The Worship of Whiteness
By Nichole Richards
Whiteness is an all-encompassing thing. For centuries it has set both a physical and mental standard in all corners of the globe, managing to disrupt ways of life, trading routes, religious beliefs, ancient partnerships, and even beauty standards. It has taught generation after generation to worship it and ingrained resentment for anything opposite of it. It has become so entrenched in our daily life that it seeps into our pores, hair follicles, and minds. We live so closely a-long the lines of whiteness that our thoughts about ourselves, our families, our communities, and even our personal goals are drenched in what is White.
I noticed this tragic reality during my first trip to Ghana, West Africa. As a student of Akan culture and language, I arrived in Ghana anxious to explore the sights, smells, sounds, and philosophies of Africa. I had dreamt of the continent since I was in second grade when I first learned of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and my heart longed to return there. Arriving in Ghana, I was understandably met with fascination. I was foreign. I spoke differently, walked differently.
I was called “White”.
I reacted in anger. I was offended. Calling someone like me, a proud Southern Black woman obsessed with Black culture and history, “white” felt as if a racial epithet was hurled in my direction. After getting over the initial shock, I allowed curiosity to take over and began to press these African men and women to talk about something they rarely considered: race. Despite Africa being ground zero of the devastation caused by racial construction, Africans rarely consider it. The lines created by class, language, culture, religion, and ethnic group are more pronounced and are the cause of the strife there. However, being an African/Black/Afro American I am conditioned to think about race and despite being in a sea of Black, I still felt a bitterness, a level of anxiety, a bubbling anger to-wards Whiteness because I could still sense it! I heard it in conversations. I saw it on billboards promoting skin lightening creams. I observed it in dreamy eyes and voices praising the American dream.
Whiteness is not a color. You do not have to be White to embody it. Whiteness is an ideology, a philosophy, a system, a governing body of ideas that instructs one on how to think, how to dress, how to structure their lives, and what to dream of. Whiteness comes with its own set of rigid values and morals. Whiteness is a worldview.
One could even say it is a religion.
Do Black people worship Whiteness? Look at the images of Jesus Christ in some of our homes and churches. Despite countless refutations of Jesus being white through historical research, logical arguments, and even Biblical descriptions we continue to cling to the pale white, blond hair, blue eyed image given to us. Why have we not let this go? Let us also consider the ideation of the White American dream that devalues happiness to a materialist checklist and sets the standard for what success looks like. It is a family of four waving from the front porch of their two car garage home with a happily barking dog. Mom wears an apron and Dad wears a business suit and carries a briefcase. Even the picket fence is White. This propaganda of happiness guides our most personal hopes and dreams and rarely do we challenge what this image is saying about family, gender, and materialism with a White lens. How many Black families exist in this way? Rather, how many Black families can exist in this way? But yet, we waste our lives crawling towards this unattainable ideal that is supposed to make us happy and secure.
Our community once again exists in a fragile period of time where we’re reminded of the centuries old lines drawn between the races that define this country. The Black family continues its decade long decline. Our children are being lost to gun violence and social media. Our men and women are at odds and publically denounce and avoid each other. Our elders are growing tired. We must realize the disaster the incorporation of Whiteness has caused in our community and redefine what our values, ideas, and goals are. It is the first step to self-sufficiency and independence that our race truly needs.