Whiteness as a Social Construct


Seminar Paper, 2017
12 Pages, Grade: 1,2

Excerpt

Table of contents

First Part: Introduction

Second Part: State of Research

Third Part: The Critical Whiteness Debate
A. Whiteness as an (invisibilized) norm
B. Origins of the Term "Whiteness”
c. Critical Whiteness Studies
I. The Emergence of Critical Whiteness Studies
II. Status Quo of the Critical Whiteness Debate in Germany
III. Content of Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS)

Fourth Part: Conclusion

Bibliography

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Morrison, Toni (1993): Playing in the Dark. Whiteness and the literary Imagination. New York: Vintage, Random House Inc.

Peake, Linda (York University, Toronto, ON, Canada, 2009): Social and Cultural Geography: Whiteness in: The International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. 247 - 253.

Piórkowski, Christoph David (2016): ״Critical Whiteness“: Die unsichtbare weiße Norm. Link: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/critical-whiteness-die-unsichtbare-weisse- norm/13600832.html. Date: 08.11.2017.

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First Part: Introduction

A short time after the assaults on Cologne’s New Year’s Eve, the German news­paper “Focus” headlined with a picture showing a blonde white woman tainted by black palms.[1] The physical marking of the white female body by the black hands revealed the prejudices that people of colour have to face until today. The head­line made use of the stereotype of the dark-skinned man, who is only driven by in­stinet as an inferior counterpart to the white, reasonable Western European. De­spite the scientific discrediting of the racial concept, racism is gaining popularity worldwide, especially in Germany, where the so-called “ethnicity” still defines its descents today.

The fact, that the juror of a German casting show sees her dark-skinned partiéi- pant as a foreigner, even though that girl lists Germany as her country of origin, sums up the whole misery. Not only who chants “We are the people!” in Saxony, but also who congratulates a dark-skinned person to their good language skills or asks where they actually come from, treats “white”[2] and German as equivalents.

Especially with the background of this discourse, it is worth taking a look at the concept of “Critical Whiteness”, which has been much discussed in recent years and has its origins in the Afro-American civil rights movement (Tißberger 2016: 24). In the 1990’s it arrived in Germany under the label “Kritische Weißseins­forschung” and since then has been picked up by various scientific areas such as literature, sociology and African studies.

Not even close to being a unified theory, the different approaches still have one thing in common: Racism isn’t understood as the sole problem of some rednecks, but as a matrix that structures society (Magiros 1995; Terkessidis 1998; Weiss 2001; Tißberger 2016: 25; Piórkowski 2016).

The present work sheds light on which dimensions Whiteness has developed, where to look for the historical origins of the phenomenon and how to classify the status quo of the Critical Whiteness debate in German-speaking countries.

Second Part: State of Research

Since the 1990’s the discussion on the construct of whiteness increased not only in the u.s. but also in German-speaking countries. Nowadays there are countless existing articles on this topic with more or less extreme opinions. In regards on this essay’s topic the focus lies on the scientific field of Critical Whiteness Studies especially in Germany. In this context leading researches were carried out by Tißberger (2016) and Amesberger/Halbmayr (2008) as well as Peake (2009) and Eggers et al. (2005). In terms of the origin of the Critical Whiteness Studies espe- dally the works of Dyer (1997) and Morrison (1993) are to emphasize since they are of an outstanding importance and play a leading role within this discourse. These works are also the foundation of this essay’s main analysis.

Third Part: The Critical Whiteness Debate

Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) critically examine whites as the dominant ma­jority and question the sublime position of whites in the social process of hier­archizing (Tißberger 2016: 24). In the US there has been an intensive examination of the topic since the 1990’s, while in Germany there has only been a long phase of so-called “classic” racism research, which means that the supremacy of whites is taken for granted, while blacks occupy a disadvantaged position (cf. Ames- berger/ Halbmayr 2008). It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that whiteness was associated with criticism of the supremacy of a particular group (here: whites). However, the Critical Whiteness debate in Germany is still in its infancy (Amesberger/Halbmayr 2008).

A. Whiteness as an (invisibilized) norm

Whiteness is a rather difficult concept to describe. As many antiracists have ar­gued it may be an invention, but it is also still a cultural construction. This means it is a way of being in the world, a set of cultural practices often not named as “white” by white people but looked at instead as normal or natural (Ames­berger/Halbmayr 2008). It basically represents a position of structural advantage and social privilege from which to look at society (Peake 2009: 247).

Whiteness gets its power from the geographically and historically different mean­ings associated mainly to skin colour but also to facial type and texture of hair (Peake 2009: 247). It is to understand though that whiteness isn’t only performed in relation to race and ethnicity but also to class, gender, sexuality and other as­pects of bodily identity (Bonnet 2000). Therefor its legitimate to say that white­ness is a historically and geographically specific social construct which received a supreme position in the system of social stratification and differentiation. It is im­portant to see that whiteness has concrete effects on the life’s of people - white- skin privilege is the other side of racism (Peake 2009: 247).

There are opposite opinions on this view of whiteness, mainly from right-wing theorists and white supremacists who claim that race, and especially the existence of a white race has a foundation in biology (cf. Jensen 1969; Jencks/Phillips 1998; Lorenz 1940). In fact, scientists identified ostensibly biological categories such as Caucasian (read: white). While those categories are nowadays criticised for their racial politics, they have still been taken for real and natural by millions of people

around the world. The consequences of those kind of views are easy to find: from the Nazi-inspired notion of the Aryan nation to the system of apartheid in South Africa.

B. Origins of the Term “Whiteness”

It is impossible to distinguish the concept of whiteness from its origins in modem- ism. Generally, it’s agreed, that the term of whiteness found its way into the Eng­lish lexicon in the 17th century as a result of colonialism and the demand for West­ern European nations to separate themselves from the colonized people especially slaves (Peake 2009: 248). Soon whiteness became a legal category, enshrined in many laws and giving differential status. The way of ruling the colonies didn’t only include stripping colonies of their resources, the enslavement of indigenous people and the development of the slave mode of production, but it also generated a way of knowing and being of the colonialists which still exist today (Jackson 1998: 99). This means that colonial domination was rationalized from a Western point of view and produced an image of the white Western European self. Obvi­ously the concept of whiteness was also used to distance slaves and slave-owners in North America and Canada (Peake 2009: 248).

Already by the 18th century whiteness had become a well-acknowledged racial term and in the 19th century in the U.S., during the Reconstmction period known as “Jim Crow”[3], the social and cultural hegemony of whiteness was completely established (Vincent Tischauser 2012).

c. Critical Whiteness Studies

I. The Emergence of Critical Whiteness Studies

In the late 19th century - long before the appearance of what we call Critical Whiteness Studies today - radical black intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon, Edou­ard Glissant, C.L.R. James, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Richard Wright already started writing about the white Western European self.

[...]


[1] Focus, Issue of the 9th of January 2016.

[2] For reasons of simplified expression, persons with different skin pigmentations are referred to as “whites” and “blacks” in terms of their phenotypes.

[3] Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. Nowadays Jim Crow became a term for the system of maintaining a racial hierarchy in all areas of American Society.

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Details

Title
Whiteness as a Social Construct
Grade
1,2
Author
Year
2017
Pages
12
Catalog Number
V447036
ISBN (eBook)
9783668828001
ISBN (Book)
9783668828018
Language
English
Quote paper
Hanja Runge (Author), 2017, Whiteness as a Social Construct, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/447036

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