Recently, I was standing in the hall of my dorm room when someone walked by. They looked down at the ground at a bag of trash that had been left outside a neighbor’s door. The trash was a Whole Foods bag with an empty La Croix can, Grins box, and Starbucks coffee cup. “That’s the whitest thing I’ve ever seen” the person remarked without thinking as they walked by. What that person did not realize, is that the trash belonged to the person who lived in the nearby dorm room, and she is black.
I never mentioned anything to the person who made this remark, but this really made me reflect on how our society defines “whiteness” and how this definition has changed over time. Does the term “whiteness”, in modern day society, refer to one’s behaviors?language? skin color? ancestors?
During the colonization of American, whiteness referred to the color of one’s skin and their ancestors, an Anglo Saxon identity for instance. Also, a set of beliefs and behaviors were often associated with whiteness such as a superiority complex over the American natives and the belief that white people have divine authority to populate all of t North America.
In modern day America, it seems this term has a new meaning. My black friend, who was referred to earlier, says that people often tell her that she’s the whitest black person they know. This clearly disassociates “whiteness” with the color of one’s skin or their ancestors. Rather, these modern day mentions of whiteness seem to more often associate the term with one’s actions and behaviors. I also think it is interesting that the common sayings of “classic white girl” or “you’re so white” are often used to criticize people’s actions. I wonder how these phrases would have been interpreted centuries ago. Additionally, I believe that the superiority complex that many white people had while colonizing america in the 1700’s still exist day.