January 26

Week 3-Social Construction of Whiteness

READ: Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination by Bell Hooks

RJ: Address the ways that hooks characterizes whiteness. What surprises you? What intrigues you? What is familiar or unfamiliar about her perspective? 1 paragraph (5 sentences or more)

Look up for Hooks article:

  • Apartheid/American Apartheid
  • Informant
  • Postcolonial
  • Racial Terrorism

What do these terms mean? Be prepared with written definitions in class.

Commercial analysis assigned

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22 Responses to January 26

  1. Kate Schreiber says:

    bell hooks (I have always been curious as to why her name remains uncapitalized) does a phenomenal job of expressing the mystery and fear associated with the idea of “whiteness.” In many ways this article felt familiar to me – I know that may sound a little odd. I am going to make a hugely far analogy to what I just read. Discrimination exists everywhere, and people are unfairly treated every second of every day across the universe – when hooks describes her fear of white people because of the actions many whites have taken in the past or in history, I felt a strong relation to many women (or men) who have been sexually assaulted, who for a majority if not the entirety of their lives, will never be able to wipe that memory away. There are a billion things you could compare a variety of hooks’ points to – not just sexual assault but any form of discrimination. Once someone is traumatized, that trauma is constantly revisited and most of the time is accompanied by fear or feelings of unease. I was intrigued because I feel that I often get annoyed that black denotes danger while white denotes goodness – and hooks as well as any other person that has ever faced discrimination or who has been traumatized has a right to be afraid and a right to fear. I’m not saying that I think everyone should be fearful, but sometimes it is frustrating that people look down upon the idea of fear. White people have indeed terrorized. I am white, and I have not terrorized. I don’t wish for anyone to fear me – but if they do, I can most assuredly understand where they are coming from and do my best to be seen as merely another human being… another individual, not as a white person.

  2. Becca Mahar says:

    I loved the Hook’s reading and the theories she spoke of. The concept of whiteness is something that I think Americans have had a hard time identifiying. We have no trouble creating a stereotype for most races, however as white americans I agree with Hooks, we never really consider what it is like to look at our race from an outside perspective. The idea of a white person evoking the emotion of terror in African Americans is truely a disgrace on our part, however I am not at all surprised. My mind jumps immediately to the WWII and the Nazis. Even if I saw a Nazis soldier today, I would be terrified. It is a negative image, concept, frame of reference, etc, that is irreplaceable no matter how long ago.
    I also really enjoyed the few paragraphs on travel. Everyone travels, but for different reasons, with different routes, different baggage, and through different modes. Hooks wrote about how fear had to be faced and then travels could occur. As white Americans, we don’t think about how our presence may be discomforting and almost limiting on the migration of others.

  3. Becky Esrock says:

    Hooks brings a whole new perspective to the concept of race. Her depiction of what whiteness is provides a new aspect to racial depiction. She characterizes whiteness as a “terrorizing imposition, a power that wounds, hurts, and tortures” (341). This idea that whites are unfamiliar and terrifying to blacks is very interesting to me. I never considered the fact that there could be a counter side to the image of blackness. It makes sense when considering that the fear of blackness is derived from a lack of familiarity and this sense of unknown and mystery. In a racially divided world, the creation of these separate identities with an unknown “other” helps to explain where these feelings emanate from. This makes me take another look at my own opinions regarding both blackness and whiteness. This is an unfamiliar perspective, as Hook asserts in her article. The idea that being in an all black neighborhood would make me a “terrorist” makes me feel as if the fear is mutual. It is derived from misconceptions and mystery coming from racial segregation. To minimize this, it seems as if contact with one another in a non-threatening environment and communication to familiarize whites and blacks with one another would help the situation immensely. Even if it destroyed some of the fear and terror, that is a starting place.

  4. Donald Duncan says:

    Bell Hooks concept on the representation of whiteness is very integrating to a point where I can relate through certain situations. Hooks states that many white students are offended by the fact that “‘whiteness’ is the privileged signifier” and that Blacks thoughts “perpetuates the fantasy that the Other who is subhuman, lacks the ability to comprehend the working of the powerful” (339 & 340). Also, the idea of whites as threatening within the Black community is something that I believe is true in regards to control and power. The truth is we are not the same despite our idea that it should be – I lived in a suburb outside of Chicago for 15 years, and saw it transformed from a racial mixed neighborhood to a neighborhood that rarely sees a white family buying a house to live in the area; however Whites are buying property to offer Blacks housing for a profit– so, the theory of “sameness” should be thrown out the window. No matter how successful I become, I feel that I will always be in a position of invisibility because of the lack of ownership and power that Whites have controlled in our society.

  5. Merissa Acosta says:

    In the article Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination by Bell Hooks, Hooks characterizes whiteness with being associated with terror and hatred and blackness as being good. This is a very different approach to talking about racism because it is the polar opposite of the norm. I think that this is interesting because no one has ever really talked about something like that before. I found Baldwin’s story interesting as well. It is an unusual concept to think about how it is different for whites to see blacks for the first time than vice versa. The article did a very good job in explaining the concept of how Blacks can be invisible to Whites, but Whites cannot be invisible to Blacks. This is a different way of viewing a racial concept and is also very psychological.

  6. Kenneth Clady-Mason says:

    Hooks characterizes Whiteness as belief that the White race is the overall predominance in the mist of the Other. Many people, both White and non-White, consider Whiteness to be a representation of wholesomeness in all aspects compared to the value of the Other. While maintaining this perspective, Bell acknowledges that many Whites that indulge in the Whiteness perspective while socially approaching the concept of racism as if it is nonexistent. Whiteness has been represented heavily through all sources and forms of the media. What interests me is that even though most people deny that racism still exists, the media thoroughly distinguished the public’s perceptions of White people and non-White people. Regardless of how much people claim that racism has been long gone, the media has been consistent with the Whiteness perspective.

  7. Elise M Peterson says:

    As mentioned by several others, racial stereotyping is mostly in terms of the stereotypes that whites have for minorities. Bell Hooks addresses race from the alternate perspective, which is what initially shocked me about her article. The content however, was unfortunately not shocking to me. Hooks suggests that whiteness is represented in the black imagination as hurtful and terrorizing. I am a bit confused about why this news would be shocking to whites in America. When we look at the history of the relationship between blacks and whites in this country, it seems at least to me that a group of whites sadly earned all whites this place in the mind of blacks.

  8. João Pedro says:

    The fear of whiteness that Hooks experiences is a very honest response innate to social, political and historical facts. As she simply puts it, “Their presence terrified me” (341). Her outside perspective is unique, and gives voice to those whose “gaze was controlled” by the White masses. There is a lot of writing about White feelings and perspectives; however, there is a lack of Black experiences concerning White people. Blacks’ points-of-view are often taken for granted and dismissed. Their perspectives are usually created or supposed by others; however, this text is a firsthand testimony written by a Black woman. Her ideas about traveling, safety and invisibility, and her association between White and evil are striking. Characterizing Whites as dirty, cruel, terrorists and passionless is a new and refreshing view that disrupts the “Orthodox, Kind White Man.” Although written in the early 90s, Hooks analysis is somewhat familiar, intrinsic to racial stereotypes. The author introduces a counter-side to America’s racial scenario, demonstrating that Blacks have also schemes and frames about race. Just like Whites glorify Whites and repulse Blacks, Blacks worship Blacks and dislike Whites.

  9. Diana Bartolo says:

    Hooks characterizes whiteness in a way that we all should fear white people, especially when he talks about Itabari Njeri’s father being killed by a white youth. These images traumatize black people where the concept of “people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them,” becomes a reality in the black perspective, and an acceptable theory within white and black history. Hooks makes an interesting point that black people travel through fear in order to progress. However, what is confusing to me is that black people do in fact overcome this fear because they travel to get to point A to point B for their necessity or other reasons. For example, where the narrator tells us she is scared to walk to Baba’s house, she identifies what she is afraid of but recognizing fear is a step of overcoming it. What I found compelling is that the whites dehumanized black folks by controlling their gaze thus creating a moral conduct and belief system in blacks. It comes to know surprise that black people see whiteness as the privileged (339). Because rarely do white people “see” black people on the billboards, magazines, and television it is acceptable for blacks to be invisible to them since we have created a society of white dominance due to the media, majority (whites), and authoritative figures dated back in history (that includes white settlers). What is unfamiliar to me is that sometimes black cannot identify themselves in a culture where white and black is crystal clear. In my opinion Hooks lacks a subculture that blacks have created in a white society.

  10. Stephanie Morales says:

    Hooks characterizes Whiteness in many ways. Whiteness is seen as a “goodness” when compared to Blacks which evokes the sense of “evil/bad” according to certain religious beliefs. Then again Whiteness is associated with terror, disruption of peace, and a sense of insecurity for Blacks. Hooks explores other resources not just her own opinion which i think is one of the most important things to do – because in order to put an argument you must demonstrate other point of views. One quote that i felt was very effective from Baldwin was “I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know.” Even though these people live among others theres this fear to Whites and on top of all that feeling you know that in a way they control you-on what you do, think, and see! I never thought that back when there was slavery that Whites would punish Blacks for just observing/seeing it takes away so many rights away that dehumanizes these people for over a period of roughly 300 years. So many years of families, generations, and segregation. Some parts of the article do not surprise me just because we have learned so much about slavery, blacks, and the typical stereotypes of how they feel about whites, which is not too far off from what is presented in this article. There is one quote that does just bring chills to believe that we are all at fault for these types of feelings- we have all been by-standers to something, so what makes us any better from the Whites having Slaves, we continue to have violence and racism still lurks in parts of America. Who are we to believe one thing or another if we as “People are all trapped in history, and history is trapped in [us]” which is undeniably true and i think people need to realize this to this day for we cannot forget the past.

  11. Jessica Steele says:

    It is very interesting to approach the issue of race from a very different perspective than I normally do. Bell Hooks’s approach is completely unfamiliar to me because I am a white person and have not had the kinds of experiences that feed her interpretation of what whiteness is. The idea that whiteness is both mystifying and terrifying at the same time is fascinating. The history of white America supports the idea that, to black people, whites strike a sense of terror. This is saddening, though, as well because associating white people with acts or terror is a generalization that is irrational as a White person being afraid when they see a Black person walking down the street. Despite the fact that the country has made leaps and bounds from its deep past of slavery, it was not too long ago that racism was legally accepted. It is true that racism is still around in society, though it is pushed aside and often ignored, as Bell Hooks pointed out when describing the organization of a conference she attended. While the outright racist is not frequently seen, it is still the case in America that the whites that exert power, whether intentionally or not, over blacks. This idea leads into the concept of invisibility that Hooks brought up. Hooks claims that “most white people do not have to “see” black people… They can live as though black people are invisible and can imagine that they are also invisible to blacks” (340). Hooks finds that many white people will not acknowledge race as a way of being in a safe zone. To me, it seems that people are often afraid to bring up race because of America’s history and the past that we have makes it a taboo subject to discuss. This unwillingness to acknowledge race stalls progress toward an equal society.

  12. Sara Watson says:

    I found this reading to be very interesting because it gave a completely different approach to the stereotypical views on Caucasians and African Americans. Typically we see the idea of terror and fear from a Caucasian’s point of view regarding other races, mainly African Americans (unfortunately in the media too). This reading however reveals a new point of view that there is terror and fear in African Americans that is brought on by Caucasians. To be honest this is a view that I don’t believe I’ve ever been exposed too in “recent times”. Students of course can understand how African Americans could have feared Caucasians during slavery and up to the Civil Rights Movement, however it is something that we only notice during times of turmoil and we act as though it disappears on its own for African Americans although Caucasians continue to portray African Americans unfairly and portray them as the “others” or the “cause of problems like gangs, drugs and violence” in the media. This would be an interesting topic to research and investigate further.

  13. Alyx Smagacz says:

    Hook seems to be saying that whites have a hypocritical view towards looking at the difference between blackness and whiteness. When he says that whites are offended when blacks talk of whiteness, but then they act differently from what they seem to be saying, this seems to be a hypocritical aspect of white thinking, they want to ignore the fact that they are different to escape the racism, but then they have this power or control that seems to be natural due to the history of the relationship between the two. He says that whites are terrifying and that is a feeling that was taught to him as a child and every black child goes through while growing up. I really like the quote “people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” I think it really characterizes the relationship between whites and blacks. The whites will always be the people who enslaved blacks and they will always be seen as people who thing they are they superior. On the other hand there are a lot of whites who still see blacks as the inferior and they will not change their views-they think that they are entitled to the power. This shows how the past is still here and this segregation from so many years ago is still affecting everyone today and will for a long time.

  14. Kiarra Hodge says:

    bell hooks makes a very valid point about how white Americans are seen as terrorists in her eyes. As a black American, I know that our history entitles the white American to be the terrorist no matter their location. I wouldn’t say I have the same views, but I can understand where she’s coming from. The economic terror that she speaks of is very common in the views of blacks, which is why it’s important for a black person to own everything they have. Having ownership means that no one could tell you what to do with it or take it away. The simple fact that she labeled whites as “others” is very profound for me. I have never read about the thought of othering whites and having them observe their “whiteness”.

  15. Lisa Sorensen says:

    In Hooks article, “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination,” shows racism in a different way. When most people think of the term racism, they think that it is the whites being racist against the other races. However, in the article, Hooks discusses the complete opposite which is very interesting. Hooks describes whites as terror in this article and how she grew up learning to fear them. She says, “Even though it was a long time ago that I made this journey, associations of whiteness with terror and the terrorizing remain” (344). This shows the different ways people do view race however, most people do not recognize that.

  16. Linnea Zrioka says:

    Bell Hook’s article discusses how whites have a fascination with the “different” that is expressed openly as “they travel around the world in search for the other or otherness” (Hooks 338). By saying this, whites are characterized as intrusive and of having a naïve belief in their superiority by automatically assuming the people who live in foreign places are “other” and not themselves. The article also characterizes whites as naïve in that “they do not imagine that the way whiteness makes its presence felt in black life”(Hooks 340). Whiteness is seen as terrorizing, threatening, feared, and dangerous and it is regarded with suspicion and hatred, “I learned as a child that to be ‘safe’ it was important to recognize the power of whiteness, even to fear it, and to avoid encountering it” (Hooks 344). I thought this quote enhanced characterizing whites as terrorizing because the fact that it is a child beholding these fears implies whiteness as cruel to cause a child that much stress and fear. I was surprised and intrigued by the idea of the invisible. Hook discusses how white people imagine they are invisible to black people because of the power they have had over blacks historically, and since white people never see black people in movies, television, and magazines, etc., black people are then “safe” and invisible (Hooks 340). This perspective was intriguing and unfamiliar because the previous article (Blackness in Network News) discusses the representation of black people in the media, especially how they are portrayed as criminals and a source of disruption to society. I felt this contrasted with Hook’s article and they idea of Blacks as invisible and “safe”.

  17. Courtney King says:

    Hooks states that white students seem amazed at the idea that black students looking at the differences in whites that make them a race. It is strange to consider White Americans anything but the norm. Either in or society is compared to the norm and it is considered the “other” or weird. Hooks goes on to explain that in this idea that all races should be equal they are actually keeping their whiteness or privilege. Although whites may not say they are the predominated races, American culture has shown throughout history that they are. It is hard to deny whites as the dominate culture, when every major media is comprised of mostly white faces, voices, or stories.

  18. Whitney Davis says:

    Hooks describes whiteness in Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination as terrifying. Hook writes,

    Returning to memories of growing up in the social circumstances created by racial apartheid, to all back spaces on the edges of town, I re-inhabit the location where black folks associated whiteness with the terrible, the terrifying, the terrorizing. White people were regarded as terrorist, especially those you dared to enter that segregated space of blackness. As a child I did not know any white people. They were strangers, rarely seen in our neighborhoods. The “official” white men who came across the tracks were there to sell products, Bibles, insurance… What did I see in the gazes of those white men who crossed our thresholds that made me afraid, that made black children unable to speak? Did they understand at all how strange their whiteness appeared in our living rooms, how threatening?” (pg 341).

    I find it sad to learn that the appearance of white people frightened him as a child. It is sad because no one should grow up with such feelings of anxiety towards another human being. It is also sad because his fear stemmed from the very fact that they had a different skin color. Hook’s quote implies that their white skin was threatening and not their behavior. Based on all of this information it seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest to live in a diverse community. The unknown, as seen in Hook’s experience, can easily be scary. Therefore, living in an all Black or all White community may do more harm than good by creating barriers based on unfamiliarity between races. Hook later quotes Baldwin who writes, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” (pg 343). This is another main reason for the fear that is present in some people. If people continue to live in segregated communities, how can anyone move on from the past if they don’t venture out and experience the other races of the present? Once venturing out, how can one truly experience the present if they bring along preconceived views derived from history? Living in a diverse community would help diminish fears because each race would get to know each other and construct a much more accurate view of each race. This would also eliminate fears based on difference and the unknown.

    I also want to mention that the following quote also stood out to me, “As fantastic as it may seem, racist white people find it easy to imagine that black people cannot see them if within their desire they do not want to be seen by the dark Other” (pg 340). This quote stood out to me because I cannot begin to imagine how one can believe they have the power to become invisible to another person. I understand that Hook connects this belief to a social rule that was practiced between White and Black people in the past. Yet, I’m still bewildered by the thought that they actually think their “desire” controls whether people can or cannot see them. I found this puzzling intriguing since I’ve never met someone with that belief.

  19. Jacob Heaps says:

    By looking at the image of “whiteness”, Bell Hooks flips the stereotypical race issue upside down. Rarely does society this of anyone being racist against whites, because whites have generally oppressed peoples of other races. I do believe that our culture has historically held “whiteness” as a “privileged signifier.” (339) I also believe that we have made strides in the last twenty years alone to eliminate this. I found Hooks’ argument strongest when he speaks of the “terror” he and many other people of color had of white people when they were growing up.
    Going to high school at an inner city school made up of about 60% black/40% white I would definitely say I saw “reverse racism.” The black students often had prototypical characteristics that were associated with the white students. It became very obvious over the course of four years that those stereotypes were broken down, and often became the center of humor for all students, regardless of color. I believe that using humor to break down racial stereotypes of the past is the best way for our society to move forward.

  20. Candice Kosanke says:

    I thought it was interesting that many of the ways that Hooks characterizes whiteness are remarkably similar to the way that some whites characterize blackness. For example, Hooks describes how some blacks refer to whites as “the barbarians” and regard them with “suspicion, fear, and even hatred” (Hooks 338). In the days of slavery, many whites viewed blacks as animalistic, barbaric, or “sub-human,” and today, some whites are still suspicious of blacks. Another thing I found interesting was how Hooks referred to whites as “Others” because I previously only heard that term applied to non-whites. White people usually seem to think of themselves as “normal” and think of all non-whites as “Others.” It usually doesn’t occur to them that they are just as different to blacks as blacks are to them. The most surprising thing was Hooks’ statement that whiteness in the black imagination is often a representation of terror. I can see why many blacks may have felt that way in times of slavery, segregation, and lynching, when meeting a white person was a dangerous situation, but I was surprised by Hooks’ statement that some blacks still view whites with fear and terror. I am interested to know if that is just Hooks’ opinion or if many African Americans feel that way. I have often wondered how black people view whites in general and what it is like for black people who live in mostly-white areas, so I found this topic very intriguing.

  21. Amber Kerrigan says:

    In this article, hooks characterizes whiteness and blackness, while pointing out the different stereotypes from both sides of the racial controversy. Hooks characterizes whiteness by commenting that Whiteness is seen as “good”, compared to the identity of Blacks that suggest the sense of “evil and bad” and “scary” that have been brought about by many religious beliefs. What surprises me is the thought that to blacks, whites are unfamiliar and terrifying, when I thought that this was the other way around and blacks resented whites for such a hard and terrible past against race. What intrigues me is the notion of black representation in media. We, meaning white people, rarely see black people in advertising, and television. This has become acceptable because we have created a society where they are invisible. What is unfamiliar about her perspective to me is how she introduces the opposite side to America’s racial situation, representing that Blacks have also “schemes and frames” about race.

  22. Brittany Sheehan says:

    When Hooks characterizes whiteness, she describes it as a “terrorizing imposition, a power that wounds, hurts, and tortures” (341). Throughout the reading, Hooks associates white people with terrorists and that any action performed by a white person must be rooted in terrorism. I wasn’t really surprised by her examples in the reading because rarely do whites put themselves in the other person’s shoes, and whites are rarely the minority. I was able to relate to Hooks’ perspective when she talked about travel and how we really have to face fear in order for travel to occur. Last summer I went on a road trip with my younger brother and we decided to stop in Atlanta for a couple hours. His whole life he has grown up in neighborhoods that are completely white and same with the schools he has gone to, so this was a very new experience for him. I wanted to show him life outside of the bubble he has been living in and to experience a different culture. I was amazed at how uncomfortable he was when we first got there because for the first time, he was the minority. After spending a couple of hours walking around downtown Atlanta, he became more relaxed and started to appreciate the experience. I told him that he should remember how he felt being the minority in an unfamiliar environment when he sees someone else going through the same struggles.

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