Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Whiteness



In this post, I return to Phil Herbst's The Color of Words for two entries on whiteness, especially as seen through the eyes of others.

whitefolks, white folks. This term may re­flect the lack of differentiation black people see in white society. Though not usually disparaging, it may be used when the speaker intends to designate white people as "them." Wrote Maya Angelou of her perception of white people in seg­regated Stamps, Arkansas: "People were those who lived on my side of town. I didn't like them all, or, in fact, any of them very much, but they were people. These others, the strange pale creatures that lived in their alien unlife, weren't considered folks. They were whitefolks" (excerpt from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in Rochman 1993, 5). Brown-skin whitefolks is used among African Americans to mean people who Euro-Americans recognize as white but who are considered nonwhite by black people.

White Is Right. Often ironical reference to white society in black use, suggest­ing what is normal, valued, and pre­ferred. As a capitalized expression, this was a sloganeering reference to con­forming to the mold of white society. Leaders in the Black Power movement used this phrase to label and censure those black leaders who intentionally or otherwise took white society as the norm and endorsed the goal of assimilation. Also expressing ironically the idea of white as a standard, and the devaluation of blackness, is the black saying, "If you white, you all right; if you brown, stick aroun'; if you black, git back."

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