“Race is a complex social construct. You can be biologically Black, but phenotypically what is seen as “white”.
When that happens, certain privileges become available that would normally not be bestowed upon Black people. You become white on the strength of your phenotypes.
There are two main choices that need to be made: 1.) assert your Blackness and actively reject white privilege; or 2.) divest from Blackness to gain white privileges.
I never do either ors, but this is one instance where the two overarching choices have no alternatives. There is no middle ground. You either accept Blackness and opt into the Black experience, or you opt for whiteness.
And those choices come with consequences…”
“There’s a very good sentence written by a black woman named Kay Lindsey in which she said, ‘Where the white woman is the sexual object, black women are sexual laborers.’
White womanhood has been the prevailing standard of femininity in this country [the United States of America]. If you were beautiful you had pale skin,…you had light skin, preferably light hair, you were gentle, you were retiring, you were sweet, you were chaste.
Because of our historical position as black women, most of us were slaves which means we worked as hard as any man on the plantations, then we moved into factories. Most of us were not pure because on plantations we were bought to be breeders and whores. We were not qualified for the prevailing standards of femininity, white femininity, so we were passed down.
If you are a woman who does not fit women’s standards, you’re a piece of crap. So we [black women] got none of the benefits of being a woman. They’re double-edged benefits but they are benefits: money from wealthy men, so-on and so-forth. We [black women] got all of the liabilities. As I said before, we are on the lowest rung, even in a profession like prostitution because we are valueless as black women.
So we [black women] were brought up outside the pale of femininity but we weren’t considered worth turning into useful men; because 'What is a Black Woman?’ She’s a woman and she is also black. We weren’t as good as black men and we were useless, we weren’t good enough to be imitating white women. So we had nothing.
[Black women] were total outsiders. Which is why economically we are on the absolute bottom and psychologically, if you will, of the barrel.”]
Project by Johanna Burai is an initiative to add diversity to search results by sharing images of non-white hands:
When you search for images of the word “hand”, all you see on Google are white hands, regardless of where you are in the world. World White Web is an initiative that wants to put an end to the norm of whiteness on the Internet. If we all share the images on this site, we can change the search results on Google to include hands of people of color too.
I’m so sick of seeing this post all over the damn place. Honestly this white woman looks almost exactly the same in every example and notice the thing that is constant between almost of them: her whiteness and Euro centric features.
Honestly all this shows is not some “massive variation in beauty standards” across the globe but the by and large HOMOGENOUS reality of white supremacy and the deification of white womanhood as the standard of beauty. This exists everywhere: from Africa to SE Asia; and it is just so blatantly apparent in this photo series. If you can ship your photo to dozens of different countries and the most people can do is adorn you with some “paint” or fluttery eye lashes, then I think there is something more going on than meets the eye.
Maybe this little thing called white supremacy.
Show me this same experiment with a dark skinned black woman or other WOC and watch skin tones be swapped, features be bludgeoned and more. White supremacy and the global exaltation of white womanhood as the standard of beauty in most countries is the massive elephant in the room in this “experiment” and the more I see this post circulating, the more bored I become with bland, myopic white “analyses” of beauty standards which do nothing to detangle their incredible amounts of privilege.
I find it interesting that you keep saying that Asians in Asia don't see themselves as poc. While you may feel that way, I think it's valid to note that Britain (white people) occupied and conquered what was then India (today India, Pakistan, Bhutan, etc.) There is a big difference between the fair indians and the darker indians. To be light skinned is considered beautful. Therefore, that region of Asia does see itself as poc for they were treated as second class to the gori British.
Hey, I appreciate you writing in! I’ll explain my thinking behind the term here.
I too grew up in a former British colony, so while I did have a concept of whiteness and therefore do not see myself as “white”- I want to emphasise that the term “person of colour” does have different political and cultural implications than “non-European” or perhaps “non-white”. Simply, I do not see myself as “white” because of British colonialism, but I does not mean I see myself as a “person of colour”. I see myself as Han Chinese, East Asian or Asian. “ In general, I believe the term should not be used carelessly outside the US due to different ideas of whiteness between the US and Europe, as well as other countries in the Americas, where race isn’t perceived the exact same way. I don’t believe it should be used at all in the non-Western context.
1. Person of colour is a term that specifically originated in the context of the United States’ system of colourist racism, of Jim Crow, of slavery, where the idea of “white” became a vehicle to confer privilege. I say “vehicle” because whiteness has always been a social construct. in much earlier parts of US history, several light-skinned European ethnic groups were not allowed to access whiteness, like Irish people. Today, they are seen as white. Although the term has been used carelessly by many people on tumblr, “person of colour” is first and foremost a racialised identity taken on to organise against white supremacy- in Western contexts.
2. I don’t believe it should be applied to non-Western contexts firstly, because the history of Asian colourist discrimination has actually long-predated European colonial rule. Further, it doesn’t quite just exist as a marker of racial otherness, but as a class division. Fair skin has been prized in China, Japan and Korea for thousands of years due to classism. I believe it is the case with India too- from what I know, it was very much tied to the ancient Indian caste system or other class/regional divisions. That is not to say British rule in India didn’t make it worse (it certainly did) or that Western beauty standards don’t help to reinforce this preference today, but it would be inaccurate for us to ascribe this obsession for light skin all to recent European imperialism. Recognising its ancient roots is crucial: as a light-skinned East Asian, nobody has ever tried to sell me skin-whitening cream, unlike my other Han Chinese friends who were darker-skinned.
3. As “person of colour” is an organising tool against white supremacy, I do not believe it has much relevance in non-Western contexts because we are no longer under European colonial rule. This is not to say its legacy doesn’t still affect us, but that the fault lines and tensions that matter are very often not going to centre so much around whiteness anymore in day-to-day life. I feel white privilege can be discussed there without us defining ourselves as “persons of colour”.
Primarily, I am against the term because it posits a false illusion of solidarity that erases local oppressor-oppressed dynamics, and centering on whiteness very often becomes a tool of deflection for their own crimes (like in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, when he took ownership of land from white farmers ostensibly to correct the inequality in land ownership suffered by black Zimbabweans. Sounds fair, considering how colonial rule historically stripped people of their land. But the problem is rather than actually giving it to experienced black Zimbabwean farmers or training people to use the land, he mostly gave it to his cronies. Who didn’t utilise the land properly, causing food shortages that eventually hurt thousands of black Zimbabweans and made people worse off.) On another level, I don’t wish to centre around whiteness all the time because I think the fixation on it at the expense of other fault lines is in of itself a perpetuation of Eurocentric/whitecentric history and narratives.
To me, the attendant notions of solidarity underpinning the idea of POC have very little relevance when outside the Western world, our oppressive structures and systems of privileges are very often run by other non-Europeans.Whiteness is the “default” in the US, but in mainland China? It’s being Han Chinese. Han Chinese supremacy is the reason for continued racism and Sinicisation of non-Han minorities like Uighur Muslims and Tibetan. And this racism has a history in Chinese imperialism that long-predates European colonialism. To call all of us “POC” flattens the power structure and posits false solidarity between oppressor and victim- it allows the oppressor to wrongly occupy the space as the victim: as if the Han Chinese general is the same as the non-Han people he has captured for human sacrifices to the gods during the Shang Dynasty. Minorities in the Middle-East and North Africa like Kurds, Amazigh are very often marginalised by Arab supremacy- such as when Saddam Hussein enacted a genocide against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s, using chemical weapons. The Nigerian government’s slow response to the Boko Haram crisis despite angry protests by Nigerians? The government not caring when people in Northern Nigeria, which is much more impoverished- die. For my own family history, some of the deepest grievances stem from how the Japanese mistreated my grandparents during WW2.
4. Lastly, the term “POC” outside the Western context tends to flatten the power structure between non-Europeans who live in the West or otherwise have a Western background vis a vis people from our ancestral countries.
White privilege can reinforce Western privilege but they are not totally synonymous: Because even people not considered white do benefit from citizenship in a Western country or a Westernised background. When it comes to global economic inequality, we are closer to the centre of the empire, to the position of those who benefit, not the exploited. People like myself benefit from speaking English, from appearing “more European” and generally Westernised. It’s the reason my friend, who is of Indian ancestry, was treated very differently by the immigration officer when his British accent became obvious- compared to Indians from India who were on the same flight as him. There would for example, be a huge power differential between an Arab-American soldier and the other Arab people in say, Iraq. I cannot in good faith say my experiences are the same as the Chinese workers who work long hours in factories, many of whom start working at 16. At 16? I wasn’t done with schooling. It was taken for granted I would get a university education, and so on.
5. So, the term “person of colour” is meaningless to me in the non-Western context context, and I personally find it actively harmful when people lump us as “POC cultures” because it purports to create an illusion of solidarity that obscures the massive amount of racism and oppression Asians are enacting against each other till today. Further, I see it as a projection of Western race politics on a non-Western context, which is decentering from local dynamics.
In conclusion, I very much see myself as “non-white” in Asia due to growing up in a former European colony. But I do not see myself as a “person of colour” there. I see myself somewhat as a person of colour in Europe, because it is a Western context where light-skinned Europeans are the majority. Still, not entirely- because it is quite an American term and European racism has a lot of ethnicity dimensions. I tend to see myself as Han Chinese, most specifically.
“White supremacy does not exist or persist because whites foolishly fear people with a different skin color. It survives and thrives because whiteness delivers unfair gains and unjust enrichments to people who participate in and profit from the existence of a racial cartel that skews opportunities and life chances for their own benefit.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Incredible! These people NEVER give up! The latest controversy coming out of Brazil involving black (mis)representation and history is neither new or surprising. As has been the modus operandi for decades (or centuries depending on how you look at it), Brazilian society continuously comes up with new ways to make its black population invisible and whitewash its memory all under the guise of “we’re all equal” while simultaneously promoting its whitening agenda. There’s a lot of history in the backdrop of today’s piece of which our readers will need to be familiar with in order to get the full impact of this latest controversy. Start here:
On the historic persecution of Afro-Brazilian cultural practices and “ethnic cleansing” of Rio see here.
On the importance of historic figure Tia Ciata, see here.
The dominant corporate news media have used the Baltimore uprising and other similar events to attack Black America’s character, values, and culture. The argument is clear: The events in Waco were committed by white men who happen to be criminals; the Baltimore uprising was committed by black people who, because of their “race” and “culture,” are inherently criminal. Racial bias in news reporting has been repeatedly documented by scholars in media studies, critical race theory, political science, and sociology. As anti-racism activist Jane Elliot incisively observed, “People of color can’t even turn on the televisions in their own homes without being exposed to white racism.” The centuries of racism, and resulting stereotypes about the inherent criminality of Black Americans, are central to why the events in Waco and Baltimore have received such divergent news coverage.
The two most effective beliefs that prevent us (whites) from seeing racism as a system are:
1. that racists are bad people and
2. that racism is conscious dislike;
if we are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist. This is why it is so common for white people to cite their friends and family members as evidence of their lack of racism. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious.
Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. While having friends of color is better than not having them, it doesn’t change the overall system or prevent racism from surfacing in our relationships. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.
During our Communication class today, Maria and Alborz, who are working on a documentary that portrays the experiences of queer people in diaspora, shared part of an interview they had shot of Mellissa, who is also in our class. In this interview, Mellissa touches upon the pressure she has felt to assimilate to whiteness at the cost of her own cultural roots, as part of a larger discussion on how identities are fragmented by forceful migrations and a complex of oppressions. There were so many important questions that their project provoked, but we never got to them because the entire conversation was derailed by a white woman whose feelings had been hurt by Mellissa’s mention of whiteness. Through her tears, she even accused the entire class of being racist against white people because no one had wanted to be her project partner.
Unlike most classrooms in the US, our class is made up of a majority of students of color, and our professor is a black woman. Clearly, this atypical demographic has been a very disturbing experience for this white woman. I have sensed her discomfort building throughout the quarter in response to the “dominance” of people of color and racial consciousness in the classroom, and had a feeling all that seething white supremacist anxiety would erupt at some point. Today was that day.
Her outburst was rather unremarkable in and of itself, considering the frequency with which white people flip the fuck out whenever whiteness is merely pointed out. The collective response from the classroom that followed, however, was one of the more beautiful academic moments I’ve witnessed. A black woman from the Communication department quickly challenged this white girl’s attempt to center herself, validating Mellissa’s choice and manner of voicing her experience. I told the white woman that she was feeling, for one second of her life, the marginality that people of color experience at every moment, and asked her to reconsider the amount of space she was taking up. Alborz patiently explained that Mellissa’s mention of whiteness was a critique of institutional racism rather than an attack on any individuals. And Yessica spoke to the overwhelming white dominance that defines every other facet of our lives, and the ways that this default whiteness normally silences her as a Latina. Mellissa also responded, reclaiming what she had chosen to express in the interview, and powerfully reminding this white woman that she could never understand the context of a biracial woman in the US struggling with the visceral pressure to assimilate to whiteness. Through verbal and nonverbal means, the students of color collectively expressed the reality that they face in a white-dominant society and a refusal to have our experiences silenced.
The white girl responded with painful predictability, repeatedly crying, “But I love everyone!” and talking about how she had gone to a school in New Mexico that was mostly “Hispanic.” (How is it statistically possible that every white person accused of racism seems to have grown up as a minority?) She even threw in some bizarre comment about how she used to teach “beautiful black children,” repeatedly exclaiming, “They were so beautiful!” Grasping at random examples of what she clearly considered her admirable ability to regard people of color as homosapiens, she performed the “racist-white-person-justifying-their racism-in-a-racist-way” routine to a tee. When white people are ever challenged about race, they go through a list of predictably racist reactions but always think they’re saying something novel and profound.
If that classroom had been taught by a white professor, or attended by mostly white students, as most classrooms are, how differently would this scenario have played out? Our own experiences tell us that the classroom would have moved to collectively encourage and validate this woman’s clueless, racist monologue. People of color would have been promptly silenced, if we dared to speak at all in spite of the torrent of retribution we have come to expect. There’s no telling the collective extent to which people of color have suffered our constant and casual dehumanization in silence.
White supremacy and white universality are present like the air we breathe, and white people have become so dependent upon these forces for their sense of self that the moment they are prevented from casually enjoying these privileges, they react like they’re dying. As they flail around like wounded animals, they reveal a telling picture of the white supremacist ideologies and dehumanizing logics that foreground their existence. Perhaps because of the neoliberal, colorblind doctrines of our time, even self-proclaimed progressives and anti-racists erase the fact that racism is an actively enjoyed system of domination.
In spite of this annoying outburst, it became an opportunity for us, as students of color, to speak out and address the racist anxieties that had been boiling under the surface. It was a moment of solidarity against the ways in which we are usually silenced, invalidated, and made to feel crazy every time we assert our full humanity.