which people of those backgrounds are considered to be unconditionally white.
You’re only considered properly Australian if you’re white. I’ve spoken before about the idea of the “Aussie girl” and how she is always figured as a white one. There are similar dynamics going on in France, in the UK, in the US, I don’t doubt a lot of other countries with a majority white population. So, here, whiteness is being used to construct national identities – and national identity is being used to shore up whiteness’ power. There is only one way of being properly Australian, and both non-white immigrants (and their descendants, like me) and Indigenous populations are expected to emulate whiteness and the associated culture. In this country with a strong sense of national identity, there’s a strong, partially obscured sense that whiteness is what advocates of a unified national identity are really going for.
Next time, we’re going to talk about shifts from non-whiteness to whiteness.
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