White

A book by Richard Dyer.

white.jpg

A fundamental text of critical race theory and film studies, still ominously resonant. Dyer’s contention that until white people see how whiteness is constructed, represented, and privileged, white supremacy (though he doesn’t use that term) will thrive. The scope of his study is stunning: his own awareness of his whiteness, his privileged consciousness of racial difference, the gradual conflation of Christianity and whiteness, the technology of photography and film, the privileging of a “culture of light,” heroic white masculinity in Westerns and muscle-man action cinema, the representation of white women as divine/destructive, and the associations of whiteness with death in horror and cult dystopian films. There are many vital photographs throughout, both black and white and colour, that illustrate the aestheticisation of whiteness. Dyer’s argument that white people are allowed to inhabit ordinariness, the human race, the standard of humanity, even escaping racial identity, while non-white people are raced, particular, and different, is a simple and powerful contribution to any work interested in power. Certainly, he makes strange whiteness, forcing us to consider why connotations of purity, light, goodness, and cleanness have become attached to a simple colour – or, as he discusses, a non-colour. He unravels so much of what we have taken as read in this white-saturated culture. For example, what does it mean to be “white”? It is surely not a literal skin colour possessed by many humans, yet its slipperiness is part of its privilege. Dyer’s call to examine the unexamined is unfortunately still urgent twenty years after its first issue.

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2 thoughts on “White

  1. SeriousRachel

    Sounds like a great book. It reminds me of a history text I read during a “Theories of Migration” class called Whiteness of a Different Color. Similar thesis, sounds like, although the history book used the lens of immigration to the US to illustrate how different groups of people were raced and then granted–or denied–whiteness.

    Reply
    1. Elisabeth Murray Post author

      It’s definitely great! I haven’t heard of that history book, I will have to check it out. I’m also fascinated by the historical angle. Thanks for reading and recommending.

      Reply

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