Holvino: Whiteness

Aug 17, 2017

The white supremacist events in Charlottesville are terrifying, especially for African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, American Indians and all people of color.

But as frightened as I am by this violence, I’m also disturbed by the politicians who condemn the supremacists - and the president’s response - while at the same time supporting immigration bans, the construction of ‘the wall,’ and the cuts to social services that disproportionately hurt people of color.

Racism in this country cuts a very wide swath: on the one hand are the white supremacists who overtly believe in the superiority of white people and actively seek to dominate or destroy us. On the other are the many ways in which whites sustain and benefit from institutional advantages to the detriment of people of color.

These daily practices can be subtle, like racist jokes and images, and not, like discrimination in housing and the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.

In my own town of Brattleboro, almost ten percent of the population identifies as non-white, but the town’s staff is one hundred percent white, including the police and fire departments. Some residents see this lack of representation as a problem, but most people don’t.

When public conversations about increasing the diversity of the staff were held recently, not many community members attended. Eight months later, we’re still waiting to see what efforts, if any, are going to be made to change this status quo.

This is an example of ‘white privilege’ – a term that refers to the many benefits white people receive in a racially structured society, simply for being white. Thus, only whites seem to get the government jobs in my town.

The conversations about this situation also demonstrate how whiteness works. ‘Whiteness,’ is another aspect of racism; a way of thinking where ‘white’ is the default – the norm – while everything and everyone else is ‘foreign’ or different. So, an all-white staff is regarded as ‘just the way things are.’

Racism, whiteness and white privilege are inseparable. And while it’s certainly important to condemn racist supremacists, I’d also like to see all my neighbors acknowledge the whiteness of our town’s government and do something to change the racial privilege it represents.