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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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.