Issue Of The Week XXIV: What White Person Pissed You Off?

March 5, 2012
Written by Stephany Rose Ph.D. Assistant Professor in
Latest News, National Collegiate Dialogue
Login to rate this article
Rewriting the facts and perception of history, as some have suggested with Huckleberry Finn, does not change history itself. Photo Credit:

What white person pissed you off? This was the question of unrest heralded from the opposite end of the phone line by a friend at his breaking moment. Although whiteness is one of the most crucial aspects of American culture and society, to turn the looking-glass onto whiteness seems and feels “strange” to most. However, as a critical whiteness consultant this is work that I do daily. WTH!!! Yes, you can imagine the looks of suspicion, blank stares, or gazes of amazement I receive when people first read my business card from the university. What tickles me most, however, are the scores of white people who with reservation offer an “Oh I see,” not wanting to go down that road with the black woman standing before them. On the other hand, oodles of people of color in awe question, “And white folks let you do this; I mean they seriously pay you?” It baffles many people, regardless of race, because not only have we been conditioned to not talk about race and racism in this day and age, through socialization we disregard the fact that whiteness is race, it constructs our society through privilege and oppression, and ultimately it is a worthy and necessary of studying.

Whiteness is so normalized for Americans that it seems unnatural and impolite to call attention to it. You doubt me? No worries, you are not alone. Try this exercise: for the next week while you are watching or reading your local news count the number of times people who are white are described as white when spoken of by whomever is reporting. Are they referred to as a white man, or a white woman, or a white group of teens, and so forth? As you are doing this, also note the number of times people who are not white are referred to simply as people — free of any racial identifier including code words like “urban.” Generally speaking, to be man or woman is to be white, while everyone else is explicitly marked by race. Hence, in a nutshell, critical whiteness studies specifically examine how whiteness is established, understood, maintained and what is its impact on cultures and societies.

At the onset of the twenty-first century, this is quite difficult for many people to receive as we have lived so long with allowing whiteness to go under the radar by not speaking its name. Just as with my brooding friend, after having spent countless conversations and encounters listening to me point out the white supremacist ideology operating in every television show, movie, song or whatever popular cultural reference that we have discussed, he adamantly wanted me to identify: what was the point in my life that made me “dislike” white people.

Although I have explained countless times to my friend that I do not possess a blanket disdain for people identifiably white nor is my investment in critical whiteness studies about such a premise, he still believes that my professional study of whiteness is rooted in some specific traumatic moment. He, like others, thinks there has to be some Hollywood moment when a white person spit in my face and now I want revenge. As a black woman in America, do I have anger? Do I carry trauma and anguish in my psychological and physical being? Absolutely! Until white supremacist ideology is banished from human thought all racialized humans will experience trauma and anguish.

altBut we must be clear; my work with critical whiteness is not about “who stole my cookies.” My need to critique and actively engage whiteness as a system of privilege is merely a dot on the overall continuum of social justice activism. I rest within a collective of beings wrestling with how to make the principles of social equity a reality—where people experience living and being understood through the content of their character, not assigned complex systems of hierarchy embedded in privilege and power. Despite my demanding friend on the phone being an educated African American male living in twenty-first century United States, he too is unaware of the insidious presence of whiteness operating in his own life. His social and racial being did not keep him from buying into the notion that to address whiteness in this day and age must emerge from a blatantly violent singular reactionary moment. Nor did it register to him that he too bought into and spewed the virus of white supremacy when later in the conversation he responded to my side note about wanting some red grapes and cheese to snack on while we continued talking. With all authority and assertiveness he proclaimed, “That’s it! You wanted to be white! Or you wanted to date a white guy and were rejected…tell the truth! I will figure this thing out about you and whiteness because black folks don’t crave grapes and cheese as a snack!”

Just as I spent the next twenty minutes attempting to answer my friend’s question adequately for him, I have spent innumerable hours, days and years attempting to do the same with other individuals and groups who are trying to understand what motivates my work. In my life’s work I ask and attempt to answer a question similar to the ones raised by Stokely Carmichael: how do we clear away the obstacles that we have in this society that keep us from living like human beings?

The first step is to critically and publicly examine and dialogue about race on all levels. We must problematize the grandiose culture of civility: the pseudo-politeness we label “colorblindness,” “multi-culturalism,” “diversity,” or “post-racial” so rampant in our modern era that impedes us from addressing the circus of elephants in the room. The assumptions and notions we hold about being “civil” keep us from collaborating, truly honoring one another and manifesting the “more perfect union” we say we desire in so much of our national rhetoric.

We can no longer duck tape or sanitize the conversation, like the reckless attempts to rewrite Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, and to read the United States Constitution without reference to slavery. We must continue to name and speak of the disease if we are going to heal from it. Any psychotherapist worth their salt knows that silence makes one a perpetual victim; by erasing the history of racism and discourse of white supremacist ideology from our national conversation we erase the ability for us to name what we are dealing with and to ever truly honor how far we have progressed, even if there are still legions of miles to go. Tacitly ignoring race and racism that thrives so well under the guise of ignored whiteness is a disservice to future generations and our selves.

What do you think?

BIO: Stephany “Stiletto” Rose, Ph. D. is a poet, activist, public intellectual and an assistant professor of Women’s and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Article originally published on Dr. Rose’s blog page at

Latest News, National Collegiate Dialogue


Let's talk about it

Submitted by CSULB-VDailey19S2012 on

Yes, I absolutely agree that we must talk about the disease in order to find its cure. Not only talk about but dissect, study, investigate, know its symptoms, where it can spread, and where it is strong. Unfortunetly, I have participated in so few discussions about race and racism; and I honestly feel that I am yet unable to understand the struggles and trauma of others that suffered from white supremacy. The only thing that I realized is that our environment (especially today) provides way too much information for us to process. It is a natural process for us to group alike things, to organize all this information into categories so we can process what we think is useful and throw away what we think is not. In face of this natural tendency of categorizing the world to make it simpler for us, we often develop strong stereotypes, prejudice, and racism. The question to me is how can we fight this natural tendency of human beings of categorizing human beings by color, origin, race? We, the human species, don't have many variations in the eyes of a biologist or a taxonomist; yet we still place people in categories. I guess the answer is the meaning that we give to each category. For instance, we offer associated black with poor, white with rich. Or the fact that white is so normalized in our society comes from a deep associating of white with good, normal, the way to be. I guess we will have to continue to talk about it. I hope it will helps us dissolve such assoscitation and create new ones that will foster the true unity that the author talked about.


Submitted by SBU-16S2012 on

I agree with you that society has prompted people to make word associations based on race (white=rich, black=poor) and think that you make an excellent point when you outline the need for change and importance of seeking a solution to this problem. It is one thing to identify a problem that exists, but a completely different thing to work towards a solution. I think the conundrum of word association that you identify is clearly prevalent in a recent Dialogue on Race article regarding Newt Gingrich. Even prospective leaders of the Free World are perpetuating racial stereotypes, so how can average Americans possibly strive to correct this? I feel this blog and dialogue is the perfect window for such a reception.


Submitted by SBU-5S2012 on

The human race always puts things into categories. We literally can place everything in some sort of category. I have always seen the race distinction as a way to put people into categories. Sadly one of the easiest way to differentiate people is by the category of race they fall into. Whether that distinction is based on how one speaks, the color of ones skin or whatnot, people will always classify other people in some way. Out of all these categories, I think that "white" is the most generally used. You could take a group of people all with white skin and see many different distinctions within all the "whites." And as a whole group, white people tend to have the most advantages. Being a white male, I know that I have a lot of advantages and one of the biggest one would be peoples instant opinion of me. I think that when someone meets a white male they have instant assumptions in a positive manner where as when someone meets a black male they may have different preconceived notions about what that person way be like. I dont specifically blame this on white people, but I do people that everyone in general needs to enter situations of meeting new people and seeing different people in a more open-minded manner.

Don't judge a book...

Submitted by SBU-4S2012 on

What ever happened to the saying "don't judge a book by its cover?" Everyone looks at people at instantly puts them in a category and judges based on looks. There is some sort of white supremacy and even when just describing people we use these categories of race, gender, religion etc. to classify people. Instead I believe that we chould create broader categories and to not stereotype right away.

I think that this old simple

Submitted by SBU-24S2012 on

I think that this old simple saying has a much deeper and important meaning. When looking at people we will always instinctively look at them and then judge them even when we do not mean to. I also agree with you that we need to get rid of stereotypes and try to move toward an equal society.


Submitted by CSULB-ERodil25S2012 on

I have to agree with this posting. I do believe that white individuals have certain proposals and advancements because they are simply white. Today society and the media thinks that white people are a race! People see white individuals as a privilege! I think that people should be more aware of race and racial situations in order to surpass these embedded thoughts. People think this way because its already embedded in our heads that whites are privilege or its a race due to the media this has harmed out society. We must embrace race in order for society to eradicate these embedded views. Thus, if we rid these views we are able to surpass negativity towards any race and also eradicate racial implications.

Our Need to Maintain a Clueless Mindset

Submitted by CSULB-JParada54S2012 on

A recurring theme that you allude to throughout your post is something that I truly agree with; one must recognize the issue in order to begin working on a solution. This can very well apply to any and every aspect in life but nothing more important than race (in my opinion). In a society where the acceptance of differences and diversity isn't always a priority, I certainly agree that this issue of "whiteness" is important to address. I am a Latina and when I talk to my family or friends about this notion of "whiteness" they tell me, "oh no Joanna you need to be careful who you say these things to, you're a Latina, you can't be heard complaining about the dominant". I am always baffled by this because whether I like it or not, there is an absolute power dynamic between the races, and "whiteness" lies on top. It is unfortunate that one (person of color or not) is not able to lead a discourse of whiteness without having to apologize for it or make excuses such as "I have white friends, I have nothing against white people, but..." or "I don't want to attenuate the white culture, but...". I have personally been guilty of mitigating a conversation having to do with "whiteness" but I quickly learned that "whiteness" alongside the discourse of hegemony is vital if we are to understand the system that we live in as well as getting rid of inequality and oppression wherever it may be. You state that "[Your] need to critique and actively engage whiteness as a system of privilege is merely a dot on the overall continuum of social justice activism", I too agree that if more conversations on "whiteness" and what it means were to be welcomed then that would pave the way for healthy debates and consequently bring attention to the true issue.

Human nature

Submitted by SBU-16S2012 on

It is human nature to characterize people by appearance, whether that be by race, sex, physical handicap, etc. There does not seem to be a way around this. I don't believe that it is necessarily a form of racism, sexism, or blatant prejudice, I simply feel that the human mind is inclined to classify people based on the impression they receive from the old saying goes "you only get one chance to make a first impression." I will concede that the societal view regarding "whiteness" favors this category of people in comparison with others. What really struck me was the authors experiment - counting the numbers of references to white people in news articles and broadcasts. There is no doubt that the media emits a white racial supremacy. The main object we have to work with now is the task of correcting our faults and working towards a solution. After all, we have identified the problem and now must seek resolve.

I think that there are still

Submitted by SBU-11S2012 on

I think that there are still racist attitudes in our society and that we can definitely improve, but I also that think that we have made great strides. The majority of the racist thoughts and behaviors I do not believe to be intentional or hurtful. I agree that it is human nature to charactarize people based on appearance (gender, race, physical appearance etc). Problems arise when the characterizations become hurtful or detrimental to an individual.

Human Thoughts

Submitted by SBU-3S2012 on

People will naturally pre-judge a person when they meet them because it is normal for us to use this as security mechanism. People are comfortable when they can create a strong image of someone because then they can mold to specific situations. Racism in my opinion has slowly disappeeared.

Humans will always judge

Submitted by SBU-24S2012 on

Humans will always judge other individuals by how they look. In order to be a successful society we need to get away from this mindset and begin to see past this. This starts on an individual level and after this it will spread through out the community.

I think race will always be

Submitted by CSULB-LDoria31S2012 on

I think race will always be an issue because our country was founded putting whites as the model citizens and any other minority group needed to assimilate or "fit" into the white model citizen. Even in our generation now people say oh slavery happened a long time ago racsim doesnt occur anymore that is not true. Minority groups are still being racial profiled for crimes simply because the color of their skin. Also we still see minorities in low waged jobs. The solution to fixing this would be for people to not ignore race. It should be taught in schools that the color of your skin should not determine the job you have or sucess in life .


Submitted by CSULB-REisenber... on

As a majority, it is difficult to identify characteristics of that majority. No one is looking at you saying, "WOW!He/she is so different," if you're the in the ingroup. I didn't really realize how white I was until I spent 3 months in Southeast Asia, where everyone stared at me all the time...because I was no longer the majority. It was humbling to be different. We, as the "white majority" should be aware of how obliviousness can actually be damaging.