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]essie Daniels The White Problem (onJoe R. Feagin and HernánVera, White Racism [NewYork: Routledge, 1995]; and Mab Segrest, Memoir ofa Race Traitor [Boston: South End, 1994]) For much of this century, most well-intentioned whites, including scholars, referred to "the Negro problem" when addressing matters that mightnow be called racial politics. In the 1930s, for example, Mary White Ovington, reflecting on whatled her, a white woman, to become one of the founding members of the NAACP, remarked that she was "amazed" to learn that "there was a Negro problem" in New York and recalled that it was this realization which led her to "take up colored work" (9). Today this language seems if not quaint, then at the very least hopelessly outdated and, at worst, deeply offensive. Part of the reason we are offended by such language is that it more than implies that the root of any racial problem lies with the oppressed. Put more crudely, if the "Negroes" would change, then we (whoare white) would no longer have a "Negro problem." Contemporary discourse around racial politics continues this formulation through an almost exclusive focus on those constructed as racial Others, typically African-Americans. As worthwhile as this kind of study has been in terms of altering material reality for those classified as racial objects, it is clear that there must be a shift in the focus of analysis. This shift, as Toni Morrison among others has called for, is toward the interrogation of white racial subjectivity. The questions at the heart of this investigation are: how has white supremacy shaped the consciousness and identity of those whohave perpetuated, enforced and benefitted from it? What are the consequences of racial hierarchy, domination and oppression for those who are privileged by such systems ? And perhaps most urgently, what does it take to move whites Dut of a stance of unexamined privilege toward one of actively engaging and dismantling privilege? So moved, what is the most effective strategy for well-intentioned whites to smash white supremacy? The conceit of the age is to think that the call for such a shift is new. It is not. Civil rights leaders of the 1960s were among some of the earlier , largely unheeded, voices. Malcolm X urged "well-meaning white people" to "combat actively and directly, the racism in other white people" (Haley 432). In 1968, Martin L. King specifically addressed academics when he said that "social scientists [should] address the white community and 'tell it like it is'" (8). There were a handful of whites who responded to these admonitions, and in the early 1970s, there were 200the minnesota review a number of books (though hardly enough to constitute a trend) about what we now call "whiteness." Most often, this batch ofbooks addressed some aspect of "WASP-ness" (see Stavley; Schräg; and Halsey); others more pointedly dealt with white racism presaged any of the current emphasis on whites (see Goldschmid; L. King; and Bowser and Hunt). On the whole, white's involvment in racial politics has been seen most often—by themselves and by others—as magnanimous involvment in the "Negro problem," as it was by Mary White Ovington. The twobooks underreview here represent a longoverdueresponse to these admonitions and the much needed shift in focus toward an analysis of whites. Specifically, these authors raise important questions about white supremacist groups, about why they still appeal to a small, but dangerous, white minority. More to the point for intended audiences , they raise questions about what the response of other ostensibly well-intentioned whites should be to these and more commonplace, though no less menacing, expressions of white supremacy. White Racism, by Joe R. Feagin and Hernán Vera, is in some ways a companion piece to Feagin's previous Living with Racism. Co-authored with Melvin Sykes, Living with Racism challenges the prevailing sociological argumentof the declining significance ofrace, positing that economic factors have caused major employers to move away from urban areas to suburban areas. Because many African-Americans live in concentrated urban areas, this shift has disproportionately affected blacks, resulting in high unemployment and a variety of social dislocations (see Wilson). The motor driving this theoretical perspective is an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 199-204
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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