Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

In a typical example of whiteness, the process by which White people leave their racial position unexamined, a psychologist draws “parallels between my research [on racism &sexism] and my experience as a childfree woman.” The researcher argues that she faces social stigma as a childless woman that is akin to racial discrimination.

As soon as I read that line, I knew this researcher was a White woman.

The stigma of being childfree is not comparable to racism. Racism is the systematic inequity based on race, an imposed social category. Being childfree is a choice and does not impact life chances since birth. The problem here is that women of colour who are childfree experience social condemnation for choosing to be childfree as well as racism

Additionally, there is the social judgement women of colour navigate for choosing a childfree lifestyle is that the social stigma manifests as racialised sexism: a woman of colour is seen to be letting down wider society as well her culture and community.

White people like to compare any form of disadvantage to racism in order to emphasise the “bad” impact. Whiteness emboldens them to do this. This is another facet racism: White people want to reclaim racism as their own, in this case, even when they research racism. Racism becomes a tool to benefit White people, to virtue signal. They see their individual hardship as synonymous with the collective struggles of racial justice. These things are not equateable. It is unsurprising but frustrating that a White woman who researches racism would see no theoretical problem with comparing her experience to racism.

In comparing personal experiences to racism, White people want to be excused from racism, whether or not they are conscious of their motives. This is one example of how White researchers contribute to racism in science and in society: they lack of critical awareness of Whiteness, specifically, how their race protects them from racial discrimination, and the benefits they gain from their race.

This is not insignificant. The researcher’s study, while interesting, focuses on “students,” but the conclusions are presented as having broader societal application. In the methodology, like many other studies, Whiteness is unperturbed: race is not explored as a factor that might impact on beliefs and experiences. This phenomenon, of focusing on, and extrapolating, on Western (especially White psychology student) populations is known as the WEIRD phenomenon (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic). This pattern ignores the cultural variability across other societies, and that the universal norms Westerns take for granted, including competitiveness and morality, are not present in other populations.

Research which focuses on people of colour as the primary sample are considered “ethnic and racial” studies. White people’s studies are just “studies.” That is, when studies are explicit about race, race is visible. When studies ignore race, they do so because the White researchers do not see race as important, because race does not impact their lives. This cognitive bias stops researchers from engaging critically with race and how it shapes their interpretation of data and social phenomena.

Researchers’ racial biases, including how they come to be interested in a particular topic in any field, are not critically examined in science. The media picks up such studies and publishes Whiteness as scientific fact, normalising racial bias of researchers. This is how systemic patterns of racism are continued, and how individual White researchers make outlandish claims that minimise the impact of race, by comparing racism to reproductive choices.

This post was first published on Twitter.