restricted access 53 Reflections on Whiteness: The Case of Latinos(as)
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53 Reflections on Whiteness: The Case of Latinos(as) STEPHANIE M. WILDMAN Imagine that a plane crashes, and in the wreckage we discover a book. Nothing on its cover gives any indication of its contents. But when we open it up, it reveals all the secrets of how to behave as if you rule the world. Suddenly we have an explanation for why so many of them seem to behave the same way and also why they just don't get it: This handbook teaches them all how to be who they are and makes them so they can't hear us or see us, so much of the time. These are the rules we always feel so outside of and don't understand until we trip over them. These are the rules we didn't make. We discover chapters on how to saunter into a room and sit in your chair taking up as much space as possible, and information on how to act like no one says anything of any importance until you rise to speak. We find lessons on how not to see or hear any women or any men of color or any issues that might concern them, but to say exactly what they said (if it was a good idea) without giving them credit or acting as if they had just said precisely the same thing. A special chapter on white boys in the legal academy explains how to decide what books and articles to recommend to students to read, how to be exclusive about who to cite, and how to discern what is good scholarship and what is drivel, justifying the likeness of good to everything like yourself. The book also contains, of course, chapters on white women as white boys, and men of color as white boys, but you get the idea. (Two friends, Trina Grillo and Adrienne Davis, and I discussed writing such a book.) Not long ago, I was invited to speak at the University of Texas. The university has a reimbursement request form, which the law journal had filled out, so that they could be reimbursed for sending me an airplane ticket. A state school, Texas devoted a portion of the form to questions about race and ethnicity. In an effort to be helpful, the student filling out my form had entered my race for me. She had checked black. Now here was a loselose situation if ever there was one. I don't feel antipathy at being regarded as black, but the fact is I'm not. So next to the box I wrote, "Sadly, not." But I thought it was interesting that people would think I couldn't be white, perhaps because of the things I say and write. Looking at me you would imagine that most of my life people have assumed that I am white, unless I am in a setting where they are inquiring if I am Jewish, which I also am. Copyright © 1996 by Stephanie M. Wildman. Reprinted by permission. Publication forthcoming in the Harvard Latino Law Review. Copyrighted Material 324 Stephanie M. Wildman Then I am still white, but it's white and.... Whiteness, unmodified, remains the dominant cultural norm. Professor Rene Nunez described the history of Anglo-Saxonization that was accompanied by Christianity as part of the formation of this dominant culture. In this vision I am white as long as I "pass" as a real white. And I do get many unsought privileges for that whiteness. I won't be followed around when I enter a store or a bank, the emergency room in the hospital will pay attention when my child is brought in with a broken wrist and won't ask her if she has been abused. I receive these privileges because appearance places me within the dominant fold. Studying whiteness from a critical perspective reveals a lot about the construction of hierarchy and power, insiders and outsiders. Because whiteness is considered the norm of the dominant culture, it remains mostly invisible, taken as a given. Whiteness is rarely named in conversations about race, except when it is discussed as the opposite of black. Discussions about race are usually constructed along this bipolar axis, making many of the dynamics of the social construction of race invisible and thereby perpetuating white privilege. This invisibility works in curious ways when Latinas/os are added to the discussion. The bipolar construction of race-blacks versus whites-eliminates them from conversations about race...