Whiteness, Racism and Power

Here’s a typical example of how White people exercise and maintain racism. Kerri-Anne Kennerly flies into a rage about Saturday’s protests, led by Aboriginal people, seeking to change the date of Australia Day and establish systemic reform that includes a Voice to Parliament and Makarrata (treaty). Kennerly taps the table angrily, ‘Has anyone of them been out to the Outback where children, babies, 5 year olds are being raped. Their mothers are being raped. Their sisters are being raped. They get no education. What have you done? Zippo.’

Here, Kennerly evokes the same strawman argument that politicises rape and child abuse that has been used since colonisation to deny Aboriginal people rights. She could be referring to the Northern Territory Intervention, where the army went into remote regions to justify removals of Aboriginal children. The Intervention was NOT based on evidence – that’s already been proven. It has been catastrophic for communities. Continue reading Whiteness, Racism and Power

Sociology of Humour and Whiteness in Academia

In a new article defending Trevor Noah’s sexist and racist comedy about Aboriginal women, a White woman academic exemplifies how Whiteness is normalised in academia and in public life.  In Talkin’ Up to the White Woman, Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson chronicled how White women academics denigrade Aboriginal women’s contributions and knowledge. The case study that follows is an example of this dubious tradition. The sociology of humour can help to expose how a White woman’s minimisation of sexist racism is a strategy to retain power and dominance over Aboriginal women.

Continue reading Sociology of Humour and Whiteness in Academia

Whiteness in Academic Teaching

Let’s talk about the racism by “Vieno Vehko,” pseudonymous assistant prof from a USA Midwestern university. The author argues she, “finds it hard to respect a group that neither reads critically nor takes responsibility for its learning.”  This article is not simply about “millennials.” It is about Whiteness and how White academics expect to teach students like themselves.

The piece is racially loaded in a way White academics and students have missed in their critiques of the article to date. The author explicitly takes swipe at young people—but not equally. Race and class feature heavily in the author’s generational gripe. Continue reading Whiteness in Academic Teaching

Racial Preferences in Dating

A White man leans into the ear of a Black woman who is laughing with he eyes closed

In October 2017, I was interviewed about racial preferences in dating for the Triple J show, “The Hook Up,” along with Dr Denton Callender, a research fellow at the Kirby Institute, and Dr Ian Stephen.

The podcast included calls from listeners who shared what it’s like to be fetishised on dating apps, as well as the racial biases that White people exercise.

I am featured at the beginning, when host Hannah Reilly asks me to comment on ethnic preferences. (Note that ethnicity is about culture, and race is about physical traits. To illustrate this distinction: there are Black Latin people – they’re classified as Black in terms of race, and Latin in terms of culture.)

Below is my transcription of the segment that features me.


[From 2.19 mins] Hannah: I asked sociologist, Zuleyka Zevallos, where these ethnic preferences might be coming from.

Zuleyka: It goes back to the way we think about beauty. We’re socialised from a really young age to be looking out for certain types of physical traits – and a lot of them are associated with Whiteness. It’s about: having very light skin; having a particular type of nose – various types of features that are more common amongst people who are White.

Hannah: So you think beauty is a cultural idea, not a physical one?

Zuleyka: It is very much shaped by culture. We know that because there are patterns. You talked about the patterns on dating apps. There are patterns in which people couple more generally, in marriage – those types of patterns. If it wasn’t culturally shaped, there wouldn’t be patterns because everyone would have an equal chance of hooking up with people, and having relationships with, people outside of their own racial group. Continue reading Racial Preferences in Dating

“Where Are You From?” Racial Microaggressions

This is a question I routinely get from people I meet. When I say I’m from Melbourne (the city where I’ve lived most of my life), I get scoffed at and badgered: ‘No – where are you really from?’ People ask this question because I’m not White and I’m presumed to be not-Australian. Yes I was born in South America – but I have lived here for 24 years, since I was a child, and this is my home. I’ve devoted much of my adult life to researching and fighting this form of everyday racism. Almost everyday of my life, any time I meet new people. This has always made me feel as if my status as an Australian is continually being judged and categorised by people who feel they have more of a right to call themselves Australian because they are White and not obviously of migrant background. In a multicultural country in the year 2011 – this is astounding.

The above anonymous entry to Microaggressions.com is actually mine, from six years ago. I’ve lived in four cities since this submission. I still get this question routinely in all sorts of contexts, from professional meetings to social settings; whether I visit an art gallery, or if I’m a guest at a function.

Racial microaggressions are the brief and subtle daily insults that denigrate people of colour. This term was first conceptualised in 1977 by Chester Pierce and colleagues in a study of racism in television commercials.

“These are the subtle, stunning, often automatic, and non-verbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’ of Blacks by offenders. The offensive mechanisms used against Blacks often are innocuous. The cumulative weight of their never-ending burden is the major ingredient in Black-White interactions.”

Microaggression is a term that Dr Derald Wing Sue and colleagues reinvigorated in 2007, to describe racist dynamics between White therapists and their clients who are people of colour. They note that microaggressions occur because White people lack awareness of how race affects their biases, stereotypes, behaviour and attitudes, and also because they lack an understanding of the experiences of people of colour.

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities”
Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities

Microaggressions can be delivered as an insult or an appeal for validation about White person’s beliefs. These may be verbal signs (words or tone) or physical cues (snubs, or dismissive looks, gestures). Racial microaggressions can also build up not by targeting a specific individual but through atmosphere, such as a hostile workplace, where a minority woman is excluded from social events.

Continue reading “Where Are You From?” Racial Microaggressions

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

There is increased pressure for conferences and events to stop excluding women as speakers, in science and in other fields. Yet there is less public attention on racial equity and representation of other minorities on panels. I take a look at a few recent examples where White people will focus on lack of “50/50 gender balance.” This phrase is often a proxy for seeing White cisgender people as the desired equilibrium. This excludes Indigenous people, other racial minorities and other under-represented groups. Let’s review what happened when the Royal Society of New Zealand announced its 150th anniversary celebration, the committee debating Brexit, and the pattern on social media, where White women unfollow gender discussions that focus on racial justice.

Continue reading Equity and Race in Discussions of “Gender Balanced” Panels

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. Continue reading Whiteness in Childfree Academic Discourse

Race and the Head Wrap in Brazil

Racism in Latin America is deep and complicated by the way in which colonialism is internalised in national narratives. In Brazil, the official discourse is one of perfect multicultural, multiracial togetherness, however, the fact is that race is intertwined with class inequality. Black and Indigenous Brazilians are treated like second class citizens and their cultures are appropriated and fetishised by the majority groups and elites. Continue reading Race and the Head Wrap in Brazil

The Gender Pay Gap and Race

Actress Natalie Portman is the latest White woman celebrity to talk about the gender pay gap in ways that demonstrate tunnel vision on the intersections between racism and gender inequity. From Patricia Arquette’s highly misguided attempt to discuss the wage disparity during her 2015 Oscars speech, to Jennifer Lawrence’s essay calling for equal pay, White actresses have a very skewed view of the inequities faced by “women” in the entertainment industry and in everyday life.

What does the gender pay gap look like when viewed through the intersections of gender, race and other social categories? What do we learn about mainstream feminism’s vision for equal pay, when we become more conscious of Whiteness and White privilege?

Continue reading The Gender Pay Gap and Race