“Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal,”
In June, while Americans were focused on the protests and riots that engulfed U.S. cities in the wake of the horrific police killing of George Floyd, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) released an online “teaching tool” called “Talking About Race.” The page dedicated to “whiteness” includes an infographic attributing various aspects of American culture to “whiteness” or “white dominant culture.” Among other things, this graphic suggests that the nuclear family, science, capitalism, and the Judeo-Christian tradition are forms of oppressive “whiteness” that non-white people should reject as part of an oppressive system.
“Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal,” the Smithsonian “whiteness” page reads. The “teaching tool” suggests that “whiteness” needs to be overthrown in order for non-white people to become liberated from an oppressive “white culture.”
The Smithsonian “teaching tool” takes a radical stance on “white privilege,” arguing that every white person in America has benefited from his or her skin color (“If you are white in America, you have benefited from the color of your skin.”). While it is true that white people do not have the same struggles as various racial minorities, some white people (like some Asian people) have been passed over in some cases due to affirmative action programs. White people have also been unfairly demonized as oppressors.
“Whiteness (and its accepted normality) also exist as everyday microaggressions toward people of color,” the Smithsonian page argues. “Acts of microaggressions include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults toward nonwhites. Whether intentional or not, these attitudes communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages.”
This concept of “microaggressions” is rightly controversial. As Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explained in their Atlantic essay that became a book — The Coddling of the American Mind — teaching people to read malice and oppression into unintentional insults involves training them to magnify unimportant episodes and label language and people dangerous. This trains them to adopt harmful psychological pathologies.