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Shona Hunter and Christi van der Westhuizen, eds., "Routledge Handbook of Critical Studies in Whiteness" (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 414 pp.:


Shona Hunter and Christi van der Westhuizen, eds., Routledge Handbook of Critical Studies in Whiteness (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 414 pp.

Shona Hunter and Christi van der Westhuizen’s edited collection on critical studies in Whiteness is impressive in its scope and aim. The editors and contributing authors offer insightful approaches to the current “workings” and the histories of Whiteness—or rather “whitenesses” (183). Readers learn of the seemingly infinite extent and relationality of Whiteness, “a deeply material matter which must be worked through” (3), as the editors write in their introduction. And indeed, the chapters work through Whiteness from different perspectives; the authors turn towards postcolonial theory, the study of visual media, literature and art, (post)feminism, sociology, philosophy, the study of gender and history. In addition, and this is one of the strengths of this collection, the contributions demonstrate the necessary (self-)reflexivity needed for studying Whiteness in the future.

The title “Critical Studies in Whiteness” (emphasis added) is relevant for this (self-)reflexivity. Instead of referencing what has been known as Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS), the editors and various authors in the collection argue that CWS has been failing. When the field emerged in the late 1990s (cf. Delgado and Stefancic; Dyer; Fine et al.; Frankenberg; Hill), the first aim was to challenge the unmarkedness of Whiteness, to make Whiteness visible. Quickly though, it became apparent that this approach focused on a White perspective in CWS; after all, Whiteness had never been invisible to those who did not or could not possess and profit from it (cf. Du Bois; Morrison; Yancy). As the contributions to the handbook show, the field is permeated with problems; it is not always dedicated to anti-racism, but often limited to “issues of culture, identity and embodiment” (xx-xxi). Contributors Colleen E. Boucher and Cheryl E. Matias, in their chapter “An Evolutionary Terror: Critical Examination of Emboldened Whiteness and Race Evasion” assert that “some whiteness scholars have raised concerns about narrowly focusing more on the humanization of whites than the harm it does to POC” (343).

This book, instead, is said to analyze “whiteness as part of a broader racial formation, which is material, effective and discursive” (xxi). The contributions are a testament to what the editors call speaking through instead of about Whiteness. They display the relationality of Whiteness, for example, the entanglement of Trumpism and Hindu nationalism in India (Thobani), the interpretations of Western constructions of Whiteness by Imperial Japan (Takezawa), the antagonism between British and Afrikaner masculinity in South Africa (Sonnekus), or the organization of reproductive tourism, so called “repro flows” (235), in which intended parents plan their future children’s Whiteness (Pande).

Published in the book series “Routledge International Handbooks,” this collection is indeed international. While this is not the first publication that approaches Whiteness, in terms of its histories and effects from an inter- and transnational perspective (cf. Rasmussen et al.; Levine-Rasky; Moreton-Robinson et al.; Watson et al.), it is certainly the most comprehensive, as it clearly attempts to crush (in the best sense possible) the dominance of scholarship from the Global North and of White scholars. It brings together transdisciplinary scholarship from and about Africa (particularly South Africa and Zimbabwe), India, Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Japan. As the editors write in their preface, “the pursuit of anti-racism must be simultaneously intellectual and activist” (xxi), and as the book clearly shows, it also must be transnational. There is still a lot to do if CWS scholars really want to pursue an internationalization of the field.

The Handbook consists of 28 chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue by Michelle Fine and William E. Cross, Jr. It is divided into six parts: “Onto-Epistemologies: Theory against Whiteness,” “Conspiracies: Ideologies Reinforcing Whiteness,” “Colonialities: Permutations of Whiteness over Time,” “Intersectionalities: Differences (De)Stabilizing Whiteness,” “Governmentalities: Formations, Reproductions, and Refusals of Whiteness,” and “Provocations: Debates and Dilemmas.” These parts display the rich scholarship and the diverse approaches to Whiteness, as a “social relation, an identity, an ideology […] as property” (43), an “unspoken presence” (67), “an effect of social relations that are structured by inequality and hierarchies of power” (259), and a “location of structural advantage” (259). Structural advantages for Whites are emphasized throughout the chapters that look as much at the past as they look at this present moment. Many contributions are clearly influenced by the time they were produced in—by the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, by the fatal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for BIPoC around the world, and the ways in which the pandemic once more laid bare the inequalities and hierarchies of power that harm People of Color while protecting Whites.

There is an agreement among the authors that making Whiteness visible is too simple and often results in re-centering what has historically been centered anyway. They share a critical stance towards established discourses in CWS and practices that have dominated anti-racist activism by Whites, particularly White privilege and White fragility. Any mentioning of privilege and fragility of course references two key texts of CWS, Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1989) and Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” (2011). The enunciation of having White privilege; the recognition of and admission to a display of White fragility when faced with (one’s own) internalized racial bias have become standard practices in CWS scholarship, in university courses dedicated to the subject, as well as in anti-racist activism. Yet the effects of such enunciations seem to have come to a standstill. A White subject’s declaration of knowledge, the admission to privilege and fragility, as Hunter and van der Westhuizen write in their introduction, is another form of control: “Through ‘knowing’ itself, declaring itself to be problematic and then ‘cleaning up’ itself,” Whiteness, they argue, re-achieves a presumed “innocence” (2). Authors Mandisi Majavu, Amanpreet Ahluwalia, Samantha Vice, Colleen E. Boucher, and Cheryl E. Matias, in their respective chapters, clearly point to the limits of the (self-)declaration of Whiteness, be it in an academic field like CWS or in anti-racist activist spaces. As is convincingly argued throughout the book, the structural impact and the relationality of Whiteness are still evaded. This is where Hunter and van der Westhuizen’s Routledge Handbook of Critical Studies in Whiteness starts a conversation that needs to be had if the study of and in Whiteness is to be meaningful, impactful, and anti-racist in the future.

Evangelia Kindinger (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Works Cited

1 

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic, eds. Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1997.

2 

DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3.3 (2011): 54-70. Print.

3 

Du Bois, W. E. B. “The Soul of White Folks.” Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1920. 29-52. Print.

4 

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.

5 

Fine, Michelle, et al., eds. Off White: Readings on Race, Power, and Society. New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.

6 

Frankenberg, Ruth, ed. Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1997. Print.

7 

Hill, Mike, ed. Whiteness: A Critical Reader. New York: New York UP, 1997. Print.

8 

Levine-Rasky, Cynthia. Working through Whiteness: International Perspectives. Albany: State U of New York P, 2002. Print.

9 

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Peace and Freedom July / August (1989): 10-12. Print.

10 

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen, et al., eds. Transnational Whiteness Matters. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008. Print.

11 

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. Print.

12 

Rasmussen, Birigt Brander, et al., eds. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2001. Print.

13 

Watson, Veronica, Deirdre Howard-Wagner, and Lisa Spanierman, eds. Unveiling Whiteness in the Twenty-First Century: Global Manifestations, Transdisciplinary Interventions. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2014. Print.

14 

Yancy, George, ed. What White Looks Like: African-American Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

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