"Whiteness" in Europe & Tumblr’s US-centric SJ Discourse
You are one of the best US-SJ people on tumblr I have ever read, very mindful of the differences in the concept of “White” in different counties and I am really need your advice on this problem, if you are willing to give it, of cause.
A lot of spending SJ people on tumblr are rather US centric, when it comes to defining racial categories and react very strongly when you try to talk about other places and categories, especially if they perceive it as a white-on-white issue (because that would have been a white on white issue in the states, and they would be rightfully outraged by the oppressor group trying to occupy their spaces and derail the whole thing).
It is understandable to a certain extent: your own pain is always closer and more real then the one that is removed from you (That’s why I think the concepts like Asian Privilege are born: Out of the perceived lesser oppression other discriminated groups are experiencing)
As a non-American/non English native speaking person, who have discovered a lot of communality of experience with the American people submitting and writing SJ blogs, I am not sure as to what should I do:
On one hand, I am quite sure that the discrimination I am experiencing is real and based on the idea of whiteness and my lack of the proper amount of it. It brings me considerable discomfort and led to some rather bad internalized feelings I feel towards my own people and culture, I am still trying to get rid of, but I don’t think that I will ever be able to.
On the other hand, the racist structure of the States lacks the category I belong to, and defines me as properly white (I don’t live in the States (this IS important), cause if I did, I wouldn’t be facing a lot at all)
What should I do?
1) Start speaking at risk of being dismissed due to the prevalence of the US-discourse in the tumblr-sphere? ( But, I don’t want to give the American whites additional derailing arguments since I have seen enough “but the X where white and faced horrible discrimination” arguments, which conveniently ignored the fact that in all these cases the group in question was defined as NOT WHITE in their own respective context).
I feel like it can potentially harm people I do not want to be harmed at all: people who are oppressed by the idea of white superiority in the States.
2) Or should I remain silent, implicitly enforcing the universality of the US idea of white ?
I am starting to feel that the whole thing makes me feel a slight resentment towards the wrong kind of people, I otherwise agree with: You know the thing you feel when an otherwise splendid feminist is denying racism, or an antiracist not believing in sexism , the feeling of disappointment in people who get one aspect of it very well, not getting their own privilege in other aspects (In this case: Being American and having the power to define the discourse in even the international spaces due to the relative cultural power of the States). I don’t think I should feel it, but then again, why should we be mindful of the American structures when the Americans don’t need to know anything about ours before starting writing?
Should I just step away from the English speaking discourse on this matter?
Sorry if my thoughts are a little bit to jumbled at this point: I have been reading a lot of the US social justice blogs without writing anything about it for about half a year and came to the point I can’t ignore this duality anymore.
Thanks so much for sharing. This is one of many problems that I have with Tumblr’s SJ discourse, as you’re exactly right in saying that it tends to be incredibly US-centric and myopic. What does “POC solidarity” look like in the Arab World where there is local Arab supremacy and a long history of racism and enslavement of African peoples and a more recent history of SE and South Asians laborers and maids who also face abuse and tremendous discrimination? What does “POC solidarity” look like in a world where the global imperialist leading drone strikes against black and brown peoples in the Third World is a black American man? What does the very term “POC” mean, and, for that matter what does “white” mean within and without the US geographic context, in Europe especially?
I have written about this topic of “whiteness in Europe" previously but anything that challenges or acknowledges problems with Tumblr SJ discourse tends to not be as "popular." For context, I have had the tremendous privilege to have been able to travel abroad considerably and currently have family in both Africa and Europe, so I have witnessed, read and heard personal accounts providing testament to just how important local context is in local conceptions of race especially.
For some reason (maybe due to lack of exposure or just buying into the American global hegemony which breeds myopia in both white and non-white Americans), it’s hard for people on here to wrap their heads around the fact that the following people would not be considered “white” in their home countries due to their ethnic background:
(Image description: Portrait of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen American Boston Marathon bomber. Chechens and other peoples from the Caucuses are specifically targeted for discrimination in Russia and are not seen as “white.” My friend, blackgirlinrussia, remarked to me how she, as a black woman, would never get stopped by Russian police, but those who “looked” like they were from the Caucuses always were)
(Image description: Portrait of Charlie Chaplin, 1/4 Romanichal famous British comic who purposefully hid his Romanichal heritage to pass as “fully” white in British society)
(Image description: Portrait of a little blonde girl with pale skin and light blue eyes, the “blonde angel" whom Greek authorities kidnapped from her adopted Roma parents thinking that she was white. DNA tests later showed that she was Roma. Roma face rampant antiziganism in Europe, lighter skin can afford some privilege, but they are still subject to antiziganism and are racialized as non-white as Roma regardless.)
(Image description: A picture of 3 blonde Irish Traveller girls who face institutionalized discrimination and disenfranchisement in Ireland and the UK. Irish Travellers are not a Roma subgroup)
(Image description: Portrait of a blonde Polish woman. Polish people face discrimination within the UK today based on their ethnic background and were also specifically targeted for extermination by Nazi death squads along with other Slavic peoples.)
(Image description: Portrait of Simone Veil, a French Jewish member of the EU Parliament and also a survivor of Auschwitz, Jewish people, including those with pale skin, are distinctively racialized as non-white throughout Europe)
A lot of Americans just don’t seem to /get it/. They don’t understand how important local histories and context are in shaping the way race is “seen” in any given country, although this should be patently obvious. Whiteness and race, are fluid categorizations that change on a temporal and geographic basis. When we fix ourselves in our current local context and deny the experiences of others, like you, our analyses not only lose nuance, but we reproduce systems of oppression (e.g. American dominance of global discourse) as well.
When I was in Sweden this past summer visiting family, it was a huge wake up call for me. My cousins there are 1/4 black and 3/4 white and would, without a doubt, “pass” for white in America, but they do not pass in Sweden. One of my friends there is South Asian and lives in the ghetto. The ghetto in Sweden is very mixed with (non-white Swedish) folks. This includes Bosnian refugees, whom we would all see as fully “white” in America. Interestingly, though, despite being racialized as “other” in Sweden, their “partial” whiteness does provide them with some privilege, and they were typically the top of the heap in the ghetto in Sweden, but they were still in the ghetto at the end of the day and not “fully” white (like white Swedes).
After 4 weeks in Sweden, I was looking at white people differently, and implicitly categorizing them by where they came from, my mind adapting almost instinctively to local racial context. People who “looked” Southern and Eastern European began to stick out to me in ways they never did in America. I began to make distinctions of the white people who “looked Swedish” and those who did not, and especially those from Eastern and Southern Europe.
In Europe, xenoracism (which “others” all immigrants, but definitely takes on racial dimensions for people who cannot pass as the local dominant ethnic majority) and ethno-nationalism (which elevates things like a specifically “Slavic” identity and “look” in Russia, “Englishness” and Anglo features in England, etc.), creates a completely different landscape for race and conceptions of “partial” and “full” whiteness.
I mean, what else explains the racist undertones of the derogatory term “PIGS”, used for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, in mainstream media in the UK since the 90s, especially when we take a step back and think about how Southern Europeans have historically been deemed “Mediterranean,” “Iberic” and other terms to distinguish their whiteness from those of Northern and Western Europe. Cartoons like the below reinforce the implicit racialization of those countries and their peoples as subhuman, gluttonous, pigs:
(Image description: cartoon of 4 pigs with the flags of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy gorging in a bed of coins with the words “ALL YOU CAN EAT” under it)
What else explains the staunch opposition of many European countries to Turkey’s entrance into the EU (many Turkish people who would be racialized as “white” in much of America, although, if they are Muslim, that does complicate their whiteness somewhat) with explicitly racist and Islamophobic cartoons like this:
(Image description: Cartoon of a chicken coup representing the “European Union” with white chickens on two branches with one saying “D-D-Don’t worry-he’ll melt right in.” And a much larger, dark chicken in the middle wearing a skullcap labeled “Islamic Hordes from Turkey”)
People on tumblr really need to decenter themselves from American geo-political context and not shut out the voices of people from other countries when discussions pertinent to those countries are occurring.
Things I don’t have time for:
- White Americans saying shit like “OH, LIKE THIS POST SHOWS, SOME OF US ARE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN OTHER COUNTRIES, SO WE CAN’T HAVE PRIVILEGE.” Dipshit, you’re in America and are racialized as white here, while the “white” peoples who are discriminated against in certain European contexts are NOT racialized as white there.
- Tumblr folks flatly applying US conceptions of race, whiteness and privilege to the world, erasing the experiences of people like you and being totally ignorant, especially since antiblackness is not the fulcrum of white supremacy in much of Europe and the rest of the world.
- Tumblr folks being called out on being US-centric and not giving a fuck, especially on posts relevant to Europe and other geographies.
- Just derailment overall. A discussion about race in America is centered there and should not have people clamoring to and pointing to this post and others derailing that discussion. A discussion about race and whiteness on a global scale or in specific non-American contexts should NOT be derailed by Americans with our typical myopic bullshit that does not include and acknowledge local racial context.
There is tremendous tribalism in Europe, and distinctions and hierarchies of whiteness do exist (e.g. Southern and Eastern Europeans being seen as “lower grade” whites in Northern and Western Europe) along with the outright racialization (as fully non white) of people from certain ethnic groups (e.g. Roma, Jews, Chechens) that include very fair individuals. These distinctions are important. The world does not revolve around America.
As I’ve said before:
I think many people forget that “whiteness” is an inherently fluid categorization of people that is only “fixed” somewhat on a temporal and inherently local level. Whiteness as we see it in America today, is not the way that it’s seen in Europe, Latin America, etc. even as we speak right now.
And with that, I’m done, as I personally have no patience anymore for Americans on-and-off Tumblr who are willfully ignorant and refuse to decenter their US-centric perspective even when faced with evidence to the contrary. In American-specific discussions on tumblr, speaking up would be derailing and inappropriate (and cater to racist white Americans), but definitely do share your opinion in cases relevant to Europe and your local context.
Thanks for the ask,