There is so much to ponder in each paragraph of DiAngelo’s book, I have to take it in smaller chunks. I am so enjoying peoples’ comments and stories. I feel like we are all in a college class together.
Whiteness as Property is a phrase coined by critical race scholar, Cheryl Harris. Just like owning property at the time of the founding of our country was a prerequisite to be a voting citizen, whiteness is a vested interest to those who have it. It provides a unique membership with special privileges in society. It is like being born into the Royal Family. Entitlements come with just being who you are related to, in this case, the white race. Some of these privileges include resources like “self-worth, visibility, positive expectations, psychological freedom from the tether of race, freedom of movement, the sense of belonging, and a sense of entitlement to all the above.” This all rests on the preconceived idea that white is the norm for being human and people of color are a deviation of that norm.
DiAngelo tells the story of baseball great Jackie Robinson, the African American to made his way into major-league baseball. He was lauded as a man whose talent was so exceptional that no other black athlete was strong enough to compete at the level necessary to compete in the magor leagues. Imagine, DiAngelo says, a rephrasing of his story: “Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play into major-league baseball.” This flipped a switch for me as I think of other successful African American folks. Some white person, somewhere, a person with power because of their whiteness, had to “allow” or “enable” or “clear a path” for a black person to step into a place originally designed only for white people. This idea of “only for white people” is the racism we are talking about.
Sometimes this “allowing” is quite deliberate because someone sees talent in a person of color and chooses to help them. It may even be a decision of an agency or institution, sometimes supported by law, such as establishing a hiring practice to include a percentage of people of color. My granddaughter’s Hispanic background opened the door for her when she applied for college and for a particular job. I have been a part of committees that seek people of color for the purpose of having a more inclusive representation of viewpoints. I am not sure how people of color feel about being “tokens” but I think it often reflects a genuine desire to forward the cause of fighting racism.
One sign that whiteness is the norm in our country is the establishment of Black History Month. One can’t really imagine a White History Month since our history consciousness (and textbooks) are already saturated with white history. Again, the implication is that the contribution of Blacks to the country is outside the norm.
To be white is a privileged position with advantages people of color do not have. It is noted that those who rise to places of prominence and power, such as Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Marco Rubio and Barack Obama, “support the status quo and do not challenge racism in any way significant enough to be threatening.” I agree, though I think that when Obama was elected president, he challenged the status quo by his very existence in the office. There are those who couldn’t see his contributions at all because they were totally blinded by their hatred for black people. It shocked me when Obama would showed compassion for families of the children massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, when he was accused of “faking it” for political purposes.
“To name whiteness, much less suggest it has meaning and grants unearned advantage, will be deeply disconcerting and destabilizing, thus triggering the protective responses of white fragility.” We come around again to the title of the book that may be making some of us uncomfortable. I suspect, though, that any white person choosing to read the book is ready to learn and to be part of the change needed to set our country aright.