Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Immigrants of Color and the U.S. Whiteness System


All immigrants of COLOR, no matter what their national origin, no matter whether their motherlands were Honduras or Hong Kong or Haiti come up against a System, Structure and Ideology of Whiteness in the U.S.

White immigrants, even the most recent, in contrast find it easier to fit into this dominant supremacist racial system based on skin color. They become more readily absorbed into an existing System of Whiteness.

We immigrants of color as a consequence of this existing system become racialized, even though our ethnicity or national origin may be what is more important to us than our color when we arrive.

The U.S. nation-state including its criminal justice system which is under discussion here, operates on Systemic Whiteness. Genocide of indigenous peoples (all constructed as not-white, non-western, non-European, different) and slavery (appropriation of black bodies and black labor by whites) form the basis of a violent and supremacist U.S.history of capture, subjugation, dislocation, dispossession, invasion, occupation which continues into the present day.

Whiteness is a belief system of power, dominance and supremacism. It can be tweaked but it is here to stay. It is an absorptive, defining, comprehensive and overarching social reality in the U.S. nation state, from the racial classifications of every U.S. census and reaching deep into the family, the community, the barrio.

The Whiteness system awards unearned privilege to persons with white skin.
Some immigrant groups may BECOME white over a period of residence, and participation upward socio-economic and political mobility in the U.S., as the Irish and the Italians and Jews have done. The main point here is not that they ultimately became white but that the trajectory is always towards inclusion within the whiteness system. Inclusion in whiteness means access to unequal, non-egalitarian social capital/power.

It's no surprise that the current discussion on jury selection in a case involving a Black individual hinges on race, color and ethnicity.
All these identity categories focus on the NOT-white equation of the clients of color in the U.S. criminal justice system.

It is also not surprising that the "experts" including my academic colleagues quoted here are all white. Whites because they have membership in the supremacist Whiteness system get to define who is black or brown or yellow or red and how they are black or brown or yellow or red.

And so it goes in Systemic Whiteness, where to be of color is to be emphatically NOT white. It is a variation of that tried and tested imperialist divide and rule strategy, where whites are always the point of reference, where whites are at the top, whites are the norm, whites are the default category, and subjugated blacks (and of course browns, reds and yellows) can be sorted according to their actual or perceived differences. But no matter what their differences or similarities they are NOT White.

Whiteness rules. The US nation-state through a national narrative of genocide, slavery and neo-imperialism has perfected the Whiteness system. The Whiteness system prescribes white skin as a prerequisite but because it first and foremost a system, structure and ideology of Power, it includes ALL the prerogatives, perquisites and unearned entitlements that accompany white skin. That's Power. That's Whiteness.

Dr. Chithra KarunaKaran
City University of New York
Theory of Systemic Whiteness