The problem of racism has captured public attention in the United States as tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of every major city as well as many small towns. Largely peaceful protestors, Black and white, have persisted day after day, week after week, demanding systemic racism must end. And it’s not just police violence against Blacks, but racism in all aspects of the society that treat people of color unfairly so as to keep them at the bottom of society. The country is being called to a reckoning with its history.
The fact of the matter is that the United States was founded as a White nation. And while the society has gone on to become multicultural, including Blacks, native Americans, and various ethnic groups, they never enjoyed equal status. The mindset of a large number of USians remain White still today. Racism is not only built into the institutions of society, it is also built into the identity of whiteness. The racism of this White identity is now being challenged by the Black Lives Matter movement. What does it mean to be White? How is this White identity constituted and how does it lead to a denial of an equal humanity to the “Other”? We need a soul searching critique of whiteness if we are to ever overcome racism.
Two philosophers help us in this reflection. They are Charles Mills, author of The Racial Contract, and Linda Alcoff, author The Future of Whiteness. Black philosopher Mills argues that racial presuppositions are built into the very foundations of Western liberal thought. We don’t see White supremacy just as fish are not aware of water. Thus, without intending it Whites tend to dominate people of color. Latina philosopher Alcoff delves into racial as well as gender identities and how they shape the self. The ability of whiteness to define the national identity has been weakened, threatening the continued dominance by those who identify themselves as White.