The whiteness of our world is implied by the lack of addressing it. Have you ever wondered why we call white people ‘white people’ but for every other race we specify where their peoples originated? Why don’t we refer to WP as European-Americans? Or British-Americans? Or Sweedish-American?

We are very comfortable using the term African-American, or Chinese-American. Yet we give no thought to whether or not that person actually is African or Chinese. Why don’t we do the same for WP?

A whitewashed world

The answer is twofold. First, the world we live in was conceptualized by and for WP. Therefore whiteness is seen as the norm and everything else is seen as an anomaly. By this, I mean that we have things like Black History Month and Black Lives Matter Movement. 

We have Black history month because it isn’t acknowledged by WP that Black history is American history. We have BLM because it isn’t understood by WP that Black people are fatally oppressed by systemic racism

Black people created Black History Month and BLM. WP failed to even acknowledge that they exclude and oppress Black people. Otherwise, there would be no need for Black-centered movements and historical recognition.  

Nevermind the absent effort to remove forms of racial oppression. We couldn’t even be bothered to recognize the existence of hardship we created and regularly uphold.

Both Black history month and BLM are vital necessities at this point in time. Unfortunately, WP are still neglecting to include anyone but ourselves in our privilege. We’re the problem, yet we’re forcing marginalized groups to adapt simply because we refuse to spread equality. 

A history of culture

Fo Black Americans specifically, there is a historical relevance to the business of hyphenating that cannot be ignored. Africans were enslaved and brought to America. They came from countries including Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Angola, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

Part of their enslavement included stripping them of their birth names and forcing them to adopt traditionally white names. This resulted in a massive loss of culture and personal history. After 400 years of enslavement, tracing genealogy back to native African countries was a near-impossible task.

This left Black people with an irretrievable loss of culture and history. However, since Black people arrived in America, they have been creating their own unique cultural identity. You only have to search Black culture in America to see a plethora of ways in which Black people have forged their own cultural identity in their country.

A landscape of political correctness

As I said the issue is two-fold, here’s the second component to consider. We fail to understand other cultures when we label them prematurely.

The only way in which the label Chinese-American makes sense is if a Chinese person has dual citizenship in America. Then they are in fact, Chinese-American. African-American is label that makes even less sense. We generalize Black people as African-Americans and don’t even bother to venture a guess as to what country we think they might be from. Somehow, this seems marginally more offensive.

This also serves to alienate natural born Americans. A Black American is not an African-American. If their parent is African, then they are of African decent. Which still makes them an American …. of African decent.

Also, Africa is a fairly large continent. Home to the most countries of any continent, in fact. The label ‘African’ doesn’t really tell us a whole lot about a person’s heritage. But it sure says a lot about our ignorance and laziness.

We’ve become so consumed with political correctness that our focus is on getting the label right. Ironically, this leads us to often get the label wrong. Our misguided caution prevents us from devoting our focus on understanding and learning about the individual. Further perpetuating what we’re trying to avoid: racism and offensiveness.

The Next Step

Sometimes it’s wise to question the result of a seemingly progressive language adaptation. We need to reflect on what it actually achieves. Is it helping who it’s intending to? Is it actually inclusive? Or is it simply performative allyship cleverly leveraged to provide WP a hollow sense of accomplishment?

Bluntly, is it working towards equity or preventing us from doing meaningful anti-racist work? Transparency is critical to dismantling systems of oppression. We need to be able to speak truthfully and accurately.

We also need to be willing to take accountability for our words an actions. This means we also must be willing to continually grow and develop. It’s ok to make mistakes, keep learning, keep moving.