The latest Pew Survey (2016) shows that White people do not see structural racism and instead see racial inequalities are due to Black people’s personal decisions and lifestyle.
“The survey shows that Black people overwhelmingly blame lower-quality schools and discrimination for why “some Blacks have a harder time getting ahead than Whites.”
A majority of White people, meanwhile, said that “family instability” and “lack of good role models” were chiefly responsible for the problems facing Black communities. Only 36% blamed discrimination, and just 45% said that a “lack of jobs” was holding Black people back.”
The concept of Whiteness explores the social construction of what it means to be White, specifically, how societies establish White culture as the “norm” for social reality. Whiteness studies teaches us to think critically about how social life is organised around White experiences. How does Whiteness establish legitimacy? Whiteness is hegemonic; that is, it is an ideology that has been established over time, first through violent political dominance, and later through cultural institutions that created the fiction that White culture is the natural order. Social institutions funnel White culture so that it is pervasive: it’s the key lens of history and art; it’s the way in which we learn about science; it’s the representations we grow up with in the media; it’s White people filling most positions of authority. Whiteness is everywhere, and while it is the centre of colonial nations, Whiteness also goes unexamined in day-to-day life.
White people in Australia are not asked, “Where are you from?” They are not required to constantly verify that they are Australian. White people don’t have to think too deeply about why there are no Indigenous people in their schoolbooks. White people don’t experience first hand what it’s like to be made to feel uncomfortable at work because of their race. White people don’t fear being mistreated by authority figures simply because of the colour of their skin.
Whiteness is both privilege and power; it means being on top of the social hierarchy but taking the hierarchy for granted. So much so that even White male politicians will take offence at being called White, in the middle of Senate debates when they were trying to get rid of protections from the Racial Discrimination Act.
Whiteness is maintained through various discourses. Discourses buffer White people from having to think critically about race, such as through the idea of “colour blindness.” White people have come to understand that “overt” forms of racism are not permissible. They do not want to be associated with the label “racist,” and so they avoid ever thinking about race, much less applying race to their own lives. So they say things like “I don’t see race, I just see people,” or they will say, “We are all part of the human race; why can’t we all just get along?” This discourse is a ploy: White people can afford to tune in and out of race discussions. To say that they don’t recognise race is to say: “I don’t want to acknowledge how my life chances have been enhanced by my Whiteness.” To say that they “just see people,” is to also deny the impact that race has on the lives of people of colour, who receive daily reminders of how race negatively impacts their safety, acceptance and progress.
The flip side of “I don’t see race” is that fact that White people place people of colour into broad categories and deny them their individuality. We see this at the social level, when minorities are put into the position of explaining crime and “deviance” of minorities from their communities. At the interpersonal level, White people will “confuse” people of colour because they have limited contact, and interest, in people who are not White. And infamous example involved Black American actor Samuel L. Jackson, who rightly refused to smoothe over the racist “mistake.” These examples illustrate how Whiteness pushes individuals into broad categories, even though White people see themselves as individuals who aren’t influenced by race.
Read more on whiteness and related concepts on my resource, the Sociology of Race.