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7.5: Normalization of Whiteness

  • Page ID
    • Teresa Hodges
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    Race and Children

    little girl with her baby doll
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Vintage Children, Little Girl with Doll. (CC BY-NC 2.0; chicks57 via Filckr)

    Scholar Robin Bernstein wrote a book on race and childhood where she demonstrates how white children are seen as more racially innocent than Black children. This is evident in children’s toys and especially dolls where white dolls have had angelic appearances with rosy cheeks, delicate curly blond tendrils, and blue eyes. Bernstein illustrates how this innocence is not just one that displays so-called innocent appearances, but also defines the way that we understand whiteness and blackness especially in this age. This is especially significant because there is often a regard for treating race and racism as “very political” and “inappropriate” for younger ages. The idea of racial innocence as non-political attempts to lay personal blame on people of color for any discrimination or oppression instead and deflects from structural causes. De-politicizing race and feigning a non-connection to innocence reinforces attempts to deny discussing race with children. A common sentiment is the desire to not want to teach children about race because they are perceived as young and impressionable. This misconception actually obscures the fact that children can experience racism at a really young age and as discussed about the doll test below, they can distinguish at an early age as well.

    Sidebar: Doll Test

    A now historic doll test was conducted with white children and Black children in the 1950s. Children were shown dolls that were Black and white and were asked various questions about the dolls. The questions included “what doll was the bad doll?” or “what doll is the pretty doll?” while being shown the Black and white doll. Many times the children associated being bad, inferior, and ugly with the Black doll and being good, beautiful, and smart with the white doll. For many, it can be astonishing to witness the choices being made especially when the skin color of the dolls being seen as negative is often the same skin color as the child.

    NPR cites that the majority of mass shootings have been committed by males. Of these, the vast majority have been white males. When these mass shootings committed by white males would occur, many would try to fault mental health and how people who have a history of mental health issues should not have access to firearms. Some point out that faulting mental health of white men deflects from the violence of white male heteropatriarchy. One significant point is that when these men commit mass shootings and they are captured by law enforcement, they are incarcerated. This is a vast departure from the killing of Black people who don’t even pose a threat to law enforcement.

    In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a football coach that led a prayer with his team on the football team. Many on social media called for the separation of church and state and others also pointed out the hypocrisy that allows for Christian prayers, but not of other religions. What does this say about whose religions are valued? What does this mean in terms of race and regligion, of whose religions are valued?


    Racialization is assigning a racial category to someone especially that has not had a designation before (Omi and Winant, 2014). This typically refers to the way that people were categorized historically such as laws that dictated who can identify as white. In a general sense, racialization is designating a race to someone even if it is a different designation from what they actually identify themselves as or a different designation from what someone else has told them. For example, people might racialize mixed race people differently if they are deemed racially ambiguous. People may also racialize people based on their own contexts. For example, if someone has dark skin and curly hair and they’re walking around New York City, one might automatically think the person is Dominican due to the presence of Dominican people in New York City that might have dark skin and curly hair. This means that their context, or the conditions around them, influence how they racialize others. Even when someone or a group is racialized by others, not only does it mean that a lot of times such signification is not accepted by the individual or group, but that such characterization of a racial group is often forced onto minoritized groups.

    Since colonization, U.S. nationality has been marked as one who is white. In Ronald Takaki’s opening chapter of A Different Mirror (2008), he recalls how his midwestern taxi driver sees his Asianness as foreign despite Takaki being born in the U.S. The taxi driver reveled at his remarkable English skills. This is one example of how white is seen as “American.” Takaki discusses this phenomenon as a master narrative that says nonwhite is foreign and does not belong. The prevalent belief in this master narrative or metanarrative also contributes to promoting the U.S. flag as super patriotic and representing traditional ideals and values that counter multiculturalism and other progress such as within gender, sexuality, and class struggles. When there is a metanarrative that “American” is limited to white, it creates a standard for legislation that uphold rights for those who promote these values.

    Sidebar: "Perpetual foreigners"

    The idea of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners is a common stereotype about Asian Americans. No matter how long Asians have been in the U.S. collectively, many are seen as foreign as if they have just arrived in the United States. This reflects the racist perception that it isn’t possible that Asians too can be from the U.S. - either born or living here a long time. Takaki’s experience in the taxi shows how “American” is often seen as white and non-white is seen as “other.” The perception of “perpetual foreigners” means that Asians are told to "go back to where they came from," especially in the time of the pandemic. The U.S. flag in figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) captures a symbol of the U.S. that is sometimes used to display patriotism and signify who is "American" and sometimes stands to mean the U.S. as white, especially when referring to the founding of this nation and Eurocentric values.

    An American flag on a pole with the sky in the background
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): American Flag. (CC BY 2.0; Mike Mozart via Flickr)

    Normalization of whiteness/standardization of whiteness

    The normalization of whiteness helps to create a standardization of whiteness. As discussed earlier, #oscarssowhite was used to point out how the Academy Awards showcases white actors and actresses way more than nonwhites. The normalization of whiteness helps the standardization of whiteness because when whiteness is normalized, it is held with greater esteem and therefore becomes the “standard” in which all must strive toward.

    Before Western dominance through colonization, scholars recognize that the world was on par with one another in societal, technological, and agricultural development. Although different places, various civilizations grew and progressed and even traded with one another. Great Britain enacted colonization as a way to exert dominance and extract resources as way to have power and exploit others for their benefit. This understanding counters perspective that we “needed” colonization in order to grow as countries in this world. We did not need the domination of Britain to encourage trade and the sharing of ideas as this was already occurring.

    Eugenics is the attempt at racism through science. Various mentions of eugenics aim to show a superiority of white/European people compared to nonwhite people based on measurements and other size/appearance indicators that were supposedly related to corresponding ability and quality. Eugenics was especially used as a part of movements or periods when rulers tried to justify war, oppression, inhumane treatment, and more, as a part of hegemonic normalization of white supremacy. Omi and Winant point to how eugenics is one example where the normalization of whiteness through science is an exemplary example of structural/institutional and societal white supremacy. To learn more about how eugenics applied to attempts at controlling reproduction, see Chap 8, section 8.4 on "Eugenicists and Forced Mass Sterilization."

    This page titled 7.5: Normalization of Whiteness is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Teresa Hodges (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .