What Kind of White Person Are You?
by Jeff Hitchcock
Posted: April, 1999
People of color may rightly excuse themselves from answering this question. Obviously itís intended for white folks. When it comes to how one thinks and feels about race relations, most white people believe there are two choices. Either youíre racist or youíre colorblind. Individuals did not create these choices. Nor did organizations like the Center, or even larger organizations like the government. These choices exist as part of our culture itself. Society provides us two models of how to be white.
There are many ways to define a "racist." Some would say society itself is racist, giving all white people racial privileges and hence making them "racists" whether they like it or not. But most white people use the term racist, at least insofar as it applies to white people, to mean a person who consciously identifies as white, understands it to be his or her native culture, and believes that white people are superior to people of color. According to these terms, nearly all white people used to be racist, and even today itís hardly uncommon to find white people who still are.
The second model for white people is colorblindness. Colorblindness
says that race shouldnít make a difference in peopleís lives, and since it
shouldnít, we should all act as if race doesnít matter. Because race doesnít
matter (or at least shouldnít matter), we donít need to mention it at all. In
fact mentioning race just creates problems. Thus white people who follow the
colorblind model do not particularly see themselves as white in other than a
superficial way. They know which box to check on census forms, but do not
believe the status of being white has an effect on their lives. If racists are
racially conscious, colorblind people might be said to be racially
"Racist or colorblind. Most|
of us are taught one or the
other. Mainstream society
certainly favors the color-
blind side. Conventional
wisdom says to be colorblind
is good. To be racist is bad.
Were those the only two
choices, then we might agree.
But thereís a third choice at
Racist or colorblind. Most of us are taught one or the other. Mainstream society certainly favors the colorblind side. Conventional wisdom says to be colorblind is good. To be racist is bad. Were those the only two choices, then we might agree. But thereís a third choice at hand.
Itís not a choice that many white people make, or even know exists. White people can consciously identify as white, understand it to be our native culture, and believe — and here is the crux of the matter — that while white people are no better or worse than people of color at heart, we hold an unjustly privileged and dominant position in a racial hierarchy. This model is new, only about 40 years old, compared to 100 years for colorblindness and 400 years for plain old fashioned racism. Itís so new, people havenít agreed on a name for it. Variously called color awareness, race savvy, or new white consciousness, it nonetheless is a real alternative to the older models.
Racist white people believe colorblind white people are deluded to think that being white is
not important. Alternately fearing the pervasiveness of colorblindness and
bemoaning its refusal to acknowledge white culture, racists hope someday
colorblind people will believe once again their interest lies in being overtly
racist. Racist white people have a more difficult time with race savvy whites
who know race does matter and being white makes a difference. Race savvy whites
do not shy away from discussing white identity and culture, but they frame their
interests in creating multiracial structures, and working for racial equality,
justice and harmony. We emphatically endorse the race savvy model. Able to see
the racial structure of society as it is, race savvy white people are the
racistsí worst nightmare.
Colorblind white people see racist white
people pretty much for what they are, and that "something" is not what
colorblind white people want to be. But colorblind white people more often than
not are ineffective in working to undo the racist model. Unable to see race,
they cannot see racism. Blind to color, they are blind to white culture as well.
In a racially structured society they are unable to change a structure they fail
to see. Rather, they rely on simplistic rules. To be conscious of race, a
colorblind person will say, is to be racist. To the colorblind person the racist
and the race savvy person seem to be the same. They both see race after
"Unable to see race, they|
cannot see racism. Blind
to color, they are blind
to white culture as well.
In a racially structured
society they are unable
to change a structure they
fail to see."
The race savvy white person understands what the colorblind white
person does not. Being white makes a difference. Whiteness forms the center of
our society and as long as it does, we cannot have a society centered on
multiracial values. The irony of colorblindness is that by not seeing whiteness,
it keeps whiteness centered. In this the racists might find some small ray of
Race savvy white people are determined not to let that happen.
There is and should always be a place for white people in our society, but it
should not be one that controls power and resources of the mainstream exclusive
of other racial groups. It should not be a place where others are expected,
indeed required to come if they want the privileges of the center. Race savvy
white people believe we all must change to create a multiracial center. Race
savvy white people understand itís our special role to work with our own people
to bring this about.
We ask you once again, what kind of white person
are you? Your choices may be a little broader than you imagine.