Dialog Report Back: Understanding Whiteness

At the January 11 dialog, after a brief history on the invention of whiteness (see below for an outline of points covered) participants divided into small groups to reflect on ways we individually perpetuate whiteness in our personal lives.

Each group listed what came up and shared with the whole group – how whiteness is perpetuated through:

Group A

  • Self-proclamation of leadership [by white people in mixed groups]
  • Investments/banking: where you put your money
  • Where you shop
  • Unconscious self-segregation
  • Ability to sit back and not think about racism
  • Saturation/sustainability
  • Recommended:  A 12-step program for our addiction to privilege and decolonizing whiteness

Group B

  • Choosing to work with/hire white people
  • Living in white communities (choosing white spaces, i.e. schools)
  • Silence in the face of microaggressions, not calling out problematic white folks
  • Being a part of the gentrifiers
  • Dressing “white”; judging POC by white norms
  • White activism [that does no consider race issues]

Group C

  • Close family ties [in white family]: ignoring bigotry; financial security [chosen over confrontation]
  • Housing: gentrification; elite circles controlling resources; applications
  • Religious practice: culturally white
  • Education: grading without accounting for privilege
  • Myth of an “even playing field”
  • Clinging to whiteness as a shield
  • Not speaking up

Group D

  • Bought a house in a White neighborhood
  • Goes to a White dominated church
  • Discomfort in asking to put up flyers in a Mexican market
  • Notice thinking of People of Color as “they” or “them”
  • Lived in Santa Rosa whole life and does not speak Spanish
  • Not speaking up when seeing micro-aggressions and biased behavior
  • Talking with child about diversity but needing to find a school where child was comfortable (White)
  • Able to make decisions about putting myself in various levels of diversity and using that privilege

After considering the lists, the entire group was asked to strategize ways to break habits of perpetuating whiteness in regard to one or two items on the lists.

Folks wanted to focus on housing issues, in particular the desire to live in diverse neighborhoods but also not wanting to be part of gentrification.

Among strategies suggested were the following…

  • Agitate for rent control
  • Consider all schools, not only neighborhood schools, so that even though you may live in an all white neighborhood, your children can interact with children from a wider race and class background.
  • Take collective action, which may have more impact than an individual action. This may mean becoming an organizer yourself.
  • Join with people of color in their struggles.  Take risks
  • Push yourself to be uncomfortable
  • Vote against own interest (e.g. vote for rent control even if you are a landlord)
  • Challenge people’s assumptions regarding your desires for white privilege. (e.g., don’t let realtors show only white neighborhoods)
  • Investigate before spending/joining/supporting

These are only a few of the strategies suggested and the discussion clearly revealed that none of the issues are simple. The need for historical background and an understanding of past battles and strategies means that breaking the habits of perpetuating whiteness requires a commitment to self education. A list of  suggested readings was circulated (and is copied below).

Recommended Readings on Race, Racism, and Whiteness


  • Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
  • Baptist, E. E. (2014). The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Basic Books.
  • Bonilla-Silva, E. (2013). Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, 4th Edition. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Coates, T-N. (2015). Between the World and Me. Spiegal & Grau.
  • Fields, K. E. and B. J. Fields (2014). Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. Verso.
  • Irving, D. (2014). Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Elephant Room Press.
  • Jensen, R. (2005). The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege. City Lights.
  • Lopez, I. F. H. (1996). White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York University Press.
  • Morrison, T. (2016) God Help the Child. Vintage. Or any other of her books, for example Beloved.
  • Parker, R. and P. Smith Chambers (2005). The Anti-Racist Cookbook. Crandall, Dostie & Douglas Books
  • Rankine, C., B. Loffreda and M. K. Cap, Eds. (2015). The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. Versa Press.
  • Roberts, D. (2011). Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. The New Press.
  • Roediger, D. R. (2008). How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon. London, Verso.
  • Sinha, M. (2016). The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. Yale University Press.
  • Sue, D. W. (2003) Overcoming Our Racism. Jossey-Bass.
  • Wise, T. (2011). White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. Soft Skull Press
  • Yancy, G., Ed. (2004). What White Looks Like. New York, Routledge.

On the Invention of a White Race

  • In the 17th century the term white was first used to distinguish people by physical features in regard to economic, political,
    and legal rights.
  • Race is fluid, and changes from one country to another.
  • Race is socially constructed.

White people as well as people of color

  • Live racially structured lives.
  • Are shaped by race.
  • Have a racial experience.

Whiteness is  

  • A location of structural advantage.
  • Race privilege (racism disadvantages people of color, and advantages whites).
  • A standpoint from which white people view themselves,
    others, and society
  • A set of cultural practices, usually unmarked and un-named.

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