Critiquing Whiteness Does Not Make Us Racist

by Brittany Dawson Y’all, I’m tired. I’m growing numb to the series of grisly comments by folk...

by Brittany Dawson

Y’all, I’m tired. I’m growing numb to the series of grisly comments by folks online who bark statements like, “Hey! Black people can’t write about White people. That’s racist!” Or ,“If a Black cop shot a White person, that would be racist too!” (Just to name a couple.)

Aside from being infuriatingly sad, what’s even more disheartening is how these attitudes ruin opportunities for leading Black scholars to voice critiques about white supremacy, namely in academia.

In the recent case of Dr. Saida Grundy’s faux-controversial Twitter comments on the realities of white supremacy, critics over at Fox News appeared to have temporarily won the battle in delegitimizing Grundy’s claims by categorizing her analysis as “racist.”

I don’t know about you, but I find it to be a damning situation when Dr. Saida Grundy, and other Black scholars, are bullied into issuing apologies to trolls who genuinely have no idea why we’re still fighting for the same justices promised to us in the era of Phyllis Wheatley and years prior. Simply put, while racism doesn’t “look” the same as it did in the Jim Crow South, we are battling the same demon: white supremacy.

It’s as though many of y’all want us to soothe your White Guilt, which is nothing more than an unrealistic expectation.

Surely in the dawn of the #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName movements, many of you are asking: Why are we critiquing Whiteness in 2015? And by critiquing Whiteness, are we anti-White? This answer is twofold.

First, dismantling White supremacy isn’t synonymous with omitting White folks in general. Instead, we seek to halt how white supremacy produces rights and privileges for a select few at the expense of the rest of us.

Second, as the May 4th headline of the New York Times piece on online social justice efforts so poignantly reads, “Our demand is simple: stop killing us.” That’s it. And by killing, I’m not speaking of physical death, but also intellectual death in the form of not placing the commentary of Black scholars in the context of today’s battle for justice.

Still don’t believe me? Duke Professor Jerry Hough proved my point earlier this week after he went on a poorly funded smear campaign against Blacks in the comments section of a New York Times article. In response to an editorial, “How Racism Doomed Baltimore”—a properly titled piece on the battle to restore order in a city plagued by the aftermath of racial discord—Hough doesn’t shy away from upchucking ridiculous opinions on African Americans, Asian Americans, and ways both should aspire to be a "model minority":
In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word ‘colored’. The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad. 
So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.

I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.
Way’ment… So you mean to tell me Blacks are supposed to willingly assimilate, chipper and gay, into a culture that has no problem killing us? No problem forgetting us? And no problem appropriating markers of African American culture for profit?

What qualifies Mr. Hough, other than holding an elite seat at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, to whip up a “Blackness 101: How to Erase Your Culture for Survival” e-book in the comments section? Take a wild guess. Yup, Whiteness. Hough displays a weak understanding of his unearned power, disabling opinions, and unrealistic demand for Black folks to align with Whiteness if they want to succeed in America.

Let’s keep it real: “assimilation” is code for both Whiteness and deculturalization. White supremacy works by distancing Black people (or any person of color) further and further away from an understanding, appreciation, and respect for their own history. During this “assimilation,” many lose sight of the importance of cultural awareness.

Whiteness has always been used to remind Black people where we belong: at the bottom.

Referring back to Hough’s comments, here lies a quintessential example on why we are so gung-ho about critiquing Whiteness. Hough writes that “virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration,” a blatant outcry for Blacks to divorce their African heritage in place of a more “culturally acceptable” identifier. Tsk, tsk, Mr. Hough, for believing my people would be so gullible, so aloof, to the weak Jedi mind tricks your empty rhetoric aims to employ.

We ain’t gonna be turned around, sir.

Hough’s argument matches other cries of faux “anti-Whiteness,” and is undoubtedly predicated on the idea that in order to be a successful American, you need Whiteness to participate in good ‘ole meritocracy. Obviously this idea is archaic in nature, ludicrous in thought, and pernicious in practice. However, the dying spirit of anti-Black talk is revived every time White folks with even the slightest of a platform don’t see why this line of reasoning is problematic. Instead, they happily hurl baseless, blocky diatribes to stir up the hearts of Americans who still believe the United States of America is up for grabs as their country. Take several seats, please.

You see, what rings true to many African Americans in this generation is that we are questioning this detrimental belief system and wielding our narratives against these ideas.

By now, hopefully you realize that not all think pieces are blacklisting every White person on the planet. We’re trying to do the opposite, quite frankly. By dismantling white supremacy, our goal is to provide access and equity for all.

When we critique Whiteness, we are truly invested in making life attainable for our kinfolk in a society that has never treated us the way it should: as true equals.

Photo: Shutterstock

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a University of South Carolina alum and teacher who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson or send an e-mail at

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