Thesis Project Update
Over the course of this program I have had many moments of doubt. These moments of doubt do not come from genuine critique, but from times where the whole idea of pursuing a topic such as the construction of Whiteness1 is questioned. There is much good work by many who have long ago opened the door to this discussion. My intention is not to duplicate their analysis.
Small(?) Directional Changes
There are two potential courses of action that come from these moments of doubt. I am outed, so to speak. I realize that I have been a partaker of White Privilege. My lived experience is as that of a White subject. Firstly however, it should be stressed that I do not see myself as just a White person; my identity is made up of so much more. Secondly, Whiteness is an ideologic construct, an idea that shapes behaviours, but is not a real thing.
I can choose to ignore the position of unearned advantage2 that I speak from (contingent and at times tenuous) or I can face it, acknowledge it, study it, and/or deconstruct it. If I choose to ignore it or deny it, I will need to recognize that I do so consciously. I become complicit in reifying, reconstructing, and reproducing Whiteness. It is important to note that because I am White I have this choice. Other writers, including Canadians, have pointed out that Whites maintain an obliviousness to the way white identity accords them special privilege (McIntosh 18, Gustafson 156, Lund and Carr 231).
If I choose not to ignore the subject, but to deal with it in a meaningful way, then I need to do so consciously and cautiously. I need to find ways to not reify, to not reconstruct, and to not reproduce the ideology of Whiteness. Although my intention is not to reify, etc., there is a risk that I may inadvertently do so. It is a risk I am willing to take, since doing nothing is unacceptable to me. I am not interested in putting other people on the defensive. Clearly, no one wants to hear that they have been indifferent, reaping undeserved advantages, when all along they have thought of themselves as a “good” person. It is a very difficult topic. For this reason I am shifting my approach to one of auto-ethnography. However, it is not my intention to lay out my personal experiences as the measure for all to use, for that would be essentialising a complex issue. I acknowledge that my experience is just that, my experience. Yet at the same time I am hopeful that those engaging with my project will be able to find in it something to relate to their own experience.
As my work develops I find it necessary to apply methodology in a manner that also references my research. My strategy is to locate my work in a “re-folded” space, therefore I choose a fluid, rather than static, methodology (Delueze). This means that theories can be dropped, reordered, and/or new ones can be included the project continues to develop.
In order to analyze my current works I am interested in Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory in connection with Charles Mills’ work in The Racial Contract (1997), to understand how I might implicate myself. Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the fold invokes a place for new forms, ways of being, and ways of making. Michel Foucault’s notion of fluid identity is supported by Ruth Frankenberg, as well as being echoed in the work of Irit Rogoff and Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Rogoff proposes that pure national boundaries can only be maintained through violence where the border encloses sameness. Along the same lines Minh-Ha argues that within difference there are similarities.
Two in-Progress Visual Projects
The work that will be shown in the graduation exhibition may or may not exist at this point. By that I mean that this project consists of making many works to explore ideas. Currently, I am making a short stop-motion film. I am also drawing up plans for a viewing scope, which will also be constructed.
The stop-motion film is set in a scale (1.5in to1ft) model of a bedroom. It is constructed from cardboard. The four furnishings present in the room are cut and folded from plain white paper. The furnishings are outlined in black marker. These include draperies, a bed, a cleaning pail, and a table with a hotplate. There will also be a figure in the room performing various cleaning functions. The figure will represent a girl. She is cut from bristol board and is jointed with brass brads at the waist and shoulders. In the film she will clean the hotplate and move to the bed. When she straightens the bed she will look surprised when she looks at the pillow. The camera will zoom in on the pillow and will show black hairs present on the pillow.
The idea for Scope comes from another work from a few years ago, Glasses (2009). Glasses are a pair of eye glasses that are altered with white paint. The paint coats the lenses and is slightly scratched. Scope will mimic a telescope on a tripod. At this time the plan is to construct the scope and tripod from wood, brass fixtures, and two glass lenses. The lens inside the scope will be painted white.
In summary, two main questions for the direction of my thesis project are: How does being White shape my world view, my art making and my thesis writing? How do the lessons I am learning about Whiteness direct my theoretical and practical approach to my project?
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1. I am not alone (see Carr and Lund) in choosing to capitalize the terms White and Whiteness in order to distinguish them as referents of cultural constructions. It should also be understood that each instance of the capitalized term refers to an ideologic construction rather than an essential biologic quality.
2. Peggy McIntosh in White Privilege and Male Privilege (1988) discusses her discomfort with the term “privilege,” since it conveys the idea that it is something one would want. She instead suggests using the terms “unearned advantage” or “unearned entitlement” (12-14).
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Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Trans. Tom Conley. London: Athlone, 1993. Print.
Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.
Lund, Darren E., and Paul R. Carr. “Exposing Privilege and Racism in ‘The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education’.” Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-34. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.
McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.