BOOK REVIEW / When white boys want to rap: Towards the abolition of whiteness - David Roediger: Verso, pounds 11.95
But whiteness was not created on the basis of race. Indeed, whites are not assumed to have a 'race', even though they may be racist. The new identity was framed, argues David Roediger in this insightful collection of essays, purely on the basis of an ideology of domination. 'It is not that whiteness is oppressive and false,' Roediger asserts, 'it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false.'
Throughout the world, whiteness is now identified with certain kinds of behaviour and ideology. In Ghana's Ashanti region, for example, Chinese, Korean and Japanese now in Ghana are commonly regarded as whites because they behave like Europeans. Conversely, certain types of behaviour are associated with blacks. Many Americans and Europeans always see in exactly the way that their white interest demands that they see. In the Simi Valley trial, the white jury saw Rodney King being beaten by a number of policemen. One juror was even able to describe King, despite the fact that he was down and being kicked, as in 'control' of the situation.
Roediger seeks to abolish the 'ontologically empty' and 'metaphysical' category of whiteness. The ideology of whiteness oppresses not only the blacks but also the whites themselves. It is employed to make whites settle for despair in politics and anguish in the daily grind of life. For Roediger the woman campaigning for David Dukes and 'white rights' is just as much a victim of whiteness as her 'blacks on welfare' ('they get a new car every year') targets. Unseating the loaded metaphorical associations of whiteness would free both blacks and whites, for it would confront racism as well as lead to the recovery of the 'sense of oppression' in the white working class.
Since whiteness acquires meaning through a social context, it has to be tackled in conjunction with class oppression. The issues of race, Roediger argues, cannot be separated from the issues of class. He cites a study of chemical workers in New Jersey which showed that white male workers identified themselves as 'working men' and as 'middle class'. They saw other white men in their neighbourhoods in exactly the same terms, whether they were wage workers or not. But black workers, doing precisely the same jobs, were seen as 'loafers' and 'intruders'.
At the other end of the colour spectrum, Roediger points out, new immigrants to the United States now call themselves 'black' because the 'racial' category more accurately describes their politically oppressed class status. Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Turks, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Arabs, and even Cypriots and some Irish, now identity themselves as blacks.
The growth of a politics based on a popular giving up on whiteness constitutes Roediger's strategy for subduing the two-headed dragon of race and class. And his main weapon is black culture. White youth is increasingly suspicious of the emptiness of white culture and is turning en masse towards non- white cultures.
Black youth culture has redemptive possibilities, which were first identified by Baldwin when he declared that the 'white man' will 'become a part of that suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully'. Baldwin's 'lie' of whiteness is on the retreat, thanks to black music, film, dance, speech and fashion.
Roediger's analysis is powerful; indeed, nothing short of brilliant. But common sense leaves him when he pins all his hopes on hip-hop. Somehow, I can't see rappers and street slang saving humanity from the evils of whiteness.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling