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Everyone is Racialized - Yes, White People Too

As long as race is something applied only to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people....The point of seeing the racing of whites is to dislodge them/us from the position of power, with all the inequities, oppression, privileges and sufferings in its train, dislodging them/us by undercutting the authority with which they/we speak and act in and on the world. (Dyer, pp 1,2)

Historically, it has been white people who have had/have the social, political, and economic power to ‘name' and ‘categorize' people of colour and Indigenous peoples according to white people's categories of ‘race.' As a result, in popular, dominant discourse, the word ‘race' has typically been used to refer to people of colour and Indigenous people (i.e., people who were seen by white people as ‘not like us'/not white). White-skinned people doing the naming/categorizing may have categorized themselves as ‘white' (or Caucasian and therefore, superior); or, they may have thought of themselves as people, as ‘raceless,' as ‘normal,' and this ‘normalcy' was defined by the assumed otherness or ‘abnormality' or difference. In either case, the position of ‘white' has remained dominant and self-sustaining.

This process/history is with us today. And you may find, the white people you are working with may seem to express contradictory ideas such as:

  • understanding the ideological (and false) foundations of ‘race,' they may declare that people are ‘all the same' ( thus erasing/denying the real effects of racism;
  • and/or, they may identify themselves as ‘white'(perhaps with some discomfort) but not really know what that means--power? a skin colour? They may be caught between the problematic biological categories and an awareness of whiteness/race as a social construction. (See Whiteness, below, as well as Colour blindness).

As well, people of colour and Indigenous people may also use the historical/dominant terms regarding ‘race,' to define themselves, and others, because they, too, have been born into this system and discourse.  (See Internalized Racism.)

The term ‘racialization' is very helpful in understanding how the history of the idea of ‘race' is still with us, impacts us all, profoundly, though differentially, as well, especially as the term emphasizes the ideological and systemic, often unconscious processes at work. It also emphasizes how racial categories are "constructed", including whiteness, but socially and culturally very real.

Racialization is the very complex and contradictory process through which groups come to be designated as being of a particular "race" and on that basis subjected to differential and/or unequal treatment. While white people are also racialized, this process is often rendered invisible or normative to those designated as white, and as such, white people may not see themselves as part of a ‘race' but still as having the authority to name and racialize ‘others'. 

The process by which people are identified by racial characteristics is a social and cultural process, as well as an individual one. That is, a social order might "racialize" a group through media coverage, political action, and the production of a general consensus in the public about that group. An individual might "racialize" another individual or group by particular actions (e.g., avoiding eye contact, crossing the street, asking invasive questions) that designated the target individual or group as "other" or "not-normal." Racialization is a fluid process. A particular community might be "racialized" at a point in history but then later "pass into" whiteness (e.g. Italian Canadians). Whiteness and Whites can also be racialized but this process must incorporate anti-racist and alliance principles so that whiteness is perceived as a power-base, not a target.