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Critical Studies of Whiteness, USA

Origins and Arguments

David R. Roediger

The call-in show on Wisconsin Public Radio in 1995 began with the host skilfully introducing me as an historian who tried to explain how a white identity had come to seem so important to so many working people in the United States. We talked about efforts to understand why such significant numbers of people came to see themselves not as workers, but as white workers; not as women but as white women, and so on. And then to the phones and eager callers: Why do African countries make so little progress? Aren’t African Americans racist too? Isn’t their “reverse racism” the biggest problem? Hasn’t the welfare system enlarged a parasitic, amoral nonwhite underclass? The barrage of such questions, on public radio in a quite liberal city, took virtually the whole hour. The last caller, an African American worker at the University of Wisconsin, initially offered no question but a comment. All of the prior questions, she observed, focused on people of colour. Despite the subject of my work, she continued, and despite the moderator’s unambiguous introduction, no caller had deigned to discuss whiteness at all. If I were an expert on race, the white callers had been certain that my role was to contest or to endorse accusations and generalisations concerning those who were not white. Why was it so hard to discuss whiteness?

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Erin Ash

This research examined racial attitudes in response to viewing “white savior” films, best described as films in which a white character displays extraordinary acts of kindness and selflessness toward one or more minority characters. The results of an experiment (N = 149) revealed participants who viewed a savior film experienced moral emotion elevation, which, in turn, elicited prosocial motivations and universal orientation. Whereas prosocial motivations and universal orientation were predicted to reduce racism, findings indicated that prosocial motivations, in the absence of universal orientation, led to greater levels of both contemporary and traditional forms of racism. In addition, films portraying white saviors and those featuring black saviors were compared and shown to be invariant. Implications for understanding white privilege in light of these results are discussed.

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Whites Cannot Be Black

A Bikoist Challenge To Professor Xolela Mangcu

Keolebogile Mbebe

Professor Xolela Mangcu argues in his article ‘Whites Can Be Black’ that Steve Biko’s philosophy of Black Consciousness would support the thesis that white people can become black. In this article I argue that this thesis is incongruent with the articulation of Black Consciousness in Biko’s book of collected writings, I Write What I Like. I show that, for Biko, Black Consciousness is possible only in the context of a non-white person’s experience of white racism that is not only a material experience but also a psychological experience based on the racist claim that there is a hierarchy of race. I contend that a correct analysis of Biko’s writings would show that white people self-identifying as Politically Black are acting from bad faith that results from a flight from the responsibility that accompanies their facticity.

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Williams Rollins

“White, everything white.” White was the color of the Weimar

Republic, or at least so it seemed to cultural critic J. E. Hammann

writing in the journal Die Form in 1930. In his article Hammann did

not just note the trend toward white in interior design, but rather he

was determined to understand the greater significance in his fellow

Germans’ overwhelming color preference. White, Hammann surmised,

was a “characteristic mark of the way in which we grasp our

age,” a “chief indicator of the times,” and a powerful evocation of

the “new spirit” behind Weimar’s “modern weltanschauung” (121f.).

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The “Missing Link”

Space, Race, and Transoceanic Ties in the Settler-Colonial Pacific

Frances Steel

The inauguration of a steamship route between Canada and Australia, described as the “missing link,” was envisaged to complete Britain's imperial circuit of the globe. This article examines the early proposals and projects for a service between Vancouver and Sydney, which finally commenced in 1893. The route was more than a means of physically bridging the gulf between Canada and Australia. Serving as a conduit for ideologies and expectations, it became a key element of aspirations to reconfigure the Pacific as a natural domain for the extension of settler-colonial power and influence. In centering the “white” Pacific and relations between white colonies in empire, the route's early history, although one of friction and contestation, offers new insights into settler-colonial mobilities beyond dominant themes of metropole–colony migration.

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Coulthard, Glen Sean. Red Skin, White Masks

Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition

Elaine Coburn

Coulthard, Glen Sean. Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-8166-7965-2

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Contested Memory

Retrieving the Africanist (Liberatory) Conception of Non-Racialism

Ndumiso Dladla

South Africa since 1994 is widely represented as a society which has broken both historically and politically with white supremacy. One of the central discursive pillars sustaining this representation is the appeal to the most recent South African constitution Act 108 of 1996, the founding provisions of which declare that South Africa is founded on the value of non-racialism. The central argument of this article is that an examination of the philosophical underpinnings of the non-racialism of the constitution can give us a better understanding of why and how South Africa remains a racial polity despite the coming into effect of the constitution. We will conclude the article by considering the ethical and political demands which must be met before the actuality of non-racialism may be experienced.

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Seumas Bates

By conceptualizing the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill as forming part of ongoing processes of “becoming” and the everyday, this article explores how the relative power of a historically privileged group of White males in rural Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, faced significant challenge. First, through the breakdown of informal racial segregation in local social institutions, and through the newly ubiquitous nature of mobile homes threatening their rejection of “trailer trash” culture. Second, however, this impact must be understood within ongoing changes across wider American society, where a locally valorized ideal of normative 1950s culture was seen to be in conflict with the civil rights and feminist movements of the late twentieth century. This imagined cultural hegemony was therefore in serious decline long before these catastrophes, yet has now been confined to the time “before the Storm.”

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Departheid

The Draconian Governance of Illegalized Migrants in Western States

Barak Kalir

This article proposes the term Departheid to capture the systemic oppression and spatial management of illegalized migrants in Western liberal states. As a concept, Departheid aims to move beyond the instrumentality of illegalizing migration in order to comprehend the tenacity with which oppressive measures are implemented even in the face of accumulating evidence for their futility in managing migration flows and the harm they cause to millions of people. The article highlights continuities between present oppressive migration regimes and past colonial configurations for controlling the mobility of what Hannah Arendt has called “subject races.” By drawing on similarities with Apartheid as a governing ideology based on racialization, segregation, and deportation, I argue that Departheid, too, is animated by a sense of moral superiority that is rooted in a fantasy of White supremacy.

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The True Story of Gundagai’s Dog on the Tuckerbox

Tourists, Truth, and the Insouciance of Souvenirs

Richard White

Gundagai’s statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox, about half way between Melbourne and Sydney, was arguably Australia’s most popular purpose-built tourist attraction for half a century from its unveiling in 1932. This article uses the monument as a case study to consider the ways in which the past is visualized as it is turned into tourism. In what has been called the “circle of representation,” tourists’ understandings of the places they visit are shaped by the preconceptions created by pre-existing media representations through art, postcards, photography, posters, tourist brochures, souvenirs, and so on. In the case of the Dog on the Tuckerbox, the expurgated language of souvenirs, as they multiplied through the twentieth century, came to displace oral dissemination of earlier more vulgar meanings attached to the original story that was the inspiration for the monument.