With gratitude to ALD for posting part of this on her blog, thereby reminding me of something I read over twenty years ago. When I can't remember most of the content of an excellent radical feminist essay, it's time to read the essay again!! There have been some format-transfer related tyops, which I hopefully corrected in what appears below. (Note to part of the discussion on Jews and whiteness: not all Jews can pass as white. Many Jews of color cannot.)
What immediately follows are four excerpts from the full essay below these passages:
I was at a poetry reading by the Black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde. In her poems she invoked African goddesses, naming several of them. After the reading a white woman rose to speak. She said first that she was very ignorant of African religious and cultural history, and then she asked the poet to spell the names of these goddesses and to tell her where she might look for their stories. The poet replied by telling her that there is a bibliography in the back of the book from which she was reading which would provide the relevant information. The white woman did not thank the poet and sit down. The white woman (who I know is literate) said, "I see, but will you spell their names for me?" What I saw was a white woman committed to her ignorance and being stubborn in its defense. She would convince herself that she cannot use this bibliography if the Black woman will not spell the names for her. She will say she tried to repair her ignorance but the poet would not cooperate. The poet. The Black woman poet who troubled herself to include a bibliography in her book of poems. [...][...]
White women's attachments to white men have a great deal to do with our race privilege, with our racism and with our inabilities to understand these. Race and racism also have a great deal to do with white women's attachment to white men. [...]
In the all white or mostly white environments I have usually lived and worked in, when the women start talking up feminism and lesbian feminism, we are very commonly challenged with the claim that if we had our way, the species would die out. (The assumption our critics make here is that if women had a choice, we would never have intercourse and never bear children. This reveals a lot about the critics' own assessment of the joys of sex, pregnancy, birthing and motherhood.) They say the species would die out. What I suspect is that the critics confuse the white race with the human species, just as men have confused males with the human species. What the critics are saying, once it is decoded, is that the white race might die out. The demand that white women make white babies to keep the race afloat has not been overt, but I think it is being made over and over again in disguised form as a preachment within an all-white context about our duty to keep the species afloat. [...]
Race is a tie that binds us to men: "us" being white women, and "men" being white men. If we wish not to be bound in subordination to men, we have to give up trading on our white skin for white men's race privilege.
(You can click on the title below to access the original source web page)
On Being White: Thinking Toward a Feminist Understanding of Race and Race Supremacy*
By Marilyn Frye
From The Politics Of Reality: Essays In Feminist Theory
(The Crossing Press 1983)
White feminists come to renewed and earnest thought about racism not entirely spontaneously. We are pressed by women of color. Women of color have been at feminist conferences, meetings and festivals and speaking up, pointing out that their needs and interests are not being taken into account nor answered and that much that white feminists do and say is racist. Some white feminists have been aware of and acting against racism all along, and spontaneously, but the topic of racism has arrived per force in the feminist newspapers and journals, at the National Women's Studies Association, in women's centers and women's bookstores in the last couple of years, not so much because some white feminists urged this but because women of color have demanded it.
Nonetheless, many white feminists have to a fair extent responded to the demand; by which I mean, white feminists have to a fair extent chosen to hear what it was usually in their power not to hear. The hearing is, as anyone who has been on the scene knows, sometimes very defensive, sometimes dulled by fear, sometimes alarmingly partial or distorted. But it has interested me that I and other white feminists have heard the objections and demands, for I think it is an aspect of race privilege to have a choice--a choice between the options of hearing and not hearing. That is part of what being white gets you.
This matter of the powers white feminists have because of being white came up for me very concretely in a real-life situation a while back. Conscientiously, and with the encouragement of various women of color-both friends and women speaking in the feminist press--a group of white women formed a white women's consciousness-raising group to identify and explore the racism in our lives with a view to dismantling the barriers that blocked our understanding and action in this matter. As is obvious from this description, we certainly thought of ourselves as doing the right thing. Some women of color talked with us about their view that it was racist to make it a group for white women only; we discussed our reasons and invited women of color who wanted to participate to come to the meeting for further discussion.
In a later community meeting, one Black woman criticized us very angrily for ever thinking we could achieve our goals by working only with white women. We said we never meant this few weeks of this particular kind of work to be all we ever did and told her we had decided at the beginning to organize a group open to all women shortly after our series of white women's meetings came to a close. Well, as some of you will know without my telling, we could hardly have said anything less satisfying to our critic. She exploded with rage: "You decided!" Yes. We consulted the opinions of some women of color, but still, we decided. "Isn't that what we are supposed to do?" we said to ourselves, "Take responsibility, decide what to do, and do something?" She seemed to be enraged by our making decisions, by our acting, by our doing anything. It seemed like doing nothing would be racist and whatever we did would be racist just because we did it. We began to lose hope; we felt bewildered and trapped. It seemed that what our critic was saying must be right; but what she was saying didn't seem to make any sense.
She seemed crazy to me.
That stopped me.
I paused and touched and weighed that seeming. It was familiar. I know it as deceptive, defensive. I know it from both sides; I have been thought crazy by others too righteous, too timid and too defended to grasp the enormity of our difference and the significance of their offenses. I backed off. To get my balance, I reached for what I knew when I was not frightened.
A woman was called "schizophrenic." She said her father was trying to kill her. He was beside himself: anguished and baffled that she would not drink coffee he brought her for fear he had poisoned it. How could she think that? But then, why had she "gone mad" and been reduced to incompetence by the ensuing familial and social processes? Was her father trying to kill her? No, of course not: he was a good-willed man and loved his daughter. But also, yes, of course. Every good fatherly thing about him, including his caring decisions about what will improve things for her, are poisonous to her. The Father is death to The Daughter. And she knows it.
What is it that our Black woman critic knows? Am I racist when I (a white woman) decide what I shall do to try to grow and heal the wounds and scars of racism among lesbians and feminists? Am I racist if I decide to do nothing? If I decide to refuse to work with other white women on our racism? My deciding, deciding anything, is poison to her. Is this what she knows?
Every choice or decision I make is made in a matrix of options. Racism distorts and limits that matrix in various ways. My being on the white side of racism leaves me a different variety of options than are available to a woman of color. As a white woman I have certain freedoms and liberties. When I use them, according to my white woman's judgment, to act on matters of racism, my enterprise reflects strangely on the matrix of options within which it is undertaken. In the case at hand, I was deciding when to relate to white women and when to relate to women of color according to what I thought would reduce my racism, enhance my growth and improve my politics. It becomes clearer why no decision I make here can fail to be an exercise of race privilege. (And yet this cannot be an excuse for not making a decision, though perhaps it suggests that a decision should be made at a different level.)
Does being white make it impossible for me to be a good person?
What is this "being white" that gets me into so much trouble, after so many years of seeming to me to be so benign? What is this privilege of race? What is race?
First, there is the matter of skin color. Supposedly one is white if one is white. I mean, one is a member of the white race if one's skin is white. But that is not really so. Many people whose skin is white, by which of course we don't really mean white, are Black or Mexican or Puerto Rican or Mohawk. And some people who are dark-skinned are white. Natives of India and Pakistan are generally counted as white in this country though perhaps to the average white American they look dark. While it cannot be denied that conceptions of race and of whiteness have much to do with fetishes about pigmentation, that seems to me not to be the Heart of Whiteness. Light skin may get a person counted as white; it does not make a person white.
Whiteness is, it seems pretty obvious, a social or political construct of some sort, something elaborated upon conceptions of kinship or common ancestry and upon ancient ethnocentric associations of good and evil with light and dark. Those who fashion this construct of whiteness, who elaborate on these conceptions, are primarily a certain group of males. It is their construct. They construct a conception of their "us," their kindred, their nation, their tribe. Earliest uses of the word `race' in English, according to The Oxford English Dictionary, make this clear. The people of one's race were those of a common lineage or ancestry. People of like coloring could be of different races. The connection of race to color was a historical development and one which did not entirely eclipse the earlier meaning. Race, as defined and conceived by the white male arbiters of conceptions, is still not entirely a matter of color. One can be very pale, and yet if there are persons of color in one's lineage, one can be classed as Black, Indian, etc.
On the other hand, it is the experience of light-skinned people from family and cultural backgrounds that are Black or another dark group that white people tend to disbelieve or discount their tellings of their histories. There is a pressure coming from white people to make light-skinned people be white. Michelle Cliff speaks of this in her book Claiming An Identity They Taught Me To Despise.(1) Cliff is a light-skinned woman who looks white to most white people. She encounters among white people resistance, even hostility, to her assertion that she is Black. In another case, a friend of mine to whom I have been quite close off and on for some fifteen or twenty years, noticed I was assuming she is white: she told me she had told me years ago that she is Mexican. Apparently I did not hear, or I forgot, or it was convenient for me to whitewash her.**
The concept of whiteness is not just used, in these cases, it is wielded. Whites exercise a power of defining who is white and who is not, and are jealous of that power.(2) If a light- skinned person of "colored" kinship claims to be white, and white people discover the person's background, they see that a person who might be a marginal case has decided what she is. Because the white person cannot allow that deciding, the decision must be reversed. On the other hand, when someone has been clearly and definitively decided to be white by whites, her claim that she is not white must be challenged; again because anyone who is even possibly marginal cannot be allowed to draw the line. To such a person, a white person is saying: I have decided you are white so you are white, because what I say about who is white and who is not is definitive.
To be white is to be a member of an in-group, a kin group, which is self-defining. Just as with fraternities or sororities, the power to draw the membership line is jealously guarded. Though a variety of traits and histories are relevant to whether one will be defined into or out of that group, one essential thing is that the group is self-defining, that it exercises control of access to membership. Members can bend the rules of membership anytime, if that is necessary to assert the members' sole and exclusive authority to decide who is a member; in fact, bending the rules is an ideal expression of that authority.
A particularly insidious expression of this emerges when members of the self-appointed "superior" group tend casually to grant membership by "generously" giving people "the benefit of the doubt." If the question does not arise, or does not arise explicitly or blatantly, one will generally be assumed by white people to be white, since the contrary assumption might be (by white judgment) insulting. A parallel to this is the arrogant presumption on the part of heterosexual people that anyone they meet is heterosexual. The question often must be made to arise, blatantly and explicitly, before the heterosexual person will consider the thought that one is lesbian or homosexual. Otherwise, even if some doubt arises, one will be given the dubious benefit of the doubt rather than be thought "ill" of, that is, suspected of "deviance."
The parallelism of heterosexuality and whiteness holds up in at least one more respect. In both cases there are certain members of the dominant group who systematically do not give the benefit of their doubt. They seem on the lookout for people whom they can suppose want to pass as members of their club. These are the sorts of people who are fabulously sensitive to clues that someone is Mulatto, Jewish, Indian or gay, and are eager to notify others of the person's supposed pretense of being "normal" or "white" (or whatever), though the person may have been making no pretense at all.*** This latter type is quite commonly recognized as a racist, anti-Semite or homophobe, while the other type, the one who "graciously" lets the possibly deviant/dark person pass as normal/white, is often considered a nice person and not a bigot. People of both types seem to me to be equally arrogant: both are arrogating definitional power to themselves and thereby asserting that defining is exclusively their prerogative.
I think that almost all white people engage in the activity of defining membership in the group of white people in one or another of these modes, quite un-self-consciously and quite constantly. It is very hard, in individual cases, to give up this habit and await people's deciding for themselves what group they are members of.
The tendency of members of the group called white to be generously inclusive, to count as white anybody not obviously nonwhite, seems to be of a piece with another habit of members of that group, namely, the habit of false universalization. As feminists we are very familiar with the male version of this: the men write and speak and presumably, therefore, also think, as though whatever is true of them is true of everybody. White people also speak in universals. A great deal of what has been written by white feminists is limited by this sort of false universalization. Much of what we have said is accurate only if taken to be about white women and white men within white culture (middle-class white women and white men, in fact). For the most part, it never occurred to us to modify our nouns accordingly; to our minds the people we were writing about were people. We don't think of ourselves as white.
It is an important breakthrough for a member of a dominant group to come to know s/he is a member of a group, to know that what s/he is is only a part of humanity. It was breathtaking to discover that in the culture I was born and reared in, the word `woman' means white woman, just as we discovered before that the word `man' means male man. This sudden expansion of the scope of one's perception can produce a cold rush of awareness of the arbitrariness of the definitions, the brittleness of these boundaries. Escape becomes thinkable.
The group to which I belong, presumably by virtue of my pigmentation, is not ordained in Nature to be socially and politically recognized as a group, but is so ordained only by its own members through their own self-serving and politically motivated hoarding of definitional power. What this can mean to white people is that we are not white by nature but by political classification, and hence it is in principle possible to disaffiliate. If being white is not finally a matter of skin color, which is beyond our power to change, but of politics and power, then perhaps white individuals in a white supremacist society are not doomed to dominance by logic or nature.
Some of my experience has made me feel trapped and set up so that my actions are caught in a web that connects them inexorably to sources in white privilege and to consequences oppressive to people of color (especially to women of color). Clearly, if one wants to extricate oneself from such a fate or (if the feeling was deceptive) from such a feeling of fatedness, the first rule for the procedure can only be: educate oneself.
One can, and should, educate oneself and overcome the terrible limitations imposed by the abysmal ignorance inherent in racism. There are traps, of course. For instance, one may slip into a frame of mind which distances those one is learning about as "objects of study." While one is educating oneself about the experiences and perspectives of the peoples one is ignorant about, and in part as a corrective to the errors of one's ways, one should also be studying one's own ignorance. Ignorance is not something simple: it is not a simple lack, absence or emptiness, and it is not a passive state. Ignorance of this sort--the determined ignorance most white Americans have of American Indian tribes and clans, the ostrichlike ignorance most white Americans have of the histories of Asian peoples in this country, the impoverishing ignorance most white Americans have of Black language--ignorance of these sorts is a complex result of many acts and many negligences. To begin to appreciate this one need only hear the active verb to ignore' in the word `ignorance'. Our ignorance is perpetuated for us in many ways and we have many ways of perpetuating it for ourselves.
I was at a poetry reading by the Black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde. In her poems she invoked African goddesses, naming several of them. After the reading a white woman rose to speak. She said first that she was very ignorant of African religious and cultural history, and then she asked the poet to spell the names of these goddesses and to tell her where she might look for their stories. The poet replied by telling her that there is a bibliography in the back of the book from which she was reading which would provide the relevant information. The white woman did not thank the poet and sit down. The white woman (who I know is literate) said, "I see, but will you spell their names for me?" What I saw was a white woman committed to her ignorance and being stubborn in its defense. She would convince herself that she cannot use this bibliography if the Black woman will not spell the names for her. She will say she tried to repair her ignorance but the poet would not cooperate. The poet. The Black woman poet who troubled herself to include a bibliography in her book of poems. ****
In Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man(3) (a book of considerable value to feminists), one can see the structures of white ignorance from the side of the ignored. Nothing the protagonist can do makes him visible. He wants nothing so badly as to be seen and heard. But he is frustrated by an opaque and dense veil made up of lies the white men tell each other about Black men. He is ignored nearly to death.
There is an enlightening account of some structures of white ignorance also in a story called "Meditations on History," by Sherley Ann Williams.(4) In the story, a man who is writing a book about how to manage slaves is visiting a place where a slave woman is being held until her baby is born so that, when they hang her for running away and killing a white man, her owner will at least have the baby to make up for his loss. The writer is interviewing the woman to find out why she killed the slave trader, and why and how the slaves got loose. (His ignorance is, of course, already showing, along with some of the structures which both motivate and support it.) He is irritated by her humming and singing, but it never occurs to him that it means anything. By way of her songs, the woman is able to conspire with the other slaves around the place; she tells them that her friends will come to rescue her and notifies them when the time is at hand; they cooperate with her, and she escapes. The hapless interviewer is totally baffled by her escape. His presumptions have closed out knowledge; his ignorance has been self-constructed. His ignorance has also been both encouraged and used by the slave woman, who has deliberately and reasonably played on it by pretending to be stupid, robotic and disoriented. It was certainly not in her interest to disabuse him of his assumptions that her singing was mindless and that she was too mindless to be plotting an escape. Ignorance works like this, creating the conditions which ensure its continuance.
White women can dip into our own experience as women for knowledge of the ways in which ignorance is complex and willful, for we know from our interactions with white men (and not necessarily only with men who are white) the "absence" imposed on us by our not being taken seriously, and we sense its motivation and know it is not simply accidental oversight.
If one wonders at the mechanisms of ignorance, at how a person can be right there and see and hear, and yet not know, one of the answers lies with the matter of attention. The man in Williams' story constantly daydreams about what a great success his book is going to be; he has compelling fantasies of his own fame and recognition-recognition by white men, of course. He is much more intent upon the matter of whom he will please and impress than he is upon the matter at hand. Members of dominant groups are habitually busy with impressing each other and care more for that than for actually knowing what is going on. And again, white women can learn from our own experience a propos (most often, white) men. We do much of what we do with a great anxiety for how we will be received by men-by mentors, friends, husbands, lovers, editors, members of our disciplines, professions or political groups, tenure-review committees, fathers. With our attention focused on these men, or our imaginings of them, we cannot pay attention to the matter at hand and will wind up ignorant of things which were perfectly apparent. Thus, without any specific effort these men can turn white women to the work of falsification even as we try to educate ourselves. Since white women are almost white men, being white, at least, and sometimes more-or-less honorary men, we can cling to a hope of true membership in the dominant and powerful group, and if our focus is thus locked on them by this futile hope, we can be stuck in our ignorance and theirs all our lives. (Some men of color fall into the parallel trap of hoping for membership in the dominant and powerful group, this time because of their sex. With their attention focused on power and money, they cannot see women, of their race or any other.) Attention has everything to do with knowledge.
White women's attachments to white men have a great deal to do with our race privilege, with our racism and with our inabilities to understand these. Race and racism also have a great deal to do with white women's attachment to white men. We need to look at these connections more closely. Within the span of a few days, a little while back, I encountered three things that came together like pieces of a simple puzzle: 1. I heard a report on the radio about the "new" Klan. It included a recording of a man making a speech to the effect that the white race is threatened with extinction. He explicitly compared the white race to the species of animals that are classed as "endangered" and protected by laws. He also noted with concern the fact that ten years ago the population of Canada was 98 percent white and it is now only 87 percent white.# 2. In a report in the feminist newspaper Big Mama Rag, it was pointed out that "they" are making it virtually impossible for white women to get abortions while forcing sterilization of women of color both in the United States and around the world. 3. In the feminist magazine Conditions, No. 7, there was a conversation among several Black and Jewish lesbians. Among other things, they discussed the matter of the pressure on them to have Black or Jewish babies, to contribute to the survival of their races, which are threatened with extinction. ## I think on all this. For hundreds of years and for a variety of reasons, mostly economic, white men of European stock have been out, world-wide, conquering, colonizing and enslaving people they classify as dark, earning the latter's hatred and rage in megadeath magnitudes. For hundreds of years, those same white men have known they were a minority in the population of the world, and more recently many of them, have believed in the doctrine that darkness is genetically dominant. White men have their reasons to be afraid of racial extinction.###
I begin to think that this fear is one of the crucial sources of white racism even among the nonrabid who do not actively participate in Klan Kulture. This suggests a reading of the dominant culture's immense pressure on "women" to be mothers. The dominant culture is white, and its pressure is on white women to have white babies. The magazine images of the glories of motherhood do not show white mothers with little brown babies. Feminists have commonly recognized that the pressures of compulsory motherhood on women of color is not just pressure to keep women down, but pressure to keep the populations of their races up; we have not so commonly thought that the pressures of compulsory motherhood on white women are not just pressures to keep women down, but pressure to keep the white population up.
This aspect of compulsory motherhood for white women--white men's anxiety for the survival of their race####--has not been explicit or articulate in the lifetimes and lives of white women in my circles, and the pressure to make babies has been moderated by the pressure for "family planning" (which I interpret as a project of quality control). But what is common and overt in primarily white circles where the racism runs deep and mostly silent is another curious phenomenon.
In the all white or mostly white environments I have usually lived and worked in, when the women start talking up feminism and lesbian feminism, we are very commonly challenged with the claim that if we had our way, the species would die out. (The assumption our critics make here is that if women had a choice, we would never have intercourse and never bear children. This reveals a lot about the critics' own assessment of the joys of sex, pregnancy, birthing and motherhood.) They say the species would die out. What I suspect is that the critics confuse the white race with the human species, just as men have confused males with the human species. What the critics are saying, once it is decoded, is that the white race might die out. The demand that white women make white babies to keep the race afloat has not been overt, but I think it is being made over and over again in disguised form as a preachment within an all-white context about our duty to keep the species afloat.
Many white women, certainly many white feminists in the milieux I am familiar with, have not consciously thought that white men may be fearing racial extinction and, at the least, wanting our services to maintain their numbers. Perhaps here in middle America, most white women are so secure in white dominance that such insecure thoughts as whether there are enough white people around do not occur. But also, because we white women have been able to think of ourselves as looking just at women and men when we really were looking at white women and white men, we have generally interpreted our connections with these men solely in terms of gender, sexism and male dominance. We have to figure their desire for racial dominance into the equations.
Simply as females, as mere women in this world, we who are female and white stand to be poor, ill-educated, preyed upon and despised. But because we are both female and white, we belong to that group of women from which the men of the racially dominant group choose their mates. Because of that we are given some access to the benefits they have as members of the racially dominant male group-access to material and educational benefits and the specious benefits of enjoying secondhand feelings of superiority and supremacy. We also have the specious benefit of a certain hope (a false hope, as it turns out) which women of subordinated races do not have, namely the hope of becoming actually dominant with the white men, as their "equals." This last pseudo-benefit binds us most closely to them in racial solidarity. A liberal while feminism would seek "equality"; we can hardly expect to be heard as saying we want social and economic status equal to that of, say, Chicanos. If what we want is equality with our' white brothers, then what we want is, among other things, our own firsthand participation in racial dominance rather than the secondhand ersatz dominance we get as the dominant group's women. No wonder such feminism has no credibility with women of color.
Race is a tie that binds us to men: "us" being white women, and "men" being white men. If we wish not to be bound in subordination to men, we have to give up trading on our white skin for white men's race privilege. And on the other hand, if we detach ourselves from reproductive service to white men (in the many senses and dimensions of "reproduction"), the threat we pose is not just to their male selves but to their white selves. White men's domination and control of' white women is essential to their project of maintaining their racial dominance. This is probably part of the explanation of' why the backlash against feminism overlaps in time and personnel with renewed intensity and overtness of white racism in this country. When their control of "their" women is threatened, their confidence in their racial dominance is threatened.
It is perfectly clear that this did not occur to many of us in advance, but for white women a radical feminism is treacherous to the white race as presently constructed and instituted in this country. The growing willingness of white women to forego the material benefits and ego supports available through connections with white men makes us much harder to contain and control as part of the base of their racial dominance. For many of us, resistance to white male domination was first, and quite naturally, action simply for our own release from a degradation and tyranny we hated in and of itself. But in this racial context, our pursuit of our liberation (I do not say "of equality") is, whether or not we so intend it, disloyal to Whiteness.
I recommend that we make this disloyalty an explicit part of our politics and embrace it, publicly. This can help us to steer clear of a superficial politics of just wanting what our white brothers have, and help us develop toward a genuine disaffiliation from that Whiteness that has, finally, so little to do with skin color and so much to do with racism.
In a certain way it is true that being white-skinned means that everything I do will be wrong--at the least an exercise of unwarranted privilege--and I will encounter the reasonable anger of women of color at every turn. But `white' also designates a political category, a sort of political fraternity. Membership in it is not in the same sense "fated" or "natural." It can be resisted.
There is a correct line on the matter of white racism which is, in fact, quite correct, to the effect that as a white person one must never claim not to be racist, but only to be anti-racist. The reasoning is that racism is so systematic and white privilege so impossible to escape, that one is, simply, trapped. On one level this is perfectly true and must always be taken into account. Taken as the whole and final truth, it is also unbearably and dangerously dismal. It would place us in the hopeless moral position of one who believes in original sin but in no mechanism of redemption. But white supremacy is not a law of nature, nor is any individual's complicity in it.
Feminists make use of a distinction between being male and being "a man," or masculine. I have enjoined males of' my acquaintance to set themselves against masculinity. I have asked them to think about how they can stop being men, and I was not recommending a sex-change operation. I do not know how they can stop being men, but I think it is thinkable, and it is a counsel of hope. Likewise I can set myself against Whiteness: I can give myself the injunction to stop being White.
I do not suggest for a moment that I can disaffiliate by a private act of will, or by any personal strategy. Nor, certainly, is it accomplished simply by thinking it possible. To think it thinkable shortcuts no work and shields one from no responsibility. Quite the contrary, it may be a necessary prerequisite to assuming responsibility, and it invites the honorable work of radical imagination.
* This is a slightly revised version of the text of a talk I delivered to general audience at Cornell University, sponsored by the Women's Studies Program, the Philosophy Department and the James H. Becker Alumni Lecture Series, October 29, 1981. In the revision process I profited from the comments and criticisms of Nancy K. Bereano, Michele Nevels, Carolyn Shafer, Sandra Siegel, Sharon Keller and Dorothy Yoshimuri This piece, more than any other in the collection, directly reflects and is limited by my own location, both culturally and in a process of change. The last thing I would want is that it be read either as my last, or as a complete, account of what whiteness is and of what that means to a white feminist. I do not for a moment take it or intend it to be either.
** As Ran Hall pointed out: "the definition of 'whitewash'--a concealing or glossing over of flaws--does not imply improving or correcting an object or situation but the covering of reality with a cheap, inferior disguise (whiteness)." See "dear martha," in Common Lives Lesbian Lives: A Lesbian Quarterly, No. 6., Winter, 1982, p. 40.
*** I have not generally included Jews in my lists of examples of "racial" groups because when I did, Jewish critics of this material said that the ways in which anti-Semitism and other sorts of racism are similar and different make such simple inclusion misleading. I include Jews among my examples right here because with respect specifically to these questions of being allowed or not allowed to "pass" (whether one wants to or not), anti-Semitism and other kinds of racism are similar. Although many Jews are politically white in many ways in this country, when they "pass" as non-Jewish, what they may get is the treatment and reception accorded to ordinary "white" Americans. Paradoxically, though Jewish is not equivalent to nonwhite, passing still seems to be passing as white. My thanks to Nancy Bereano for useful discussion of these matters.
**** I do not mean to suggest she provided the bibliography specifically or primarily for the education of white women; but it is reasonable to assume she thought it would be useful to whatever white woman might happen along with suitable curiosity.
# This report went by quickly and I had no way to take notes, so I cannot vouch either for his statistics or for the absolute accuracy of my report of his statistics, but these figures do accurately reflect the genera magnitude of "the problem" and of his problem.
## Many Blacks in this country have a global perspective which reveals that though white racism here has its genocidal aspect, Blacks in America are certainly not the whole Black race. For such people, the idea that their race is threatened with extinction may not have the force it would have for those with a more "american" perspective.
### Edward Fields, a principal ideologue and propagandist for the Klan, was asked if homosexuals are a threat to the white race. He replied that they are, and went on to say: "Our birthrate is extremely low. We are below population zero, below 2.5 children per family. The white race is going down fast, we are only 12% of the world population. In 1990, we'll be only 10% of the population worldwide. We'll be an extinct species of homosexuality continues to grow, interracial marriage continues to take people out of the white race, if our birthrate continues to fall." (quoted in "Into the Fires of Hatred: A Portrait of Klan Leader Edward Fields" by Lee David Hoshall with Nancy A. F. Langer, in Gay Community News November 6, 1982, p. 5.)
#### Male chauvinism makes the men think of themselves as the white race. In this context it is appropriate to call it their race, not "our" race.
1. Persephone Press, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1980.
2. Cf., "The Problem That Has No Name," in this collection, for discussion of the speciousness and of the effectiveness of such power.
3. Random House, New York, 1952.
4. In Midnight Birds, Stories of Contemporary Black Women Writers, edited by Mary Helen Washington (Anchor Doubleday, New York, 1980).
Feminist Reprise thanks Kya for her assistance in readying this article for the site.