Social Question

Demosthenes's avatar

What is meant by "whiteness"?

Asked by Demosthenes (12763points) September 25th, 2020

I hear this term in use all the time, but in a vague enough way that I’m not entirely clear on what it means.

As you may have correctly assumed, I’m not asking you to copy and paste a dictionary definition. I’m asking what it means when you use it or what it means to you when you encounter others using it.

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15 Answers

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Growing up I belived that it was British and/or Colonial.
I thought I was British, but turns out that I am French and Ukrainian/Polish, with a couple hints of Irish and Scottish.
My uncle is racist towards The French. My family mentioned that he was French and Its too ingraned for him to stop. He just laughed it off.

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think I have ever heard the term. I must be wrong if you here it all the time. I’ve used white bread, is that the same? I don’t even use that much anymore, everyone is very sensitive now, so I figure better to not use those terms.

Demosthenes's avatar

^I read/listen to a lot of academic and political/social commentary and it comes up a lot in these circles. It may not be so widespread outside of them. Another phrase I hear is “the idea of whiteness” which betrays its nebulousness.

longgone's avatar

Since you’re asking what it means to me – my mind goes to privilege, structural racism, and awkward or uptight behavior. Usually in the context of music and dancing, that last one.

JLeslie's avatar

@Demosthenes I don’t know. If I heard it I guess I would have to go by context. Do they mean white culture? That term is hard for me too. White covers a lot of people for me, a lot of ethnicities and nationalities, so I don’t use the term white culture.

I use the term goyish with Jewish friends, which is the same as white bread. It would be people from the Midwest and South mostly, but no hard and fast rule. All types of people are everywhere. Mostly stereotypes about food, like ketchup on a hot dog, or mayo on a bologna sandwich. Also, an emphasis on alcohol, like alcohol at a wedding while other groups emphasize the food.

I think of them as almost completely, or completely, detached from their history before their family was in America. I am speaking as an American about Americans of course. I’d say many of those people are English, Scottish, and German, because they also tend to have been in America for many generations, explaining partly why there is a disconnect to the old country, but it really has more to do with where the person grew up in America in my experience.

By the way I made a typo above, hear not here.

kritiper's avatar

Lack of color or darkening material.

stanleybmanly's avatar

detergent advertising circa 1960.

jca2's avatar

To me, it means “white – ness.”

KNOWITALL's avatar

Never hear that but I would think it was a reference to the feeling and characteristics of being white.

“Colin K identifies as black with no sense of whiteness.” (Example)

In the 80’s we had shows like In Living Color that made fun of the Becky’s, white church lady, valley girls, etc…so for me, it’s not offensive or weird to reference white culture. Damon Wayans and Madea, many black people/characters bust on white people and culture all the time. Similar to @JLeslie mentioned. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are hilarious, too.
That’s what it means to me. Good Q.

si3tech's avatar

IMHO In the negative context of our current references to racism, it describes personality traits which seem abominable. I do not see it as describing color of, shade of our skin. Such as: “white supremacy, white exceptionalism, white entitlement” and on and on.

zenvelo's avatar

To me it means being oblivious to the day to day lives of non Northern European descendants.

An example: I walked into an In’n’Out Burger in Auburn CA, where people pick up food on their way to Lake Tahoe. While we were waiting, I turned to my friend Doug, who is half French half German descent, and asked him if he noticed anything unusual. (Doug group in a very multicultural neighborhood, with lots of Asians and Latinx). He said no.

I replied, “I am the darkest person in this restaurant”.

All those white people completely sheltered from anyone from a different demographic.

Demosthenes's avatar

^I’ve been to that In’n’Out.

I think that kind of obliviousness is sometimes given as an example of white privilege, that is, that white people don’t have to think about their own race, that others don’t see their race, whereas non-white people have to be constantly conscious of their race and how others see them because of it.

I’ve seen whiteness described very generally (“the state of being white”) or more specifically (“the patterns and behaviors associated with a privileged race”). The latter exemplified in one article I read about Irish and Italian immigrants eventually achieving “whiteness” over time, so that they could now be seen as white and thought of as one of the default.

snowberry's avatar

It’s not part of my vocabulary.

JLeslie's avatar

@Demosthenes The more I read the more I don’t like the term. You mention Italians and Irish, so eventually they became more accepted by the majority. They also became more assimilated to American culture, but also American culture changed to be less rigid. Plus, the KKK and racism was losing its grip. The KKK hated Catholics just like they hated Blacks and Jews. The Irish and Italian are usually Catholic. So are Latin Americans.

There are stories of new Italian immigrants in the early 1900’s being checked on by WASP social workers way back when Italians were first coming into NYC. I think it was the Italians who would open the windows so their babies would get fresh air, and the White Americans would come in and shut the windows so the baby would not catch a chill and get sick. The Italians were so ignorant~. They needed to be watched and advised. It might have been the reverse, but either way The Italians were seen as stupid peasants.

While writing this I tried to find a link since my memory isn’t clear and I found this article that unexpectedly references a childhood friend, Jennifer Guglielmo, we played together all the time in elementary school. I smiled seeing her name in the article. It doesn’t have exactly what I was looking for, but worth a read, because it does relate to the Q.

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