The study of Whiteness in the social sciences has emerged and become widespread in the last century. As one can see, it has experienced a rebirth in the previous two decades. According to Hill (2008), “more recently, changing ideas of Whiteness have attracted much attention” (p. 13). It is partly because the white societies of Europe and North America have undergone a broad process of cultural and ethnic diversification over the past 20 years. Another reason is the current paradigm of postmodernism, one of the critical features of which is criticism, and the study of Whiteness is primarily a criticism of white culture. This paper aims to explore the key concepts that anthropologists use in their work on Whiteness.
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Two Perspectives on Whiteness
Social science researchers examine the construction of Whiteness from two standpoints. The first is that Whiteness is variable, and the second is that it is monolithic. Sociologists and anthropologists view Whiteness as an abstraction, independent phenomena when analyzing its variable side (Fought, 2006). Conversely, they refer to Whiteness as a monolithic concept when contrasting it with other ethnic and socio-cultural constructions (Fought, 2006). Moreover, there is a gradation of whiteness within Whiteness as a construction, and it still applies to some white ethnic minorities. Its signs are still noticeable in modern white societies even after decolonization, Cultural Revolution, and multiculturalization.
Colorism and White People
Colorism is still present in many societies across the world, especially in diverse ones. Disparities in various socio-economic indicators are proof of it. Interestingly, colorism exists not only between racial and ethnic groups but also within them, and white people are not an exception. Colorism in white communities is based on social and linguistic factors. For example, being middle-class and wealthy makes a white person whiter in the eyes of other whites (Fought, 2006). Knowledge of Standard English variations, a vast vocabulary, and proficiency in some dialects and accents also make a white person more white (Fought, 2006). Conversely, if an individual belongs to the lower strata of society, is poor, does not speak English well, or has a specific dialect or accent, he or she is perceived to be less white.
Relative Invisibility, Cultural Emptiness and Cultural Appropriation
Anthropologists frequently refer to Relative Invisibility in their study of Whiteness. It is a “type of cultural invisibility for whiteness” (Fought, 2006, p. 113). Relative Cultural Invisibility is a state of culture when it ceases to be perceived as something independent; it can only be identified by comparing it with another culture. Cultural norms and traditions become so standard that they become invisible. When people stop noticing the cultural patterns of their culture, a Cultural Emptiness emerges. A sign of Cultural Emptiness is that cultural representatives begin to express a desire to be “more ethnic” (Fought, 2006, p. 113). Lack of ethnicity and the subsequent desire to fill the Cultural Emptiness leads to Cultural Appropriation. It is the process of copying the traditions and norms of other cultural and ethnic groups.
This work analyzes such major concepts in the study of Whiteness as variable construction, white colorism, Relative Invisibility, Cultural Emptiness, and Cultural Appropriation. The variable side of Whiteness has been discussed and explained by opposing it to its monolithic one. Moreover, it has also been explained here how Relative Invisibility as a type of cultural invisibility leads to Cultural Invisibility and ultimately to Cultural Appropriation.
Fought, C. (2006). Language and ethnicity. Cambridge University Press.
Hill, J. H. (2008). The everyday language of white racism. John Wiley & Sons.
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