Monday, May 16, 2011

Trying to Cut a Promo: Whiteness Talks Back to Chauncey DeVega on YouTube

Why not? I will make you relatively unknown except in this part of these Internets famous as an object for derision and mocking lesson in white privilege.

In the classroom, instructors are subject to the perils of student evaluations. Despite one's best efforts, talent, hard work, and quality teaching, many snowflakes take it as an opportunity to retaliate for their own willful ignorance and laziness. But, those evaluations do often contain pearls of wisdom that are useful as one perfects their craft. When you submit a journal article or a book proposal you get lots of feedback too. Again, there is a chance for pettiness (especially if the reviewer has figured out who you are and has an ax to grind), but in total, the experience is productive and helpful.

I have often thought it would be great if students could record video journals where they try to to explain what their take away is from the reading, a day's lecture, or a seminar. The disconnect between what is intended by the teacher and what is received by students would likely be great.

"Racism on Liberal Side," is a powerful example of the very concepts which the literature on Whiteness and white privilege is grounded upon. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts at hand, no small amount of ignorance on the realities of race, power, and institutions, and the entry point into Dannyruxspin's rant is the bogeyman of "racism"--a concept he clearly does not grasp.

The myopia of whiteness on display is blinding. It is also both instructive and gratifying to see concepts written about in the abstract proven true (even by those who would deny their existence and saliency).

But I must ask, why is whiteness so unsettled and upset when confronted? It holds all the cards, but is so reflexive and easily threatened. Please, can you help me understand this paradox?


Anonymous said...

Whiteness is unsettled and upset because it knows that it has no legitimate claim to it's privilege. If it were, in fact, some real superiority, it wouldn't be so worried.

As a white straight-appearing lesbian I fully understand what straight white privilege gets me.

Plane Ideas said...

Whiteness is unsettled and upset because in part as a result of white guilt and anger it cannot ever imagine a Black person having the audacity to question the very being of whiteness..

Whiteness when confronted undertands it was always a hollow and shallow proposition that must now measure up and because whiteness cannot it becoms unsettled, upset, angry and reflective etc...

Whiteness wants to be whole yet when confronted with it's shortcomings it reacts with defensiveness and becomes offensive i.e the angry comments on Alternet to this yoyo's video

Bertrand Rivière said...

great post.


p1. (except, not accept)
p6. (so, rather than no)

I think whiteness is self-conscious about the fact that, were they to accept white privilege, their person failings seem so much more harsh and cutting when paired with the fact that they were, perhaps, given a head start to being with.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Tell us more as the one who is incognito?

@Thrasher. Whiteness is sensitive, this is also why it can be so violent both to those on the other side of the colorline and to its own "race traitors."

@Bertrand. Great name. Thanks for the catch. Can't be looking too raggedy.

@Rebecca. It does have thin skin when on of its own tribe breaks kayfabe and reveals the tricks of the trade.

Abstentus said...

Whiteness is, still real as social property, but those possessed of it know it's days as a valuable asset are shrinking. It's like holding cash in a safe, during moderately inflationary times. So the sky is not falling, but it's raining at least. Hope the mixed metaphors don't confuse anyone.

Anonymous said...

I think it also has something to do with the resolute individualism in American political culture, combined with Protestant notions of desert and election. Thus, the idea that one is individually responsible for one's own fate is extraordinarily powerful in American culture, and whiteness poses an enormous challenge to those cherished foundations. These foundations are so cherished and so fundamental they are, like whiteness itself, mostly invisible.

But the challenge, of course, is the understanding that meritocracies on the broad social level are mostly rank fictions -- everywhere, not just the U.S. -- and that prejudices, power relations, oppression, and all the pernicious isms (racism, classism, sexism, jingoism, ethnocentrism, nationalism, etc.) are much more powerful factors of one's lot in life than anything one does or does not do. Whiteness isn't just a head start, it's a perpetual thing, with its effects being cumulative over multiple generations.

There's little that is more threatening to foundational American ideals (foundational from the perspective of whiteness, too, of course. The masks don't come off).

Anonymous said...

White Dyke here. I really struggled with the decision to post anonymously. But I have a web presence (a small one) and I'm looking for a job, so I prefer not to lead with my sexual orientation when someone googles me. Thank you for giving me the option.

As a straight-appearing person of queerness, I simply fade into the background. When my butch friends go out, they are seen, and have to deal with some real hatred, some of it from other members of queer nation. No one sees me, I go about my business like any other middle class white lady. Perhaps that doesn't sound like privilege, but truly, it is. Ask a butch who has been raped if you doubt it.

PS: I love your blog and read it daily.

chaunceydevega said...

@Abstensus. Whiteness may not be gold, but it still is silver.

@Dan. You are spot on. I am now using the great book the Myth of Meritocracy as well as a selection from the book Individualism. Many students of all colors find the concept of structures and that life is an unfair marathon with some positioned far closer to the end of the line than others so upsetting. Part of it is youthful naivete. The other part is a thorough belief in those core mythologies you so deftly outlined.

@Anon. Thanks for the kind words. As I said you have the blessing and curse to be a 007 of sorts, not a spook who sat by the door so to speak, but in the same league ;)

Plane Ideas said...


I have a problem with people like You and even CD's posting prerogatives..I will admit that upfront but I still value your comments and of course those of CD and others who hide behind an anonymous etc..

I never could run from my hue so why would I run from my name..Just saying

Vesuvian Woman said...

Generations of perpetrated extroversion encouraged by biased accounts of recorded history have shown/allowed many to justify any grouping of the Seven Deadly. Politicians tend towards greed, sloth, envy and pride. These inhumane types cease to have meaning if they do not conjure someone to abuse. How can they brake themselves from the aspirations of thousands of years? How can We, their oppenents, brake ourselves?

Steve said...

Whiteness gets upset because no one likes to think they may be wrong. If they know they're wrong, then they have to (a) change or (b) accept their role as the villain. Of course they don't want to change. If they change they might not enjoy the myriad privileges, both large and small, which they currently enjoy.

Even small threats are a danger. Even just to think, "Hm, maybe it's wrong to use Mammy archetypes to brand our pancake syrup" could peel away their certainty, could be the chain reaction that lets them know: They Are in the Wrong. Aunt Jemima syrup is the exhaust vent on the Death Star: fire just one proton torpedo at a hole two meters wide, and the entire space station goes up in smoke. Which is why I have spoken with people who will fight to the death, to the death! to defend this little, little thing.

chaunceydevega said...

@Vesuvian. They live and play in a different moral universe. Remember, you can't play in those waters, but as in the Matrix you can bend the space around the spoon.

@Steve. That is a great example. Such a little thing becomes a symbol to be fought over. I used to use the some white folk get mad because they want to use the "n-word" example as white privilege run amok. I am substituting in yours.

ele said...

I have also wondered the same thing. Why can't white people just admit that they are privileged? Why is there so much gnashing of teeth? Speaking from my experience (a white woman from the South) and conversations with my dad, I think I have figured it out. NO ONE LIKES TO BE TOLD THAT THEY DIDN'T EARN- OR DON'T DESERVE- WHAT THEY HAVE. In my dad's case, he refuses to look back on his life and acknowledge what privilege has given him. For example, he didn't have to buy a plot of land to build my childhood home on. It was in his family for generations. He inherited it. No, he likes to think of himself as a "self-made" man. Maybe it is a macho-thing, or maybe it is, as another comment suggested, that "rugged American individualism."