imm - What Group? Studying Whites and Whiteness in the Era...

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‘‘Color-Blindness’’ * A MANDA E. L EWIS University of Illinois at Chicago In this article I argue that despite the claims of some, all whites in racialized societies ‘‘have race.’’ But because of the current context of race in our society, I argue that scholars of ‘‘whiteness’’ face several difficult theoretical and methodological challenges. First is the problem of how to avoid essentializing race when talking about whites as a social collective. That is, scholars must contend with the challenge of how to write about what is shared by those racialized as white without implying that their experiences of racialization all will be the same. Second, within the current context of color-blind racial discourse, researchers must confront the reality that some whites claim not to experience their whiteness at all. Third, studies of whiteness must not be conducted in a vacuum: racial discourse or ‘‘culture’’ cannot be separated from material realities. Only by attending to and by recognizing these challenges will empirical research on whiteness be able to push the boundaries of our understandings about the role of whites as racial actors and thereby also contribute to our understanding of how race works more generally. ‘‘ What group ?’’ Sally (white college junior) ‘‘ Like I told you, I haven’t been around it too much .’’ Mrs. Nelling (white suburban housewife) The opening epigraphs highlight the ways many whites today think about race (Lewis 2001), that is, that race is about others—minority groups generally, and often blacks in particular. In the first quote Sally had just stated that she was glad she had taken my Race and Ethnic Relations course because she had learned a great deal about ‘‘minority groups.’’ When I asked her what she had learned about her own group she replied, ‘‘What group?’’ Mrs. Nelling was responding to an interview question in which I asked her what role she thought race had played in her life. Here she seemed to understand my use of race to be a coded reference to racial minorities with whom she had had little contact in her life. As she put it, ‘‘I haven’t been around it too much.’’ Rather than the idiosyncratic utterances of several individual whites, the epigraphs capture a growing trend in racial discourse, a post-civil rights common sense of *Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Thanks also to friends and colleagues who read and commented on earlier drafts, including Tomas Almaguer, Cynthia Blair, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Michelle Boyd, Benjamin Bowser, Prudence Carter, Mark Chesler, Fatma Muge Gocek, Elena Gutierrez, Frances Hasso, Barbara Lewis, Bryant Marks, Beth Richie, Sonya Rose, Laurie Schaffner, R. Stephen Warner, and especially Tyrone Forman and Barbara Reskin. Sociological Theory 22:4 December 2004
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imm - What Group? Studying Whites and Whiteness in the Era...

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