Being White, Being Good

Barbara Applebaum’s book Being White, Being Good is a great critique of current white privilege conversations. She highlights the problems whites have of reinscribing their whiteness and their privilege by some of the very attempts they make to decenter themselves from privilege. She cites the critiques of scholars such as Sara Ahmed who in her “Declarations of Whiteness” discussed the non-performativity of whiteness. That is, saying “all whites are racist” and “I am complicit” is to say, “I’m trying not to be racist or complicit,” but to say such things does not actually accomplish what the speaker hopes in making such utterances. Whites cannot become innocent simply by confessing their whiteness.

At the same time, Applebaum is a scholar of social justice pedagogy, and she had not quit her job; she still maintains that there is not a hopeless situation facing whites, but definitely one requiring vigilance. To describe her understanding of responsibility for injustice and complicity in racism , she draws from the works of Iris Marion Young and Judith Butler to speak of how responsibility goes beyond intentionality or causality. She will also address the problem of the subject from a post-structuralist perspective (from Butler’s work), showing how you can avoid essentialist claims while also holding subjects accountable. 

An example of a white person trying to avoid complicity in racism such as choosing deliberately not to live in a predominantly white neighborhood. Applebaum calls attention to the white privilege inscribed in this exchange: the white person has the privilege of choice as to wear to live, and also, the white person assume he or she would be welcomed into any neighborhood they choose. Both of these assumptions resincribe white privilege rather than work against it.

Lots left to read…enjoying it while being challenged by it myself…more to come!

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