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How does whiteness get to be so powerful and invisible?

Whiteness is positioned as a blank slate. It is the norm, and everything else is figured as that norm with bits added on, or that norm twisted into something other and ugly. It’s neutral, and therefore can’t be blamed: deviance and harm shifts to those perversions of that clean white blankness.

It’s positioned this way categorically: the default human on this planet is white, while race is a categorisation only applied to everyone else. It’s positioned this way culturally: white people are told they don’t have any real cultures of their own, and cultural participation can only come from appropriating other people’s. And this is transposed into the physical. Whatever features are constructed as white in a particular place and historical moment are positioned as normal, and everything else as negative deviations. Pale skin, long torsos, particular skull shapes are the model, and everything else is understood as added on.

But whiteness isn’t nothingness, isn’t neutral, isn’t blameness. What constitutes whiteness shifts. It’s defined by what it is not as much as by what it is, necessarily, because that’s how it goes if you want to make a powerful category invisible. As societies shift, and as the criteria for otherness changes, whiteness is defined by not being those things. Who gets to be white, and how they get to be white, changes. It’s a category that is constantly upheld, guarded, and adjusted.

Power, norms, and invisibility are never neutral. Neither is whiteness.

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