Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

I thought a lot about race last week during my quickie sojourn to the Deep South. (How can you not??) Class, too. Digging through some old trunks in my closet, I found a wrinkled yellow legal pad bearing shockingly confidential notes from the summer I spent working at a domestic violence/rape crisis center down there. Talk about an education in the ugly racial politics of the old South. Whew. I had forgotten.

So when I saw this article in this week's New Yorker, it felt particularly apropos. Check out "Beyond the Pale: Is White the New Black?" for a fascinating overview of the social construction of whiteness as explored in several new books on race theory. It's a lot to wrap your head around, certainly just a toe in the water of the whole "whiteness studies" field, but a worthy subject, and one we too often overlook. Kalefa Sanneh writes that
Roediger and Painter are right to remind us that whiteness was built over centuries on a foundation of deceit and confusion and disguised political imperatives. But neither seems fully to grasp the ways in which this artificial category has, over the years, come haltingly to life. Yes, whiteness is a social construct, and not (as race scientists used to think) a biological essence—but then so, too, is every collective identity. It’s getting easier to talk about “white culture,” maybe even white politics, without knee-jerk sarcasm or, for that matter, knee-jerk sympathy. And it’s getting easier to imagine an American whiteness that is less exceptional, less dominant, less imperial, and more conspicuous, an ethnicity more like the others. In the Obama era—the Tea Party era—whiteness is easier to see than ever before, which means it’s less readily taken for granted. If invisibility is power, then whiteness is a little less powerful than it used to be.
Take a few minutes with the whole shebang. I appreciate Sanneh's emphasis on the artificiality of categories and identity. (Po-mo, baby, and queer theory, too!) I've mentioned Stuff White People Like here before, and can't help but love that tongue-in-cheek attempt to break down some of the invisibility of elite white culture. Check it out.

Beyond the Pale: Is White the New Black? (New Yorker)


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