I often write about the destructive force that is whiteness. This rubs people the wrong way and makes them feel uncomfortable because popular knowledge has positioned it as an adjective, as the description of people who originate in Europe. This mystification lies at the heart of our inability to understand and ultimately dismantle racism. There is a difference between white bodies (white people) and the ideological apparatus and framework that is whiteness. Whiteness is the foundational Ideological State Apparatuses, to borrow Althusser’s term.
As such, whiteness, and consequently race, underlies every aspect of American culture. The problem with this is that whiteness is an evil force. That is not hyperbole or an attempt to be dramatic. Whiteness is evil. Whiteness only exists to divide people into a hierarchical social order with itself positioned at the pinnacle. It has relied on genocide, slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, and all other forms of domination and violence to maintain its privileged position. All the while using the rhetoric of colorblindness to appear harmless, and even normal. As David Roediger says “Whiteness is not merely oppressive and false, it is nothing but oppressive and false.”
The most recent heartbreaking manifestation of whiteness’ true self is the murder of Sandra Bland. The circumstances leading up to her arrest, the pathetic attempt to call it a suicide, and the reaction from certain folks are all enough to turn your stomach, but they must be engaged, especially by those of us who have been labeled white, in order to create a world where this never happens again. Here are three specific ways whiteness acted in the taking of Sandra Bland’s life.
1) The police officer, having pulled Sandra Bland over, expected her deference. When he didn’t get it he reacted with violence and utter disrespect. This can not be separated from the history of white male domination, nor the geopolitical context of this happening in Texas, which was part of the Jim Crow south. Whiteness taught that officer that he deserved to be treated with a smile and the utmost respect, when he didn’t get it there was hell to pay. It is important to note in no way did Sandra Bland have to get out of her car nor put her cigarette out. The officer violated her constitutional rights as well as her humanity.
2) We do not know, yet, what happened in that jail cell. What we do know is that the authorities had the audacity to claim Sandra Bland took her own life without providing any evidence to back this claim up. To make such a claim is to assume that this Black woman’s life is of little worth, and that nobody would care enough to probe deeper. Furthermore, because as this article explains even if it turns out Sandra Bland did take her own life the system is still guilty. Only whiteness makes this lunacy even remotely plausible.
3) The reaction from the police, and their defenders, to the outcry places the blame on Sandra Bland for being “arrogant” and not following the police. Again, the expectation of deference is at play here. This segment on CNN is the best illustration of this ignorance. Harry Houck continuously claims Sandra Bland was arrogant and even imagines Sandra Bland refused to give her ID. This mindset is indicative of the devaluing of Blackness which whiteness requires. Only whiteness could be so pathological and deviant to even consider anything other than the the officer acts responsible for this tragedy.
Whiteness is a verb. It is acting on us daily. For those of us who are perceived as white we have a duty to refuse this violence. The words of Elder Mahmoud el-Kati come to mind “Whiteness is a moral choice.” Time to choose.