Saturday, May 17, 2008

travel on the road to nowhere

Whiteness describes, from Little Big Horn to Simi Valley, not a culture but precisely the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn't and on whom one can hold back.

--David Roediger

To be white is to have expunged all dirt, fecal or otherwise, from oneself; to look white is to look clean. . . .Whiteness as an ideal can never be attained, not only because white skin can never be of the hue white, but because ideally white is absence: to be really, absolutely white is to be nothing.

--Richard Dyer

You stop and crawl inside your head with a flashlight to look for the lost lesson. The light jumps out into the darkness like a shout and bounces off freshly painted walls. There is an almost blinding whiteness, an emptiness with your name on it.

--George Roberts


  1. Macon,
    When you started this blog, you addressed some real issues. The were blatant and obvious. Sadly, you have become reduced to simply taking low level pot shots at stereotypes and other ridiculous exagerations.
    Your self hared has really become absurd.
    I'm done with this racist display of self loathing.
    Wallow in it with your pitiful and equally self hating pseudo intellectual friends.

  2. Aw, what a shame to see The Self-Appointed and Ironically Named Sagacious One take his leave. I enjoyed his occasional comments, even if they always did seem to miss the main point of whatever post he was commenting on.

    Why should Macon address "blatant and obvious" issues if they're already blatant and obvious?

    I for one enjoy these more abstract posts, because they help me think about whiteness at a broader level. I like the mix of abstract and concrete topics here. Keep it up Macon, you're doing good work! (Some of my friends are now fans of this blog too.)

    I don't think you have "self hared." You seem to be arguing against the training white people undergo, and its effects on themselves and others. Open-minded white folks can learn from that! And they don't have to hate THEMSELVES while doing so, and I don't think you're asking them to do that.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, caspie, and I'm glad that you and your friends are finding this blog useful.
    I wish SH had taken the time to explain the "pseudo" in his "pseudo intellectual," and what's "racist" about posts like this one.

    And yes, you're right, I don't hate myself, I hate what's been done to me in terms of racial training, and I'm glad I've found some ways to think through and begin undoing it.

  4. "Whiteness describes, from Little Big Horn to Simi Valley, not a culture but precisely the absence of culture."

    I'm not sure how I, as a white non-American, am supposed to understand this statement....?


  5. Thanks for the question, Matilde. It's true, the statement may be unclear because it's taken out of context, but I hoped that it would make more sense in the context of the other two, and of other points made elsewhere on this blog about whiteness as a concept.

    As many historians of race have explained, the whole idea of a separate "white" people is relatively new in historical terms--only around 300 years old. It arose to such great prominence as a form of identity as one of several major ways that one group of people sought to distinguish itself from others. In the land that became "America," these newly "non-white" others were especially distinguishable to the newly "white" people because of what they had (land and resources, in the case of "Indians"), and because of what they could do (free, enslaveable labor, in the case of Africans, and cheap labor in the case others, such as the Chinese, and the Irish and Italian immigrants, who had to work their ways into whiteness--the Chinese, of course, couldn't do that, no matter how hard they worked as miners and railroad builders).

    There's a certain emptiness to whiteness, then, in that it was defined less on its own terms, and more in terms of its members supposedly NOT being like other groups of people. "Savagery" and "Lustfulness" and "lack of intellectual capacity," for instance, were said to be out there in other people, which helped to imply that in comparison, white people were not those things.

    Thus, when the idea of "culture" developed, "those" people had culture, and white people were those who had become white by not being like those other people, and by dropping their previous, nation-specific cultures in order to become "white." This is how whiteness describes not a culture, but the absence of culture.

    As a concept, then, whiteness is largely a movement away from non-whiteness, more than a movement toward something in particular of its own. This is the main reason that, for instance, it is now difficult to point to anything in particular as an example of purely "white culture." It's easier to see working-class white culture, or middle-class white culture, or something like yuppie-white culture, but there doesn't seem to be anything that's simply "white culture." That category is empty, and yet, that blankness has always been the goal of a centuries-long white movement away from non-whiteness.

    This is what I mean by implying with this post that the movement of the white race, in terms of its identity, has consisted of travel on the road to nowhere.

  6. Thank you for taking the time to answer me. I must say I'm not what you would call "well-read" on the subject of racial issues - yet. But the idea of a dominant/default group (re)shaping its own identity out of the stigmatization of "others" is definitely something I recognize from feminist essays and gender studies.

    I'll keep an eye on this blog.

    - Matilde


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