Monday, August 31, 2020

White Normativity

Last week, I listened to a podcast that I found helpful. It was on "the Bible for Normal People" and featured Drew Hart. He's a theologian. And a black man. And he was talking about how he views race relations in the US.  He said a lot of things that were helpful, especially if you're just entering these types of conversations as a white person.  But there was one thing that I thought could really help change the nature of these conversations.  

When he was answering a question about "white supremacy" he said we need a different way of saying it...for the sake of the conversation.  He said something along the lines of racial hierarchy where white is at the top--not that that's what he was asking for, that's what he was describing.  I heard, in one form or fashion "white normativity". I don't know that that was his exact phrase, but it's the way it stuck with me.  That white supremacy is really a conversation about white normativity...things that are associated with white people becoming the "norm" by which other things are measured.  

He didn't name these, but they're examples that came immediately to mind:

Things like bandaids being "skin colored"--but only if you're fair skinned, or white.  I didn't have any reason to take note of this until I was in college.  Or maybe, better stated, no one drew my attention to this marker of white normativity until college. If this is new to you, this article might be helpful. 

Or the "flesh" crayon color being reflective of white flesh, not African American, Native American, Desi, Latino, or Asian flesh. 

Or the "norm" of identifying the race of someone in your story, but only if they aren't white. Like, "there was a black man who crossed the street...", or "this asian lady..." but white people don't say, "when the white lady said". We only identify the "other" because whiteness is's the norm.  

There is lots of white normativity. It's a huge hurdle in our country. We don't talk about it easily or readily. And, if it's coined by it's real term: white supremacy, many of us fall deaf. After all, white supremacy has become the way we talk about the Neo-nazi, skin-head, racist radical movement that flagrantly touts the supremacy of the "white race" (that's a whole other post!) and advocate for the elimination of others.  Those of us who are not in that group certainly do not want to be lumped in along side them.  Which means we then (generally) refuse to even enter conversations where someone might say we hold "white supremacist ideals".  

But...maybe?  If we talked about white normativity--where we find it, how to identify it, why it's problematic, and how to dismantle it, maybe we could make some progress?  Maybe?  

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