Volume 18, 2002
Truth and Objectivity in Social Ethics
Jami L. Anderson
The White Closet
Whiteness theorists argue that whiteness has two essential features. First, whiteness colonizes, appropriates and controls the Other. Whiteness is, then, racist.
Second, whiteness is constructed unwittingly. Whites are, it is claimed, unaware of the harms they inflict on a genocidal scale because whiteness, like the air we breathe, is “invisible” to those who construct it and are constructed by it. Whiteness is, then, innocent. I think defining whiteness as innocent racism is troubling for two reasons. First, it leaves whites unaccountable for the acts of racism they perpetuate. Second, I think that the claim that whiteness is invisible “like the air we breathe,” while a powerful and fascinating metaphor, is mistaken. I will argue that whiteness is closeted; and while the closet makes the acknowledgement of whiteness difficult, it does not make it impossible. Thus, though closeted, whites are morally accountable for the acts of racism they commit.