06 October 2010

Whiteness Theory & Post-Racialism...

This post is probably worthy of a PhD thesis, and perhaps I will write it one day (a PhD thesis is something that is definitely on my bucket list). I might have to decide whether I write it from an education perspective or a legal / justice perspective (then again, I might just combine both and be much less focused).

I have always been interested in these ideas, but strangely enough had not really named them and related them back to theories in the field. In that regard, I have a recently completed subject on diversity for setting readings that 'forced' me to read in more detail about these ideas. The reason I had been thinking about these ideas previously related to both Australian and Indonesian contexts.

In the Australian context it really related to criminal justice and the over-representation of my indigenous brothers and sisters in the court and jail systems (and whether education had a role to play in redressing this sad imbalance).

In the Indonesian context it was really about whiteness theory co-opted into an idea of Indonesian-ness theory. Simply, the idea of honorary Indonesian-ness or Indonesian-ness being the norm to some degree. This one is a much more complex one than whiteness theory because of the way that Indonesian-ness is constructed in the first place. Indonesian is a melting pot of diversity and this is recognised in the notion of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity (although it might be argued that the concept might be better understood from a literal reading of the Javanese that it comes from as being unity from diversity). To be honest, I had also been thinking about the idea of Indonesia-ness with respect to Barack Obama, the US President, and the reverence ordinary Indonesians have for the man and expectations of him from three or so years of living in Indonesia as a child.

This is intended to be a short post. But, hopefully it might inspire a few comments instead of just the usual page views that my posts get.

So, here is the basic idea. Whiteness Theory really is about "whiteness" being the norm. The kicker is that you do not have to be white, but merely accepted as being white. Hence, whiteness is not about race, it is about cultural values and the perceived power and opportunities that being 'white' brings. Yet, it is arguable whether whiteness is an overt or covert theory. The idea that it is covert rests in the manner in which race is talked about, this is in spite of the idea that whiteness theory is not about race, because more often than not it is race which premises the discussion.

I guess what I have been thinking about is the convergence, or lack thereof, between whiteness theory and this idea of post-racialism. This came more to the fore with the election of Obama to the White House, as people started falling over themselves, like Oprah Winfrey for example, in order to claim that this was the start of something big; a post-racial America. Personally, I would need to do a lot more research, but first impressions are that these people are kidding themselves in a reality sense. I understand conceptually what post-racialism entails but I wonder whether the election of a person of mixed race to the presidency of the US is in fact a sign that post-racial America has arrived.

If whiteness theory is about power and privilege then could it be argued that Obama's rise to the presidency fits within the parameters of whiteness theory where arguments of power and privilege prevail?

I do wonder whether the election of an Indonesian of Chinese or Indian or Arab descent would signify a post-racial Indonesia? But, I think before I can wonder that, I tend to wonder whether Indonesia can reach a place of tolerance of, and for, minorities, and really live up to the idea of unity in diversity.

As you can see, there is real potential for me to add to the abundant literature already out there on this topic. Oh, and no apologies for the disjointedness of this rambling post, it remains an unedited ramble of ideas, thoughts, and concepts that are bouncing round in my head.

Ho hum...one more university assessment task to go.

No comments: