Chapter Eleven of Estranged Americans: Fallacies of Freedom, Citizenship, and Racism
Defining whiteness is like defining air; it is all around. You are so accustomed to its existence that you mostly pay no attention to it except on a particularly windy day. It is typically benign, but during a tornado or hurricane, it can cause considerable damage or death. Whiteness is usually unnoticed; in America, it is the status quo. Whiteness is taken for granted; it is the baseline. Whiteness just is.
If there is one thing you should know about whiteness, it is this: Whiteness is not inherited; it is learned. There are no inherent characteristics, and whiteness cannot exist in a vacuum. Whiteness is a trait solely dependent on interaction with other people, whether people of color or other white people. Whiteness can be an attitude or a set of beliefs; sometimes, it presents itself through group consciousness or individual conclusions. Though often influenced by the environment one grows up in, whiteness is not inherited; it is learned.
Little children have no concept of whiteness until they are trained to heed it. While they may have some curiosity about color differences, it is not until someone supplies them with a reason for those differences that judgment occurs. That reason may or may not have any basis, but a belief system begins all the same.
Whiteness is embedded in American history: the first colonists, the founders — those who compiled our laws and developed our policies did so with whiteness in mind. The Constitution never explicitly mentions race, yet its Articles are filled with provisions to constrain. Article 1, Section 9, provided that Congress would continue to permit the “migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” for at least 20 years. Translated, it said that Congress could not block the importation of enslaved people because slaveholding states needed them for their economy. The plan was never to end slavery after 20 years but to replace enslaved people from other countries with homegrown domestic enslaved people, often the result of forced breeding or rape. Slave labor camps (plantations) also served as breeding farms; at a time when tobacco was depleting the nutrients in the…