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Perspective: The Urgent Work Of Confronting Whiteness

Tyler Merbler
Tear gas outside U.S. Capitol

Over the last few weeks, I have witnessed the astonishment of white folks surprised by the insurrection at the nation’s capital on Jan 6th. White fear and violence are threaded throughout US history, which people of color have known and survived for over four hundred years. White violence in the US began with the colonization and genocide of native people and has continued through the systematic exclusion and murder of people of African, Asian, and Latinx descent, among others.

Historically, whiteness defined itself against “non-white” others who were understood to be dangerous, criminal, and therefore “un-American.” The fear of racialized others is essential to white identity in the US. The insurrection was shocking because many white people don’t see themselves as violent. The power of whiteness allows some to believe that virulent racism or white nationalist ideations are the beliefs of a crazy few rather than a central legacy of whiteness. Ignoring this history will not make it disappear.

Questioning whiteness is the first step to unraveling these legacies. The work of acknowledging its violent history and mitigating its contemporary repercussions are crucial for choosing paths toward healing. If you are white, seeing and understanding how whiteness works is difficult yet doable through empathetic practice. I invite you to begin the challenging work of confronting whiteness because our collective future depends on it.

I’m Lisa Anderson-Levy, and that’s my Perspective.

Lisa Anderson-Levy is a Professor of Anthropology and affiliated faculty in Critical Identity Studies at Beloit College. Areas of interest include critical race theory, citizenship and nationalism, transnational whitenesses, postcolonial theory, feminist theories and methodologies, sexuality and the state, color/race, gender, and social class in the Caribbean and United States.