White on Whiteness by Diana L. Gustafson

White on whiteness: becoming radicalized about race by Diana L. Gustafson

I especially appreciated Gustafson’s personal approach in the essay. She takes the reader through her journey of awareness of herself as a raced person and how that has informed her nursing practice. While I am not a nurse, there is much that she discusses that I can relate to. I too am a blond, blue-eyed, Canadian.

She asks some questions related to her growing understanding of racialisation. Here I am asking the same questions borrowed from her paper (154), but changing them to reflect my practice rather than a nursing practice.

  • How does being white shape my world view, my art making and my thesis writing?
  • What lessons about Whiteness am I learning (or having reinforced) through the institution of the art school?
  • How, if at all, do these lessons direct my theoretical and practical approach to research, art making, and writing?

Gustafson learns that “knowledge production is a political act” (155) and she writes:

My social location or, more precisely, my white identity influences what I see, the assumptions that focus my attention, the observations that I make, the problems I identify, the solutions that I generate and, more broadly, the knowledge that I produce (155).

This is very important. It is this awareness (along with all the other layers that make up my fluid identity), I believe, that is critical to art making. In my observation, and Gustafson’s (156-158), there is little self-examination by fellow artists whose lived experience is as a White person. I discussed this point in an email to my supervisor in relation to the book Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art after 1980 (2010), that in dealing with the subject of identity that the book uses examples of art and artists who do not deal with the subject of Whiteness from the point of view of a racially marked White person.

Gustafson’s approach to writing is an approach worth investigating as my writing begins to take shape. She, like Erdem Taşdelen, lets the reader know how her thinking developed and shares many of the questions that pushed her research forward. This is a strategy that I can also adopt.

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Work Cited

Gustafson, Diana L. “White on Whiteness: Becoming Radicalized about Race.” Nursing Inquiry 14.2 (2007): 153-61. EBSCO. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.

Exposing Privilege and Racism by Lund and Carr

Exposing Privilege and Racism in “The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness and Identity Issues in Canadian Education” by Darren E. Lund and Paul R. Carr.

I chose this article (and three others to follow) to provide some Canadian context for my writing. Several points the authors make stand out for me. The authors describe themselves as “White” (229). They footnote their use of the term with the following:

We use a capitalized form of White and Whiteness to distinguish it from the name of the color, and to mark it as a racialized and socially constructed category just as we do with Black and Blackness; at the same time, we wish to reject simplistic binaries as they have no merit as biological categories. (229)

This is important because I too have been attempting to qualify my use of those terms, but I have been confronted with the idea that I may be essentialising. Lund and Carr further on in their brief paper also remind the reader that they are being careful to not essentialise Whiteness, but that they “recognize that group and collective experiences have been shaped, to varying degrees, by racial identification” (230). I think this notion of essentialising is important. First of all, it is difficult to discuss Whiteness without using the terms White and Whiteness and the charge of essentialism comes from, I believe, using these particular terms. Lund and Carr also mention the potential conundrum that exists, where the discussion of Whiteness has the potential to reify Whiteness. Secondly, moving the discussion to the broader topic of racialsation without invoking the terms White and Whiteness (and what they imply even though they are constructed categories) means that Whites can further deflect the charge of racism by claiming that they too have been racialised. I do not deny that this occurs and it is something that I wish to explore in my visual projects, but I do not think that it bodes well if the the discussion rests or stops on that issue alone.

Lund and Carr also make the point that the work of “multiculturalism and anti-racism is permeated with resistance and denial” (226). Throughout their essay they use several examples of personal responses they have had to their work that show this resistance and denial. I have also experienced this in several ways. Most recently, some students in a class where I was a teaching assistant asked me about my thesis topic. I told them I was broadly dealing with the subject of Whiteness. Two (White) students immediately told me that I must be feeling some White guilt. Further on the authors state that “Whiteness is shrouded with denials that give White people yet another form of privilege: the ability to avoid discussion of how oppression continues to benefit White people” (231). Clearly, no one wants to hear that they have been behaving badly, when all along they have thought of themselves as a “good” person and especially when they haven’t been aware of it. It is a very difficult topic.

I appreciate their final statement. “…focus on the twin projects of understanding privilege and social justice [,…] sustained critical interrogation, dialog and action in relation to Whiteness can lead to significant individual and collective change” (233).

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Work Cited

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.