What is Whiteness?
White people are those persons, typically of european ancestry and lighter skin tone, that embody a set of normalized attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors rooted in eurocentric themes, ideologies, thought, and philosophy (often called whiteness) that developed to support and advance a system of racial and cultural supremacy known as white supremacy.
Recognizing white supremacy is the basis of colonial empire building and the violent enforcement of colonial settler states on top of pre-existing Indigenous lands of Turtle Island, this system is often referred to as white settler supremacy.
The attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of whiteness are supported by a deeply held belief in the natural ascendency of european and white american culture and civilization over the uncivilized, darker skinned other. Most white people are oblivious to the power of these beliefs and behaviors, and to their effects on Indigenous people and People of Color. By remaining unaware and unchallenged, these beliefs give white people the moral comfort and privilege to colonize, steal, objectify, enslave, destroy, and consume other life as the natural and inevitable advance of civilization.
The supremacist system is secured when white people protect and promote these ways of being for their own white-privileged existence and for the continued benefit of other white people. White privilege also contains built-in modes of defense to protect itself from challenge through the behaviors of white fragility and eurocentric bipolar disorder.
While most white people are lighter skinned people of european ancestry, some Indigenous people use the term white to describe anyone who holds eurocentric attitudes and behaviors regardless of ethnicity and skin color. Though a person may not be of european heritage, the adoption and perpetuation of eurocentric thought, philosophy, and behavior is considered white especially when a person fails to recognize the supremacy of Indigenous rights and responsibilities on Indigenous lands and instead gives homage to the authority (based in white supremacy) of the settler state.
Spiritual Dimensions of Whiteness
At a spiritual level, whiteness results from a great forgetting of what it means to be a person of culturous identity – to be rooted in a people, land, and lifeway of a place. This forgetting results in the inability to relate, that is to develop interdependent relationships of authentic love and respect that nurture and maintain wholeness, balance and freedom with all life.
Whiteness is simultaneously the absence of culture, and the presence of cultural norms and behaviors that are antithetical to life being itself. No matter how much one dresses up these cultural norms to appear healthy and good, the underlying basis of relationship remains in conflict with life.
This dynamic appears in white spiritual movements, social justice activism, the white environmental movement, and many other areas where white people attempt to use whiteness to create wholesome relationships with life and inevitably end up perpetuating injustice, dispossession, and genocide. You cannot heal the effects of whiteness with more whiteness. It just doesn’t work that way.
Whiteness is the critical obstacle, whether we are working towards our own ancestral recovery, indigenization, and decolonization, or working towards solidarity/allyship/ relations with Indigenous peoples resisting colonial empire building and engaged in their own movements of decolonization. Unchecked whiteness and white privilege is ever present, constantly colliding with movements of decolonization, resistance, and racial justice.
Even when the most visible and flagrant aggressions of whiteness are challenged, insidious forms of white privileged behaviors will likely continue as micro-aggressions against Indigenous people and other People of Color. Challenging whiteness and white supremacy is an unavoidable, lifelong responsibility. It cannot be avoided or evaded, outsmarted, or gently massaged away.
We must overcome white fragility and develop integrity and stamina on the long journey of healing whiteness. We must learn to:
- Confront and dismantle the learned attitudes, behaviors, and assumptions we have inherited by growing up privileged within the system of white settler supremacy.
- Learn to slow down so that we can truly listen and reflect on the messages given to us by Indigenous people and People of Color on how our behaviors are affecting them. Do what is necessary to end these behaviors.
- Regain an understanding of who we are and where we come from – how our ancestral peoples, families, and ultimately ourselves became “white”.
- Affirmatively challenge white settler supremacy within the communities and movements we live within.
- On a continuing basis, challenge white fragility and the shapes of whiteness that perpetuate themselves in our ways of being and relating.
- Work with others on a similar path for support and strength.
- Though we cannot change the color of our skin nor the privileges that come with that, we must learn what it means to be people of culture once again. This website can be one resource in learning how to do that.
If we engage our hearts, we can find the integrity, stamina, and love to undertake these movements back towards wholeness and balance for the sake of all life. This is the path and responsibility we have inherited from our ancestors and that we walk to honor the future generations to come. It is something we must do.