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Second part of ‘Addressing the Soul Sickness of Racism’ discusses whiteness

| Monday, January 31, 2022

The second installment of the Center for Spirituality and the Division for Equity and Inclusion’s three-part lecture series, “Addressing the Soul Sickness of Racism,” took place on Thursday evening in Carroll Auditorium.

Fr. Dan Horan, director of the center, focused the lecture on white privilege and how whiteness impacts society as a whole.

“The ever-present systemic racism in American society is demonstrated through the major disparity between the way that those identified as white are viewed and treated and protected in the United States when compared with Black, indigenous and other people of color,” Horan said. “Doors are open to us [white people] that are not open to other people.”

Horan initiated the discussion with a single question: “What does it mean to be white?”

“Most white people in the United States do not know who we are because, as the writer James Baldwin observed, whites live a life of their own creation and support the perpetuation of neutrality, normalcy and supremacy by means of opposition and othering,” Horan said. “For most of us white folks, we have been conditioned to view ourselves as non-racialized and therefore ‘normal, natural and default.’’

Horan explained that if those who identify as white are able to recognize the “arbitrariness of racial classification and its lack of biological groundings,” they will be able to view the world with greater clarity and a more educated awareness.

He then considered the impact of whiteness. The first effect he discussed was whiteness as the default. He said that by being seen as such, whiteness can be perceived as “ideal or held as supreme.”

White people go unquestioned while “otherness is always positioned oppositional and negatively,” Horan added.

“White means never having to think about one’s racialized identity or self as part of a ratio as a racial grouping,” he said. “Conversely, being Black in the same context means being hyper vigilant about real and perceived dynamics of whiteness in order to negotiate social settings.”

According to Horan, being seen as the norm allows for white people to also enjoy social priority, since their comfort is prioritized in a variety of social settings and contexts.

He then explained that another impact of whiteness is evident in the way in which whiteness is “invisible.” Horan cited philosopher Sara Ahmed to illustrate this concept.

“She writes [that] it has become commonplace for whiteness to be represented as invisible, as the unseen or the unmarked … or the hidden reference against which all other colors are measured as forms of deviance,” he said.

The final impact highlighted by Horan was the idea of whiteness as property.

“The concept of whiteness as property articulates the material benefits that are collectively accrued to those identified as white in the United States,” he said. “One of the obvious impacts of this phenomenon arising from whiteness considered supreme is the foreclosure of comparable benefits to those that are not identified as white.”

Horan emphasized that these exclusive benefits cause generational material inequality and longstanding trauma that spans generations. He said the impacts of whiteness contribute to the harmful experiences of people of color. 

He described white people’s roles in the oppression of people of color as “sins of omission.” He encouraged all white people to do their part in order to combat these harmful effects, by stepping out of their racialized comfort, as well as avoiding defensiveness and dismissal when communicating with those harmed by systemic racism.

Horan concluded the lecture with a final statements. 

“Let us open our eyes and ears and hearts to acknowledge that whiteness is a constructed racial identity that has tremendous impacts in our society and institutions,” Horan said. “Let us work to dismantle the proprietary character whiteness in our contexts, so that greater equity, justice and peace may abound.”

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