As an anthropologist who wanted to study whiteness and found very little interest or support inside of this traditionally colonial field of study, I think that time has shown us we actually need to deconstruct whiteness in order to solve climate change. What creates our idea of what white people even are? How can someone who is not white colored “act white”? We have this collection of stereotypes about how white people act and what whiteness is, like being overly severe, being unforgiving and judgmental, being obsessed with control, cleanliness, punishment and so on.
These qualities are all just too vague and disconnected to describe something that has so much influence on all our lives; which leads me to suggest that there is a massive amount of cultural work being done both to construct whiteness and make it a cohesive, coordinated cultural meme, and at the same time to disguise its true nature so that we come to associate whiteness with superficial outcomes only, such as having a clean house and enough money in the bank.
People who inquire into “whiteness” and what whiteness is, the cultural, emotional, and sociopolitical threads that weave whiteness together, are often taken aback by how shockingly immoral the answers are. My guess is that we don’t even know the half, and if taken all together, the history of what we know today as whiteness, would be a gruesome litany that no one would want to read.
When “people of color” – those who are not acculturated to whiteness – learn and pick up the trappings of whiteness in order to survive, they’re being extremely pragmatic. What they don’t know is, what they’re actually getting into. From the outside, people of color judge “white people” for their extreme selfishness, lack of social conscience, ability to self regulate, and so on, but what they haven’t seen is that from the inside all of these apparent flaws are actually intrinsic values within the system of whiteness; that adapting to whiteness means that eventually these flaws will appear to be virtues.
I say appear to be virtues because from the standpoint of human civilization existing in harmony with nature, they are absolute vices and are antagonistic to the goal of an evolved human society that lives as a balanced part of a planetary ecosystem.
So, how do we resolve this tension between the sort of dark and unpleasant self torture that has defined the hegemonic approach to achievement and excellence, and the need for lasting change that retains the values of the goals and yet brings us there along a different path?
One answer would be to abandon the search for solutions inside of whiteness itself, and look to other cultures, specifically the much older cultures of Central and East Asia, as many in “Western countries” have done. The popularity of yoga, Buddhism, Daoism, meditation and other Asian spiritual practices shows that there is a gaping hole in our whiteness civilization where our need for mental and spiritual training is not being met.
Cultures of innovation, most specifically in Silicon Valley and within tech companies, intentionally use these ancient ideas and practices to remedy traditional “Western culture” or “whiteness” because it makes things better. It makes communication better, it moves relevant ideas forward that might have otherwise been destroyed by a system of selfish agents, it creates products and experiences that are generally associated with a higher quality of life.
My hypothesis is that this culture of intentional investigation into the spiritual practices of nonwhite cultures and mending the wounded spaces within the “old paradigm”, should actually be expanded to a global level.