Geography

Whitness inventory

Ruth Frankenburg once said that “any system of differentiation shapes those upon whom it bestows privilege as well as those it oppresses.” (Frankenberg: 1993: 131). This is a critical insight to begin to understand and reflect on the complex ways that the color of one’s skin determines a person’s life-chances. Whiteness indeed bestows a structural advantage to those who possess that color of skin, and conversely, creates disadvantages for those who are of another skin tone. In the past, race was used as an organizing device to include or exclude. In a way, therefore, it becomes inextricable with class – particularly when race becomes the determinant of conferring economic benefit. At present, while there are discrimination laws in place now that bar racial discrimination, there are still insidious ways that race creep in. For example, white is still considered the standard of beauty in many places – with women opting for rosy creamy white skin Caucasian features. To provide a specific example in the community, a news report came out recently1 that Wal-Mart is selling black Barbies at half the price of white Barbies, causing critics to comment that this can send a wrong message to children. It internalizes racial discrimination and reinforces the message that white is beautiful and other colors are not.
In a sense, race and class and gender are similar in that it triggers the process of differentiation, and these differentials are legitimized and ratified in order to support existing power structures or arrangements. Race and gender and class differentials therefore, operate to strengthen one another and create filtering mechanisms that determine what people can get, and how, as well as the relationships between the group that gets and the group that does not. A black woman for example is beset with deeper structural disadvantages than a white woman, or a black man. A poor black worker will not enjoy the same financial advantages as a rich black businessman. Discrimination therefore takes place on multiple levels. To address one and ignore the other is a profound injustice.
Reference
Frankenberg, R. (1993) “Growing Up White: Feminism, Racism and the Social Geography of Childhood.” Feminist Review. Vol. 45. 51-84.

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