If you’re white, congratulations, you are a beneficiary of one of the most well known and lucrative family businesses: whiteness™.
If you’re lucky to be a part of the extended family, your eventual inheritance of the business is actually plotted before you are even born. In many ways, you do not need any formal experience in running the business in order to understand the machinations and reap the rewards. whiteness™ is recognized globally and passed down from elders to youth through well-meaning nepotism meant to protect the next generation of white people. And whether you want to be associated with the company or not, it is a family tradition that you are born into and branded with at birth. Once you come of a certain age you can determine whether whiteness™ is really something you want to continue supporting, but until then the process is automatic. So yes, you do have the choice between inhabiting or abandoning whiteness™, but who wants to leave valuable white privilege on the table with nothing in return but a pat on the back and the title of “ally?”
Now it should be noted that whiteness™ is not the only business in the United States of America, but it is infamously generative. And in many ways, we must congratulate whiteness™ on becoming a global empire. Like most family businesses built from scratch, breaking even and beating the competitors takes work. Building a family business-turned-company-turned-corporation is not easy, and there is a huge set of accompanying risks when starting out. Sacrifices are made for the sake of the business, and those sacrifices are often erased once the founders finally succeed. Let us not forget that literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the first iteration of whiteness™, an iteration that we would not even recognize today if someone were to present it to us.
In the early years, whiteness™ dealt with the rise of the “Saxon” as superior to the “Celt.” Then, in attempt to avoid their Germanic roots, the business shifted from “Saxon” to “Nordic.” Rebranding brought them to Caucasoid and Caucasian before finally settling on the brand we know so well: white. whiteness™ has taken on more names and faces than it cares to admit. In short, for whiteness™ to become the booming business that is today, the entrepreneurial humans who started it had to give up a bit of themselves in the form of their specific countries of origin. Their connections to Poland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Greece, Portugal, and a number of additional European countries had to be sacrificed in the name of a better, more streamlined business model. However, before whiteness™ was even a business in the United States, the budding entrepreneurs foresaw much of what they would need to win and it was not pretty.
The proprietors of whiteness™ did not just have to give a bit of their former selves, they also had to take a bit from everyone else in order to ensure success. They began with the slaughter of peoples indigenous to what we now call “The United States of America,” killing many in order to claim land that was not theirs. Next, they knew there were not enough fit—or “pure,” as they used to say when eugenics was still socially acceptable—white people alone to accomplish their dreams. As a result, they continued their violence with the now-known-as-white-Irish indentured servants. Then, in service of whiteness™, they bought, stole, and transported enslaved African people to their newfound business site to force these humans into labor, sex, and desperation in order to avoid the bankruptcy of whiteness™. They even created justifications for their actions in the form of scientific racism employee handbooks, an employee Constitution, swanky employee uniforms, and more. They needed land, they needed labor, and they were going to do whatever was required to do it, no matter how violent the means.
The result, however, is beyond what they have ever could have envisioned. Many of today’s whiteness™ shareholders would even argue that it was all a long time ago and was well worth it. You see, whiteness™ affords so many people income, wealth, opportunity, and access that few could even dream of and people of all races aspire to mirror. But like most businesses, whiteness™ cannot and will not help everyone. While you might be related to be a recipient of the enormous profits of the business, whiteness™ still leaves many individual white people without the full scope of benefits. Of the 43.5 million people who constitute poverty level 17,981,400 of those people—or roughly 41%—are white. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and while whiteness™ provides extensive employee benefits as well as friends and family discounts, not everyone can be on the payroll.
The consolation prizes (to name a few) in the invisible knapsack of white privilege includes white skin, white social networks, white generational wealth, white-only housing, access to white education, white surnames, white first names, [feigning] ignorance to interlocking systems of oppression, and white cities. While every white person benefits receives these privileges, money does shift how you can yield them. For the majority of white folks who are less wealthy, socioeconomic status shifts their privilege from the heavily financial gift that some of you share to more social and political influence that all of you wield. Instead of a monetary Christmas bonus, poor and working class shareholders receive a generic thank you card for their service. whiteness™ is invite only, so chances are slim that you benefit in the same way if you are mixed-race, sorry.
Yet, through my anecdotal, ethnographic, and academic studies of the business of whiteness™, I have to agree with James Baldwin when he said that "white is a metaphor for power." The business of whiteness™ that we know today is mostly run by white cisgender men, but the political, economic, and symbolic positionality of whiteness™ within the United States of America is that of power. The reach of whiteness™ is not solely about race, economics, disability, country or origin, language, physical appearance or gender alone, but the power that the combination of what is deemed favorable affords certain groups of people. In fact, whiteness™ is like Walmart or any other household corporation. It does not have to inhabit the evil place in our world that it does, but this fact does not change the very real reality that is does.
We cannot and will not see liberation, equity, or racial parity as long as whiteness™ remains a family-business-turned-megacorporation with a full line of subsidiaries. As a parent company, whiteness™ partners with other companies to oversee such leading brands as white supremacy™, anti-Blackness™, orientalism™, racial microaggressions™, racial profiling™, cultural appropriation™, white feminism™, white imperialism™, and many more. In short, whiteness™ may serve you, but it does not serve us. It is clear that whiteness™ is much more than a family business.
whiteness™ is entitlement; whiteness™ is never having to say sorry; whiteness™ is invasive without consent or apology; whiteness™ is erasure; whiteness™ is not stagnant, whiteness™ is active; whiteness™ is violence; whiteness™ is anti-Blackness; whiteness™ is assimilation; whiteness™ is discounting lived experience as opinion; whiteness™ is its own fact-checker; whiteness™ is bold cowardice; whiteness™ is provocation; whiteness™ is instigation; whiteness™ is colonization; whiteness™ is suffocating; whiteness™ is ever-expanding; whiteness™ is contradiction; whiteness™ is blatant disrespect; whiteness™ is dehumanization; whiteness™ is predatory; whiteness™ is feigned politeness; whiteness™ is nonconsensual; whiteness™ is nonconsensual; whiteness™ is nonconsensual;
whiteness™ is nonconsensual.
Now, I’m Black. I’m not white. And growing up in a very non-Black area populated heavily by white people created a sort of lifelong fascination with whiteness™. I mean, how could I not be entrenched in some way? whiteness™ is an empire that is difficult to avoid no matter who you are, such is the power of branding. So much so that I spent so much of my life apologizing for the business of whiteness™ rather than recognizing the damage it has done to the life of myself and others. When I finally recognized whiteness™ for the violence that it is, I couldn’t help but think about how to dismantle the idea that white is right, that white is better, and that Black is inherently wrong. Learning to truly love all aspects of Blackness is something people like myself had to do, but an even more overwhelming process for some folks is learning to de-center whiteness. The two are not the same.
You see, to be young and free is a luxury not afforded Black people. We are seen as capable of enduring more physical, spiritual, and emotional pain, mistaken as older than we actually are, and not given space to heal from the continual legacy of Black pain and death. Blackness in the United States is the antithesis of youth or freedom, as our childhoods are chopped in half in a white supremacist society where we have never been free and where we will not be anytime soon. Freedom is not integration that is taking photos “together” but riding home to our clearly unequal and inhumane futures. By extension, freedom is not merely about sharing space at a lunch counter. Sure, the ability to sit at a lunch counter right next to racist-white-folks (both covert and overt racists) and trying-to-do-better-white-folks (recovering racists) is different from not even being allowed inside. The distinction, however, is not being allowed in or not allowed in. The distinction is the generational trauma caused by whiteness™ that lives in our bones, our wallets, and our neighborhoods well after the initial blows, whether we are let in or not
The tragic beauty of Black resilience and joy is that while "full stop" freedom has never existed for people of African descent in this country, we do excel in creating pockets of freedom for ourselves. We create spaces where we define ourselves, affirm our Blackness, and just let it all hang out. For me this looks like regular phone check-ins with my mom or surrounding myself by intellectually challenging and just plain fun Black folk. This looks like debrief sessions with friends after some bullshit pops off or a hug when I need it. This youthful form of freedom is not given to us, but carved by us in attempts to maintain sanity in a world that seeks to destroy us.
Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, and Steve Biko have all written variations on the idea that Black love is a revolutionary act, and after 28 years of life I’ve realized that that centering everything I do in revolutionary love is the key to my personal well-being and working toward true liberation.
Anthony J Williams is writer, editor, researcher, and a proud Black queer person with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology, Theatre, and Performance Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Find him on twitter @anthoknees.
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