A very intense professional development day today. Our department, nine of us, met together with a facilitator to discuss the invention of “white people.” This categorical construct did not exist until 1681 in a Virginia antimiscegenation law, which was enacted in response to Bacon’s Rebellion in the Jamestown colony.
This rebellion had unified poor whites and poor blacks together, a union which clearly was a threat to the ruling elite. This unification was eventually undermined by the distinction of “whiteness” and what rights and privileges would be afforded to its classification. This was codified in law and became a foundation for the racializing of slavery and the institutionalizing of greater rights, privileges, and immunities to those who were/are white. The workshop continued in addressing naturalization and immigration policies through the 19th and 20th centuries as manifested in this exclusive structure of whiteness.
Whiteness is a construct. Race is a construct. It has nothing to do with melanin or lack of it. It is not genetic or biological, yet this construct is visceral and tangible socially, politically, and culturally. Its power and reach are invisible to those who are rewarded most by its systemic and structural status.
This was not an easy day today. But my colleagues were engaged and connected at each step along this continuum of our own understandings. At one point the conversation became emotional and increasingly vulnerable. Holding community and integrity as values, we stumbled forward. Many took risks, let themselves become raw, took today’s lessons to heart. Even those who remained intellectual, still seemed committed to the work that lies ahead.
What will become challenging for all of us will be maintaining a generosity of spirit around all of our rough edges as we inch our way toward greater self and communal awareness around the “invisible” privileges of whiteness. Transformation is difficult and uncomfortable. There is a lot to unpack. And it will take a great deal of courage. It will take a great deal of resolve. It will take a commitment to really listen to each other.