A Brief Syllabus on Whiteness
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I’ve seen my academic friends reposting crowd-sourced syllabi on various topics around racism and hate in America. If you want to learn more about a contemporary topic, you can read your way through a list of curated links and come to a better understanding. There are excellent syllabi on Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, Charlottesville, and the history of hate in America.
This past week, the Shoulder to the Wheel group collaboratively published a booklet that discusses the problem of racism in the LDS Church with practical suggestions on how to combat racism. It is worth reading and sharing with friends and family. The goal is to get people to commit to learning more in advance of the 40th anniversary of lifting of the priesthood-temple ban for Black members.
One thing that I haven’t seen yet is a good crowd-sourced syllabus on whiteness so I’m going to start one here.
‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior. (source)
I’m interested in whiteness because it seem to be at the heart of racial tension and colonization. Whiteness determines who the other is. Whiteness sets itself up as normal and claims power for itself. It has been such a successful construct that many white people don’t even have a clear understanding of what it is, because whiteness refuses to learn about itself. I’m interested in this idea because I feel that my ability to challenge and dismantle whiteness will grow with understanding.
There are a number of foundational works on whiteness:
- W. E. B. Du Bois “The Souls of White Folk”
- James Baldwin “A Letter to My Nephew”
- James Baldwin “Letter from a Region in My Mind”
- Theodore William Allen “Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: The Invention of the White Race”
- Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
- Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness
- David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness
What resources have been helpful to you in learning about whiteness? What do you want to know about whiteness? How do you see whiteness manifest in the LDS Church? How do you see whiteness manifest in our own Mormon feminist movement?