Cultural Constructions: An Interlude

Time for a bit of reflection, I think. In Part 1, we started to think about how race and racial difference are constructed in different contexts. In Part 2, we talked about how contextual figuration of whiteness. In Part 3, we spoke about assimilation and shifts towards whiteness. It’s gone surprisingly well.

Surprisingly? Well, yes. There have been some horrible moments in the moderation queue, but the series has gone much better than most of the responses to work I do about race at Feministe have gone. I have to spend a lot of time explaining that reverse racism is not actually a thing, that talking from an anti-racist perspective doesn’t mean I hate white people. This, as the non-white/POC writers who have gone before me at Feministe could tell you, is not a space in which writing about race is particularly welcomed by readers.

But there’s something that bothered me even more than the loudmouthed attempts to shut down anything and everything I wrote about race using those played out tropes. I’ve been writing here since October 2009 and it’s now December 2010. In that time, I’ve been called white more times than I can stand to recall, because commenters have expected to find white writers. (I guess white people are supposed to be the ones doing all the writing, telling all the stories, speaking all the English, doing all the work.) When I point out that I’m not white, the response sometimes is to assume that I’m African American. And that set of assumptions about who writes, who exists and who one (a white “one” from the United States) might expect to find on the Internet was really telling.

The other thing was that any time I tried to talk about race, here or in the feminist blogosphere in general, I had to refigure everything I wanted to say according to US logics of what race is. It can be really painful to engage with writing about racism such that only acknowledges only two or three racial identities, and assumes that race is constructed in US ways the world over. I shouldn’t have to separate out the things that form my racialisation and my understanding of race in order to have a conversation on a dominant culture’s terms.

I was sick of it. I decided to write about race again and again, until I didn’t have to put up with being misracialised and such on my own blog. I wanted to hit something really important home. The logics that lead you to expect to encounter (or not) particular kinds of people in particular ways do not hold most of the time.

I’m really glad to have helped, along with those who have commented and otherwise responded, in shifting racial consciousness. Thank you to everyone who has commented, tweeted, posted, and talked about this series so far.

I’ve directed us to talk about whiteness a lot, because I think it’s important to turn the lens on that which is constructed as invisible or neutral. But there’s so much more to talk about regarding how people are racialised across contexts and so forth. I was pleased to get a load of responses from mixed race people, which is something I’d been hoping for even though I haven’t really spoken to mixed experience in my posts.

But I want to take a little break now and give us all some time to reflect. Don’t worry, I’ve got another, parallel series planned out, too. In the comments, I’d so like if you’d share what you’ve gotten out of the conversations we’ve had so far in Cultural Constructions, and any ideas you might have for future conversations in the series.

12 comments for “Cultural Constructions: An Interlude

  1. December 15, 2010 at 12:10 am

    that talking from an anti-racist perspective doesn’t mean I hate white people

    What is this nonsense!?! That is the foundation of our League of We Hate White People United Club! You must turn in your card now. And your clever “Often Mistaken and Mis-Identified as White Woman” disguise, NAO! *tears up cape*

  2. December 15, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Oh, OYD, I have betrayed the very foundation of white people hatred on which we base our lives! I have debased our very natures. TRAGEDY.

  3. Nina
    December 15, 2010 at 12:37 am

    I want to thank you for writing Cultural Constructions (and this interlude!). These are issues that I grapple with constantly, and the timing of this series could not have been more fortunate. I found myself frustrated with my otherness a couple of nights ago – or rather, a “friend’s” inability to recognize my otherness. I had said “people of color” in passing to him while talking about the model minority myth, and he interjected and said, “What? You’re not black!” Missing the point, much?

    I own my Asian American identity but it’s so easy to be completely consumed by all of the politics related to it and to isolate myself, for better or for worse, from those who don’t recognize it (even those who consider themselves to be friends of mine). That said, it’s good to have a reminder every now and then that I’m not alone in having to confront this.

  4. Shives
    December 15, 2010 at 8:55 am

    In that time, I’ve been called white more times than I can stand to recall, because commenters have expected to find white writers.

    This statement stood out to me more than anything else in your series. I realized I do this often with anyone I come in contact with online, I mostly assume they look like me. But not only in regards to race, but age, ablebodyness, the whole bit. That was a nice, ‘omgurnasshole’ moment I had this morning reading this. It’s aggravating, because I know in my head that not everyone is like me. So I’m going to apologize for me being an asshole. You, and everyone else who writes on blogs I lurk on deserve to be treated with more respect than I’ve given.

  5. December 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I think an interesting series would be comparing different cultural perspectives of whiteness, based on different countries’ interpretation of it.

  6. Megan
    December 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I’ve really appreciated this series. I think for me it’s important to differentiate between “power structure” and “culture,” because while white does function as the dominant culture, it’s pretty empty. I’m white, of Irish and Norwegian ancestry, but in assimilating my ancestors *decided?* *were forced to?* give up their cultural identity in exchange for the priviledge that comes with being “white” in the United States. I appreciate the benefits of priviledge that come with whiteness, but at the same time feel hollow and detached — I have this nominal connection to certain cultures, but none of the actual personal meaning and value. And whiteness is a sucky substitute.
    I wish there were a way to move in the other direction; give up whiteness and reclaim culture. But it seems like once the decision is made, even if you didn’t make it, you’re white, no going back.

  7. Perpetua
    December 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Comrade Kevin: I think an interesting series would be comparing different cultural perspectives of whiteness, based on different countries’ interpretation of it.  

    Yes, I think so too, and one additional element to such a discussion could be the historical context of whiteness, since whiteness is not only a construct, but an historically-determined one. Some white folks might be surprised to learn that their ancestors were not always considered “white” by TPTB in certain countries. In the US, most famously, Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants were often treated as “non-white” by the northern European-descended power structure. Thus “whiteness” is not only more than a skin color, it does not just refer to “Europeanness” broadly construed, but a very specific historically and culturally conditioned concept of “civilization” (as Northern European and Protestant). Whiteness in the context of class is also very interesting to think about.

  8. GallingGalla
    December 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Chally, although I’ve not commented on this series, I’ve very much appreciated your posts and (trolls not withstanding), the conversation that has taken place.

    I agree that whiteness, and specifically *my* whiteness, needs to be deconstructed, and I’ve thought about that (specifically how my father barely managed to be admitted to Drexel University because he was (is) Jewish and visibly so, and how, just 50 years later, I’m *white* and have truly been disconnected from my ancestor’s culture: Ashkenazi Jewish, Ukrainian / Russian.) I’m kind of in the same spot that Megan is.

    And yeah, I do default to assuming a writer is white (and USian) unless I’m told otherwise (though I did know that you are Australian and of color and not black). That is a racist mindset, I know. I need to do better.

  9. Silver
    December 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    I also appreciate your writing, although I freely admit I have trouble following and understanding some of the nuance. I like reading things from an Australian perspective. I’m also very interested in trying to understand my own self. Why have I never felt ‘othered’ in Australia based on my background when many others with similar background are? It’s led to some interesting conversations with my family and friends.

  10. Emei
    December 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this series, especially because of what you said here: “The other thing was that any time I tried to talk about race, here or in the feminist blogosphere in general, I had to refigure everything I wanted to say according to US logics of what race is.”.

    I had been reading feminist theory and English blogs and the like for some four years before it connected in my mind that I am white and how much that matters on a global scale – even if the way race plays out in my everyday life bears very little resemblance to the USian context of the conversations. No one I was reading talked about race in a way I could understand my context through, until quite recently. And the Swedish debates I was reading tended to favour culture and never mention race, just setting up a narrow National Identity Us vs. a Culturally Different Immigrant Them.

    Actually studying whiteness as a social & historically specific construct is something that I hope more white people would do. It’s way too easy for us to dismiss race as something we don’t really have, an issue for others – especially when the discussions about it assume a specific context you don’t share. So thank you for this series of posts.

  11. Miss S
    December 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Just want to say that I appreciate this series. Also, I will admit to being one of the ones who assumed that you were African American after finding out that you weren’t white.

  12. Maria X
    December 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Silver: Why have I never felt ‘othered’ in Australia based on my background when many others with similar background are?

    I’m also Australian, and from a Non-English Speaking Background. I think our experiences of othering vary depending on things like age and/or when we arrived in Australia (my 8 years older cousin experienced far more prejudice/discrimination growing up than people my younger than me cousins age did – less prejudice/othering as one ethnic group became more established, next wave of migrants othered in turn). Also eg where you live, what networks you move in, how traditional you are re your culture of origin, if you speak English as a second language, if your parents/other close relatives speak English well (and have for as long as you can remember). I’m sure others can add to this…

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