Commentary | All racism happens because of whiteness

It really, really does

Once again, an article about racism wasn’t well received by the McGill community. What a surprise…

Particularly, I’m talking about some of the comments made in regard to the piece, “You are racist” (Guillermo Martínez de Velasco, October 18, Commentary, page 7), in reference to the author’s definition of racism: “…assuming anything about anyone based on a perceived deviation from a racial norm known as white.”

Some of the comments took issue with situating racism within whiteness. Replies questioned examples of intra-racism: racist acts amongst and within racially, ethnically, or nationally homogenous or similar spaces, and historical racism against fellow white bodies (re: persons of Irish, Italian, and Jewish decent). They also questioned the author’s lack of statistical evidence (of racism).

I want to focus on these three arguments to directly show that this article’s definition of racism was just too perfectly stellar for words.

Before I begin, however, I want to address the reoccurring “racism is a social construct” notation made by many. Ain’t it great? Some few individuals have taken one or two sociology courses and have determined that race is a social construct. Let me give you a round of applause….

Race, however, is more than just a social construct; it is also an identity. It is one that people not only subscribe to but see as a way of self-identifying. Emphasizing that race is a social construct, in the ways that many of the commenters did, is exemplary of the exact type of racism the author describes. Identifying and emphasizing the social construction of race, as a white person, is an example of your white privilege. You see race as ‘firstly’ a social construct because you are white and don’t have to think about race and the implications of race in your everyday life in the same way, and to the same immediacy, as racialized people. Race, whether a construct or not, is manifested in one’s cultural practice, embodied experience, identity, and life. Wanting the author to stress the socially constructed nature of race invalidates the intricacies and impacts of race in the lives of us, racialized (and racially politicized) bodies, and validates your lack thereof.

Now let’s get back to it.

First, intra-racial racism: “What about racialized bodies that enact racism against one another? They aren’t white, so how is that racism (under that definition)”* is usually how the rebuttal followed.

Whiteness, as the author clearly explains, is the norm. It is how society functions, exists, sees, and defines itself. And by society, I am indeed making reference to transnational societies that have, in any way, come in contact with whiteness and white societies, be it through colonialism, imperialism, genocide, globalization, developmental aid, technology, et cetera.

To better understand this, let’s use an example of intra-racial racism: say, shadeism. The modern forms of shadeism – intra-racial/ethnic discrimination based on a person’s shade tone, most often dis-privileging darker skinned people – are found in cultures, nations and racial groups globally. These include black, South Asian, East Asian, Latin American (and even, believe it or not, white) communities. And although this is intra-racial and occurs within homogeneously racial and ethnic groupings, it is still in line with the definition presented by Martínez de Velasco. It is because whiteness is the norm that shadeism (or intra-racial racism) exists and occurs. Light and lighter skinned people within the North American context are most explicitly valorized, given aesthetic privilege, and possess great amounts of social capital in their ability to navigate spaces much easier than those of darker complexion because they are aesthetically closer to white. Simply, whiteness, even in examples of intra-racial racism, is still the traceable root of the racism because, as the norm, it superiorizes those who are closer to ‘white(ness)’ and inferiorizes those who aren’t. Please remember this as we move to the second point.

Second, anti-white racism: “Racism happens to white people. What about that?”*

Indeed, what we know to be racism has happened to particular white bodies throughout history: for example, to people of Irish, Italian, and Jewish descent. But let me begin by saying, white people, in case you forgot, are racialized too. You have and will always be racialized. But it is whiteness’ ability to exempt itself from racialization that makes it so crafty in its ability to normalize and inflict racism upon the Other.

Anti-white racism still happens because of whiteness. And while anti-white racism has been predicated on so many factors, understanding that the act of racialization and racializing white peoples – such as Jewish people – was a central element of anti-white racism is key to understanding my point: white groups were racialized and declared Other.

Let’s take Italian-Canadians/Americans for starters. The historical criminalization and problematic conflation of this group to criminal, ‘mafia’-related activity is one example of this racialization. These stereotypes have had a longstanding history within visibly racialized groups, especially within the North American context. Criminalization acts as a tool for hyper-visiblizing specific marginalized bodies/groups. Black, Latino, Filipino, and brown bodies are examples of how groups/bodies have been coded as criminals for centuries and subsequently targetted (e.g. racially profiled, demonized, et cetera). To put it simply, the criminalization of peoples is an example of how racialization and racism happen.

Irish racialization occurred in a different form: moral-elitist demonization, if I can coin such a term. Several writers on anti-Irish racism detail how the British demonized the Irish, characterizing them as dirty, drunk, lazy, and violent while defining themselves as civilized, morally pure, and industrious. Now, doesn’t this remind you of something? Perhaps colonialism and the same racist colonialist tactic used by the British to racially differentiate and hierarchize themselves as superior to the people of Africa, the West Indies, Latin Americas, et cetera? I think so.

Jews were also racialized and, as such, experienced racism. While some Jewish people experience enormous amounts of white privilege as many of them are white (let’s not get that twisted), anti-Semitic racism existed on account of their racialization. Jews, during the Holocaust, were allegedly said to be racially distinguishable from ‘pure’ whites. Racist distinctions based on physiognomic features that characterized them as different from the desired Aryan race parallels colonialism(s) transnationally and is an example of racialization at its most basic level. Recall the colonial practices of racist, white, anthropological pseudo-science that sought to highlight the physical differences between the black African and white European populaces in hopes of strengthening their claims to racial superiority. Same tactics as those used against the Jews, no?

In all three examples, whiteness takes different forms, but always remains the central point (or norm) from which racism occurs. Whites, who are not criminals, dirty, lazy, or drunk and whose physiognomic features are ever-so flawless, become the picture of (racist) perfection. The Irish, Italians, and Jews, on the other hand, are constructed as the antithesis and, poof – there you have it, my friends, racism.

Third, statistical evidence: “Can you please provide statistical evidence for your experiences of racism?”*

How better to answer than with a whole lot of ‘fuck no’s’ and a side of, ‘sit yo ass down!’

This urge white folks have to demand statistical proof of racialized people’s experiences of racism is laughable at best. Racism is multifunctional and multidimensional. It is systemic, institutionalized, embodied, subtle, experiential, overt, everyday, infrequent, and so much more. So to ask me for proof of racism is, number one, racist, and two, ain’t never gonna happen, like ever. So please, I beg of you, stop asking for such absurdity.

*All quoted comments are paraphrases of actual comments directed to the article, “You are racist.”

Christiana Collison is a U3 Women’s Studies student. She enjoys radical-as-fuck woman of colour feminism(s), using black colloquial speech (sometimes in her seminar classes), and rolling her eyes at white liberal-humanists.