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Stephanie Land

Image & Text

When We Were White: ON SILENCE


When We Were White: ON SILENCE is the first sculpture in a body of work on whiteness. Over the course of its creation, like whiteness, it has taken many forms–a pile of bones, a pyre, a burial. But whiteness is not a grief we attend to, it is the house–the church–we build personally, culturally, and systematically to insulate ourselves at the expense of others.

I grew up in the John Hughes-like suburbs of Chicago in the 80’s and 90’s where, to white people, race was a thing of the past. Possibly perceived as being ‘solved’ in the decade or two that followed the civil rights movement. Cary, Illinois was a town of 90% white, 6% Latino, 2% Asian, 1% Black, 1% Native, where discussing diversity, race, or the role that the white person in America had played and was continuing to play out, was unthinkable. Although race surrounded us in the everyday news and in pop culture, we didn’t speak about it. We were the observers of race and felt we had nothing to do with it because we were “race-less.”

We didn’t have to have “the race talk” as families of color are forced to for their survival and so we learned that whatever being white meant in the world, it wasn’t something we’d ever be expected to confront or articulate. There would be no personal events, no hurtful interactions to prod us into a family meeting about how our skin color affected our life, livelihood, personal survival, or identity. Our identity was a non-identity. It made us safe, impenetrable.

Our predominantly white suburb was surrounded by other predominantly white suburbs, all of them likely created by white flight – the big city of Chicago, with segregation problems of its own (though still more diverse than the suburbs), was just far enough away to not make any impact. With a historical whiteness in our stories, in our actions, and in our assumptions of society, our ignorance had their own ignorance. But ignorance was not a word I or anyone I knew was taught to associate with whiteness.

For all white families, whiteness is the silent narrator to every story we tell. Over time, the silence forms itself into a habit, a catch all of being able to talk around a thing. In whiteness, we become like trees trying to deny their root.

This is the trouble with silence – it becomes a place of comfort for the difficult things to be tucked away. My silence has been my privilege–and too, the slow way, as a white person, I have been able to come to my understanding of race in privacy, is my privilege and my inheritance.

An avid letter writer, I had a 15-year history of letter correspondence with my maternal grandmother. Between us there were generational lifetimes of silence around so much, including whiteness. When We Were White: ON SILENCE, is comprised of more than 800 pieces of alginate cast into the bottom of envelopes, dried and individually sanded down. The process was tedious, repetitive, difficult, but also quiet enough for me to begin to think and speak out loud the silence and secrets around the history of my own whiteness–each piece cast in an envelope, like a message in a bottle, a conversation I am having with the ghost of my grandmother. ON SILENCE is an attempt to investigate the complicity of whiteness, and a call to action to investigate the white self, family, and structure. To understand, that as a white person in America, whiteness is a part of everything we do, from the cultural spaces we’re allowed into, to the relative safety with which we walk down the street, to the conversations our families didn’t and still don’t have to have.

Charles Bernstein

Image & Text


Figuring Power


In the middle of one of the grand halls in Berlin’s awe-inspiring Bode Museum, there is a magnificent Yombe (Kongo) wood sculpture of a supernally self-possessed man.

At the Bode, the Yombe figure is totally surrounded by medieval European power figures, thought, by Christian people, to possess supernatural powers. In the installation, the African figure locks eyes with a European fetish object of a woman holding a baby, with a similar statue at its back. There is a Surrealist shock produced by the incongruity. For all the animating force of this 19th-century nkisi n’kondi (an object inhabited by Divinities), the surrounding Christian icons have effectively have contained it, as surely as if were put in chains. The wide-eyed sculpture, hands confidently on hips, is covered with metal nails, suggesting a kind of, let’s call it, impregnobility. The nkisi is identified with Mangaaka, a powerful force for jurisprudence and for maintaining social order (“Beyond Compare” catalog, p. 145). The metal pieces hammered into the surface of the object are marks of specific efforts toward community order and against wrongdoing. While the surrounding figures may ensnare the nkisi n’kondi, it holds its own ground.

While the Bode museum is ostensibly secular, the objects in its collection were made by deeply religious people and the museum collection consists of works as talismanic as the Yombe “power figure” suddenly trapped in their (and our) collective gaze. The mother and baby motif, for example, depicts the infant deity Jesus with his mother Mary, a virgin according the Christian mythology.

This intentionally unsettling juxtaposition is part of an ongoing show at the Bode entitled “Beyond Compare: Art from Africa,” which integrates some of the masterpieces from Berlin’s ethnographic museum into the museum’s collections. The show is curated by Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine, and Paola Ivanov in an effort to raise the issues confronted in this essay. (The Ethnologisches Museum will be closed for some years as it moves from Dahlem to the Humboldt Forum on Museum Island, near the Bode, bringing its African collection in closer proximity to, even if separate from, the other island museums.  At present, this show is the only place that some of the Ethnologisches’s stellar collection can be seen. Providing a temporary home for these works is one of the laudable impulses for the show.)

While the concept of juxtaposing African works from the Ethnographic museum with the Christian sculptures at the Bode is given the title “Beyond Compare,”  the show makes much of the comparison of individual works from cultures that had limited knowledge of one another. The presentation of the works makes explicit that the works from the Ethnological Museum are valued for their own aesthetic and cultural significance and that these works are as great, in their own right, as the works in the museum’s permanent collection. And for viewers this point is underscored by the experience of seeing the borrowed works, which may seem to outshine the Christian icons that are their new neighbors. Indeed, the African works can seem to be ‘in advance’ of the Western works in their complex play of abstraction as/and distorted figuration, fetish, color, and performance, a felt perception that is as much the product of Western teleological consciousness as the reverse assumption of Christian supremacy.

The exhibition suggests a subliminal universality among sets of paired works, encouraging us to see a commonness of form and iconography, a “likeness” that, despite any differences, suggests –– in this case provisional –– “shared attributes” as an “effect of proximity” and “shared residence,” to adapt Sara Ahmad’s phrases in “A Phenomenology of Whiteness” (Feminist Theory 8:2, 2007, pp.154-55). Some of the “fundamental” (p. 71) points of comparison include couples, mothers with children, human faces/heads/hair, wild animals, and power figures. Side-by-side comparisons of like-seeming objects can reveal difference as much as sameness; but, given the design, the latter is more on display in the exhibition, even if the catalog is at pains to acknowledge the former.  Despite the curators’ forceful cautions in the catalog, this “feel good” approach a human common allows the violent history of the acquisition of the works to be masked, subsuming (absorbing, assimilating) all in its Christian spiritual aspiration (or, in partially related secular terms, via the frame of wissenschaft). The always present, and plausibly deniable, myth of the exhibition is that, in this context, universality is a specifically Christian form of obliterating difference, at least for those in the Christian fold. And this is exactly what “Beyond Compare” does, rather than what it intends: the side-by-side comparisons bring foreign or alien works into the Christian fold; this is what is “beyond” the comparisons that comprise the show.

Visual spectacle will always eclipse verbal extenuation.

While, the show does stage performances of power, it is too discrete to play them out in Brechtian fashion. Rather than the Battle of the Power Figures, foregrounding confrontation, we get the discrete and disarming charm of comparison. Christian universality is transcendent and transcultural and therefore beyond appropriation. Christianification, cloaked in the magical robe of humanism/wissenschaft, conjures unification and vanquishes antagonism. But the nkisi resists absorption, nail by nail: it is an avatar of social justice.

The museum curators are well aware of the provocative nature (and sometimes unintended consequences) of their comparisons and the very different histories of acquisition and fetish. They have created the installation as a valuable way to explore unresolved, and unresolvable, issues. The catalog offers a detailed discussion of the concept and the particulars of the show, including a necessary history of the way racist ideas of primitivism and nativism have long-framed African art, often as a way to extoll its soulful virtues, while denying the work much of the complex aesthetic agency that defines high art (a double-bind that remains toxic). The curators also note that medieval European art, such as that collected by the Bode, was denigrated as primitive –– from the dark ages –– as part of the invention of modernity (p. 12). The catalog’s preface (p. 6) pitches the comparisons this way:

The experimental juxtaposition of works from two continents reveals possible correlations on various levels, including historic contemporaneity, iconographic and technological similarities, and artistic strategies. Despite stylistic differences, striking similarities appear in the ways works of art function in both contexts. Power figures from the Congo were used to protect villages and communities, just as Gothic depictions of the Virgin of Mercy were. At the same time comparisons also expose contrasts, as with depictions of motherhood, which rely on different visual languages in Africa and Europe and convey different messages. [also posted on the web site]

Indeed, the curators directly confront the potential problems with their approach:

The act of comparing … is … not neutral, but charged with socially defined prejudices, conventions, and constructions of history. It also governed by the experiences of the individuals who draw the comparisons. Defining two things as similar or different is often related to power. The process of comparison is thus closely tied to questions of collection history, aesthetics, colonialism, and gender. [Ibid. See p. 11, which notes that comparisons are “shaped by preconceptions and prejudices.”]

Juxtaposition remains a powerful device in the museum display potentially elucidating every register on the scale of likeness to difference. Perhaps the most telling critique of the juxtaposition of African and European art was made by Thomas McEvilley in his essay on the Museum of Modern Art’s (William Rubin and Kurt Varnedoe’s) 1984 show, “Primitivism in Twentieth-Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern.” In ““Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art,” McEvilley excoriates MoMA for treating the African art as merely muses for the European modernist masters. The image above of the two mothers with children reverses the dynamic of the Primitivism show in scale and foregrounding.  I take up this issue, what I call the problem of “white abstraction,” in “Disfiguring Abstraction” in Pitch of Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2016), in a response to MoMA’s 2012 “Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925,” curated by Leah Dickerman, with Masha Chlenova. Rather than confront a difficult problem, the MoMA curators chose to ignore it, turning the tragedy of Alfred Barr’s defining and thrilling 1936 show “Cubism and Abstract Art” into the farce of this sanitized, even if entirely splendid, production. I recently mention this progression –– first time tragedy, second time farce –– to one of MoMA’s consultants for the show; he called my characterization “outlandish,” which surely it is meant to be.

Culture, in our Western sense, is the pure product of importation (appropriation) and exportation, powered by exploitation. The “Beyond Compare” notes that African artists imported ideas from Western arts just as Western artists appropriated ideas from African art and, indeed, each made likenesses of their “others” (pp. 14, 24-26, and “Coincidence or Connection?,” pp. 201-202). Moreover, starting in 1483, Christians propagated their beliefs and iconography in Africa (“The Same, but Different,” pp. 212-213). There is no origin to this process just as the first, second, third, fourth, and n world were all essential to the development of the most radical (and inventive) art of the past century. Innocence, like origins, is something that dies with our great grandparents and for our great grandparents with theirs. By the time we enter the world it’s easier to define ourselves by what we’re not than what we are.

It’s not something intrinsic to art objects that vexes likeness.  Everything is made of elements found in the periodic chart. But history and context tell a different story, where the subaltern can never exactly match the hegemon.

It’s an even playing field except for the ones that own it.

“There should be no barrier between the object and the appreciation of viewing it” the curators write in the catalog (p. 8). But aesthetic experience is not a matter of overcoming barriers but of recognizing them. Idealism is just as much a mask as materialism. Unmasking is a ritual performance whose mask is the make of its mark.

When Ezra Pound placed a Chinese ideogram in one of his poems, he was asserting his, ultimately supremacist, desire to arrange “luminous particulars” from different culture into a grand synthesis or montage. This dystopian desire of some modernist art is, however, just one pole; parataxis can also come from a desire to break nativist and techno-rational assumptions. Museums are by nature places that recontextualize cultural artifacts. They can naturalize the arrangement by grouping works of one apparent kind into segregated spaces. The Metropolitan Museum of Art hangs its European painting in one place and its American collection in another.  In each room, art works from the same period are displayed together. An entirely separate part of the museum houses its magnificent “Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas,” material that in the past has been presented at ethnographic or natural history museums, reflecting a past in which such materials were considered more artifact than art. Attempts to mix things up, such as the current Bode show, and the MoMA show critiqued by McEvilley, are relatively rare. Exemplary, in this respect, is “Moon Dancers: Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists,” a spring 2018 show at Di Donna Gallery in New York that displayed magnificent Yup’ik masks along with the art of Surrealists artists who collected these specific works or ones that were very similar. The direct influence of the masks on some of the paintings was underscored but, unlike the MoMA critiqued by McEvilley, the Yup’ik art was primary while the other art was marked by, if not its derivativeness than, in comparison, by seeming minor, at least in this context.

The Bode Museum is to be highly commended for this challenging show. The safest path for museums as well as artists is to stay clear of potential controversy by means of segregating subjects, domains, and makers. The status quo gets the prizes (as did the MoMA abstraction show); attempts to confront the status quo are often subject to scorn by those whose desire more to be part of it than to question its prerogatives, whatever their activist claims. “Beyond Compare” acknowledges the primacy and aesthetic autonomy of both the European and African works on display. These works are incomparable, that is, unique –– nothing could be better.  Unlike MoMA “invention” of abstraction show, the Bode directly responds to McEvilley’s critique and, in the catalog, offers illuminating commentaries on the aesthetic innovations of the African art on display.

In a 2018 installation, the Met has exploited the frisson of incongruity by hanging high fashion Catholic mannequins in rooms that display “dark ages” Christian art and pre-Christian classical art. The spectacular exhibition, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” is très chic and titillating, but even with the superimposition of the Catholic costumes in a hall of antiquities does not produce much cultural dissonance. On the contrary, with the piped-in loop of triumphalist music, it makes the museum seem like the main floor of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Imagine the effect of reversing the power dynamics in “Beyond Compare” so that a circle of African wood carvings surround (or, in museum language, are “put in dialog with”) a Christian power figure. Accompanying music: Little Jimmy Scott’s cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”


Such a choice would be far too didactic for the Bode. Yet it would be a dialectical reversal of the fact that the African sculpture in the show were captured for Christianity and are now subdued and contained within the museum.  It would be an opportunity to acknowledge the racial imaginary that is the ideological foundation of this ethically perspicacious and welcome exhibition.



Charlotte Lagarde

Image & Text

Colonial White

When I moved to Connecticut in 2017, I learned that the walls of our home were painted with Patriot White and Opulence White. Looking for alternate whites, I stumbled across a paint color called Colonial White. I was stunned. I grew up in France, which has a continuous history of colonization and where the word colonial is used to represent that oppression and supremacy. But in the US and especially in New England, the word colonial has become ubiquitous. And I wondered how can the word colonial be reduced to an architectural style? But then looking at it again, I thought that the paint chip Colonial White is actually making visible the reality of America and its history.

By asking participants to visually merge the Colonial White paint chip with a place/object/situation that embodies colonial white to them, I am hoping to reframe the term colonial in its historical and present context amid a collective reflection and conversation about structural racism.

If you are interested in participating, please send an email to email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Jean Eric Boulin

Image & Text


On French and American Whiteness


As a French white man, I find my whiteness aches like a phantom limb. My whiteness is a blank, an origin without origin, an Icloud, storage of data without apparent meaning.

On the other hand, whiteness gave birth to an empire of sufferings.

Violence has come from my whiteness and continues to do so. Innocuous to me, whiteness poses a lethal threat to others. As whites have gone undetected, non-whites have been coated by centuries of negative representation like a gangue of amber. White supremacy is the toxic center that still holds.

One must investigate whiteness. One must garner clues on whiteness – sentences, situations, personal memories: clues as thin as stems, and fiercely cling to them with the hope they would end up shedding light on whiteness. One has to be a ventriloquist to make whiteness speak.  One should not feel overwhelmed or shame to speak about whiteness. (Sometimes, talking about whiteness feels like swallowing a mouthful of salt.)

Pieces of evidence on whiteness are contradictory. There is whiteness as “the place of safety” (James Baldwin), as supremacy, and as an “intimidating world” (phrase seen at the exhibit, “Speeches/Acts” at the Institute of Contemporary at University of Pennsylvania.) This is the whiteness of the “blonde brute”, of the American mass shooters. That is the whiteness of the line drawn around the corpses of African-Americans killed by the police.

Then, there is white fragility. “My daughter is blonde with blue eyes and I’m worried about her safety”, said a mother from Twin Falls, Idaho. She was afraid of Syrian refugees that were supposed to come en masse to Twin Falls but never materialized, since it was “fake news” propagated by conservative outlets. (New York Times magazine, October 1, 2017).

Whiteness as a besieged fortress.

White fear created the monster in the other: the legend of Willie Horton in American politics, the superpredator, the hoodie of Trayvon Martin. James Baldwin asks “Why did the white man need to create a monster?”.

That monster has been created both in the U.S. and in France. French and American whiteness are twin whiteness.  In “Playing in the Dark”, Toni Morisson evokes the book “The words to say it” by Marie Cardinale, a white French author who blames her intense anxiety to the loss of French Algeria.

Both French and American whiteness were informed by two traumatic historical experiences, two “crime scenes” : the crime scene of colonization and slavery by France and the crime scene of slavery in the United States.

We have not left those crime scenes. We may still be there, as both descendants of victims and perpetrators. These two crime scenes act as a trauma that informs the interactions between whites and non-whites, making their relationship pathological.

The occurrences of that pathological relationship are innumerable in the United States: police brutality, “black face”, jungle fever, essentialism, cultural appropriation, new Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration.

The occurrences are subtler in France. After all, race doesn’t exist in France.

French Schizophrenia About Race


France is officially colorblind. Every French citizen is placed at equal distance from the law, regardless of their origin, religion, or skin color. From this romantic theoretical basis, France chooses to ignore ethnicity and skin color, since it knows only citizens governed by reason.

This position may be surprising: even if race does not naturally exist as a scientific concept, surely it exists as a social construct. If race exists as a social construct in Britain and the United States, why would it not exist in France? Is it possible to have racial discrimination in France without race?

Despite the impossibility of resorting to ethnic statistics, racial discrimination is well documented in France. Thus, an Arab man is eight times more likely to be detained by the police than a white man, a Black man, six times more. 60 percent of French prison inmates are Muslim, despite representing only 8 percent of the French population. Racist policies are prevalent in France, forming a true French apartheid, but France doesn’t want to see that. By ignoring race, the country is in denial about reality. Several years ago, a draft law suggested amending the French constitution to erase the word “race.”

Magical thinking is at work. In France, principles replace reality. The underlying idea is that what cannot be named does not exist. It is, of course, easier to declare that race does not exist than to eradicate deeply entrenched discrimination. That explains the immense French embarrassment around the subject of race.

In France, the English word “Black” is often used to describe a black person, instead of the French word “Noir.” Using the English term seems to be the only way to neutralize the unbearable racial charge that the French word “Noir” carries. White people are not referred to as white in France, but rather as “French natives”, “natives”, or the derogatory “little white” (petit Blanc), which shares the connotations of “redneck.” The official word for “whiteness” has not yet been agreed upon in France, “blancheur” and “blanchité” being most popularly used.

Despite what it claims, the French Republic is deeply intimate with the concept of race. Race is a part of the country’s DNA because France was a colonial empire for more than 130 years. The French Republic was necessarily built in racial terms.

Therefore, the official definition of the French nation as a “civic community” (Ernest Renan), as opposed to the German model, perceived as an ethnic community, (Johann Herder) is a myth, a magical principle brandished by the French Republic to hide its true nature : an ethnic community of citizens.

Because France is ashamed of this too familiar notion of race, the country has made race a taboo. It has pushed race to the back of its consciousness, hoping that it will cease to exert its effects. But race has continued to radiate, almost like a radioactive component, contaminating mentalities and gazes. France thinks itself as a white country and could not elevate Arabs and Blacks, still viewed through a colonial lens, to the dignity of citizens, even though they are French.

French children of immigrants from the Maghreb and Africa are still considered foreigners. They are viewed as second-class non-citizens and will never be considered “really French.” Only slightly concealed by the veil of the French Republicanism, white supremacy is active in France.

A missing dignity


There seems to be a difference however between descendants of the perpetrators and its victims in France and in the United States. There has been intense disclosure of the crime scene among African-Americans. This constant disclosure helped to forge the “monumental dignity” of the black community that James Baldwin refers to. This monumental dignity has help to expand the human dignity. There was disclosure of the crime scene of French colonization in Algerian literature after independence. There are the beginnings of such a disclosure among French writers of black and Arab origin.

There is very little mainstream disclosure among whites in both countries. That’s why there is always something lurking, always something subliminal, that lies within the state of whiteness. There seems to be a black consciousness and a white unconsciousness.

Whites in France and America seldom talk about whiteness. Talking about whiteness would be like talking about the state of the air. We breathe whiteness without finding it problematic. Few months ago, in the New York Times, its executive director, Dean Baquet, and Jay-Z, both successful African-Americans, were having a conversation about their experiences as black men in America. I cannot imagine two successful white Americans, say, Jimmy Fallon, and Paul Ryan, having the same conversation about being a white man in America. In France, talking about whiteness is even further off, since whiteness doesn’t exist. Whiteness in France pertains to snow or to unicorn, not to race.

White unconsciousness is a powerful force though, that rages beneath the surface of the “racially charged” speech of white politicians. (“These are guys with the name of D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty – these types of guys – they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home. Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl “Governor of Maine LePage). This is the subliminal whiteness of Republicans and of Donald Trump. This is the subliminal whiteness of the French far-right and of certain political leaders. In 2009, a video of Manuel Valls – Prime Minister of France from 2014 until 2016 -, filmed him as mayor of Evry, a city outside Paris, walking through a local flea market complaining  about black immigrants and commenting, “Now this is a nice picture of Évry. Come on, give me a few whites, a few blancos, a few blancs.”

There is a white silence, a lack of white stories, of white voices on whiteness, a dearth of a serious investigation of whiteness by whites.

What is wrong with us?

Is it possible to invent a white consciousness that is neither the whiteness of white supremacists nor that of the white savior?

Is it possible to harness whiteness not to subjugate others, as it has been done for centuries, but to increase the human dignity as a whole?

In the same time, voices in France and in the United States seem to be predominantly white. Most stories seem to be about white people, written by white people. Storytelling of whiteness is both dormant and pervasive. There is too much whiteness and not enough whiteness (Maboula Soumahoro).

What is missing is a critical whiteness, a “shrunk” and disempowered whiteness, that can accommodate the dignified living and storytelling of other human experiences. Is such a critical whiteness possible though? Has whiteness not be informed by violence and exclusion for too long that such a peaceful, self-conscious and disarmed whiteness could not exist?

The source of the gaze


The West has cast a look upon what was not him through history. One hypothesis: the white gaze is merciless for vulnerability.

Centuries ago, whites left European shores and met the others.  They didn’t see the eyes of the other as human.  They threw their bodies into the great fire of capitalism. They didn’t see human life where there was human life.

They were not stopped by any display of beauty, by any display of emotion.

British, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, all white. Heartless were my people.

In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn recalled what Columbus wrote in his journal after being greeted by the Arawaks: “They…brought us parrots and balls of cottons and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…(…)They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

The comet of white violence passed through centuries.

Later, blacks were hanged from trees in the southern United States. Dogs, crowds and flames were let loose on them. Dr. Sims conducted research surgery on black women without anesthesia. In pictures from colonial times, the French displayed a shimmering whiteness and stood tall and proud in new-minted African countries with black bodies chained at their feet. White violence got refined and destroyed the European Jews and Gypsies.

Scientific whiteness emerged, scientific engineering of purity. 99 drops of whiteness were not enough. Whiteness as the Russian stacking dolls. Which kind of nightmarish whiteness does the smallest one contain?

White violence should have its museum of horrors.

There should be a memorial for the millions of faces crushed by it, the millions of crushed bodies, the millions of eyes flecked like candles, the millions of their descendants who were not born.

“The blonde brute”

A crime scene within the crime scene


The primary crime scene within the context of slavery in the United States is the hanging of a black man or child (Emmett Till) by a white crowd to crush the sexual threat he was allegedly posing to the purity of the white woman.

It is a scene centered around the white woman, from which the black woman is conspicuously absent. (This absence could mirror the invisibility of the black woman in American society today, including in the cascade of sexual harassment claims brought up against powerful men.) This haunted scene, as the cornerstone of the white patriarchal heterosexual order we are still living in.

The crime scene could explain some American pathological views on sexuality but also the gaze of the white man on the black body. There is no indifference towards sex and / or interracial love in America, especially between a black man and a white woman. The US is a country where love is pathology.

In France, the primary crime scene within the crime scene of colonization was the six month Colonial Exhibition held Paris in 1931. Indigenous bodies, Asian, Black, Arab bodies, coming from every corner of the French empire were locked in cages, as the white French public gawked.  There was thus a physical separation between whites and non-whites. Others, non-whites, were locked within their otherness.  This is why French blacks and Arabs are not seen as French citizens today.  Even when they are French, blacks and Arabs are viewed from the other side of the line of citizenship. “They” are “them” while “we” are “us”.

The “monsterization” of others finds its legacy in the French essentialization of what it is not white. The title of the novel by Zora Neale Hurston “Their eyes were watching at God” was thus translated by the French publisher as “Une femme noire” (a black woman). The French title of “Between the world and me” by Ta-Nehesi Coates is “Une colère noire” (a black anger). The movie “ The Untouchables”, which became the second biggest bow-office in France after its release in 2011, is clearly condescending to Black people.

Another crime scene was the public unveiling by force of Algerian Muslim women in Algeria by French soldiers in 1961. That explains the perennial French malaise around Islam and Islamic veil. A temptation still lies in the French psyche to tear the Islamic veil off the faces of Muslim women. It is not done by the means of violence anymore, but by the means of law. A 2010 law banned the full veil – niqab – in public places. In 2016, a number of French cities banned the burkini. The ban of the regular veil in universities has been floating around too in the political debate. Unlike the United States, the body of the “other woman”, the Muslim woman, is a major issue. According to the Economist and Liberation, the most popular pornographic videos downloaded in France are those involving “beurettes” (French word to design French girl with Arabic background)

Whiteness disorders


White anxiety

Despite being at the top of the food chain, the white man is anxious and angry.  His king’s crown is too heavy to carry on his head. He knows it was paid for with the blood of others. ”Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it.”(James Baldwin) “Their money bleed black blood” (Ralph Ellison, Invisible man)

The white man lives in fear of the non-white man.  He sees him as physically oversized (in the recent biography “The Kardashians”, the author, Jerry Oppenheimer, wrote that Khloe “apparently had a real thing about romancing giant-size African-American hoop stars”) and powerful and prone to exact revenge against him.

In “The Bonfire of Vanities”, Tom Wolfe wrote that a black teenager in the New York subway is “the American nightmare”. Fear of the presence of Arabs and Blacks bathes Michel Houellebecq’s books like amniotic fluid. In his novel Platform, the narrator states: “From the moment whites began to consider blacks as equals, it was clear that they would come sooner or later to consider them as superiors.”

In France, the word “racaille” (scum) is used as a byword to designate youngsters of Black and Arab origin living in the infamous “banlieues” suburbs, in the same way the word “superpredator” was coined by Hillary Clinton.

The white man lives in fear of his “decommissioning” (Trump, Brexit).

Fear of disappearance haunts whiteness in France and in the United States.

Fear of “The big replacement” (le grand remplacement) of white Frenchmen by Arabs and Blacks (Renaud Camus).

Fear of the flooding of the white fortress by a sea of brown and black people in the book, revered by Steve Bannon, “The camp of the saints” by Jean Raspail.

Fear in the14 words of the white supremacists “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”.

Fear in the cries of white supremacists marching in the University of Charlottesville. “Jews, you will not replace us”.

“In The Great Gatsby, “F. Scott Fitzgerald reflected the way the ideas of Grant and other scientific racists worked their way into mainstream thought. “Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?” Tom Buchanan asks, in a thinly masked allusion to Grant. “It’s a fine book, and everybody should read it. The idea is if we do not look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved. ” (Kelly Baker in the New York Times)

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive”. (Trump)

Those symptoms might, perhaps, all circle back to sexual anxiety in some white men.

Some white men could harbor a homoerotic desire of the black man, while wanting to crush him in the same time. Robert Mapplethorpe had a well-documented obsession with the penis of black men with no name. Perhaps, Truman Capote’s apocryphal phrase “all American literature is about the presence of the black man in the white woman’s room.” Animalization of the black man by white propaganda has been a resounding success through the centuries. A recent interview with a sex worker exposed how her white powerful clients frequently talk about how obsessed they are with “big” black penises.

In France too. The French essayist Eric Zemmour, condemned by the French courts as racist, praises French Arab and black manhood. “There is a sexual despair among young white men who could not match the virility of young Arabs”, he wrote.  Racial and sexual struggles haunt the work of Michel Houellebecq. In his first novel, “Extension du domaine de la lutte” (Whatever in English), the main character, a sexually frustrated white man, called Raphaël Tisserand, saw himself competing with a mixed-race man on a club’s dance floor to get the attention of a presumably white woman. After she chose the other man, he followed the couple outside and watched their sexual intercourse behind a dune. In “The outsider”, by Albert Camus, the Arab with no name is killed because of his implication in an earlier brawl that started with the disrespect of a European white woman by Arabs.

On the other hand, the black man’s sexual interactions with white women are viewed as unbearable challenges to the white man, especially in America.   Joe Johnson is his perennial bête noire.   White men have harnessed the American criminal justice system to keep controlling black bodies.  American criminal justice is another form of lynching of the black man, especially when the victim is a white woman. It is no coincidence that Willie Horton who twice raped a white woman after gagging her fiancé was thrown by Republicans to feed the racial imaginary of white people and destroy the chances of Michael Dukakis.

American institutions are charged with the destruction of the black body (Coates). This was supposed to be the historical duty too of the “blonde brute” (Jack London) or never found “great white hope” in boxing. Prominent blacks could be commissioned too to police and contain the black body. White conservatives were delighted when Obama said to young blacks “Pull up your pants, bro”.

Sexual defilement could be the only way for some white men to cut the Gordian knot of fear and desire for the black and Arab body.  Théo Luhaka, a 22-year-old black Frenchman, was raped by white police in the Paris suburbs in 2017.  A truncheon was stuck in his rectum.  In 1997, a white New York police stuck a broomstick into Abner Louima’s rectum. At the end of the 19th century, in what is now the Republic of Congo, two drunken French colonial officers put a firecracker in the rectum of a young black servant after a diner.

Anxiety could be constitutive of white identity, as pride is the core of a black, brown or Muslim identity.  This anxiety might come from the fact that whiteness is viewed as a place of purity besieged by impurity, a “one-drop” always under the threat to be diluted. The fight for whiteness is always defensive, negative.  What are the origins of this idea of purity among white Westerners? Why do Westerners see the purity of their white skin as something that needs to mercilessly promoted and protected?

White supremacy/white fragility

Of course, that anxiety is nothing compared to the anxiety felt by minorities in France or in the United states, as victims of racism. Black mothers and babies are more than twice as likely to die than their white counterparts, a gulf that researchers attribute to the lifelong stresses of enduring racism.

White violence

In Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, whiteness is associated with danger and death. It is the whiteness of Moby Dick, of the human skull. There is indeed something morbid in whiteness, in the marmoreal whiteness of Hitchcock heroines. There is something morbid in the white American suburbs, vast lethal electric fields that a black child can only cross at its own risk.

White gaze?

There is the specific violence of American mass shooters.  Almost all of them are white heterosexual men. It is a white violence, a senseless, literally meaningless violence that claims nothing but itself. The impossibility of labeling this violence shows that it is the most extreme manifestation of white privilege.

This violence comes from the depths of whiteness, from its void. White rage is like road rage. Enigma of that violence mirrors the enigma of whiteness. If the terrorist label to these white serial killers doesn’t seem to stick, it is because there is no political agenda behind that violence. It is a pure disorder. That rage is perhaps the most incandescent point of whiteness, the ugly triumph of its emptiness.

Why this rage does feel close to home?

As a white man, I have been noticing that I expect to be served rapidly.

As a white man, I have been noticing that when things don’t go my way I experience a mild form of rage.

As a white man, I have been noticing that I cannot tolerate rejections.

As white man, I have not learned nor become a better person from my rejections.

White soulessness?

“Whites do not have a community,” says Baldwin. If there is no white community, there is no white culture then.  There is no white community to lift up, to give back or to protect.

Gentrified New York neighborhoods lose their soul as soon as whites move in.  Soullessness creeps in BedStuy, Fort Greene, Harlem and Crown Heights. Music that filled the streets disappears. People do not hang out in the street anymore. Demands for silence and order become pressing.

There is an expression in France to design white people, “petit blanc”, literally “small white” (a French equivalent of redneck), that renders that white anomy. There is this attempt by American and European white supremacists to recreate artificially a white community by giving it symbols (Celtic runes), religion (pagan rites) and some founding myths (Whites as children of sun, as said Richard Spencer).

White malaise keeps growing, the hole of the white malaise that neither OxyContin, rage nor power seem capable to fulfill.

Whites might have a “thin identity” compared to the “thick identity” (or perceived by them as such) of non-whites. Whites seem attracted by identity, by thicker cultures, by rites.  Fanon’ sentence “Negroes in the face of whites are, in a way, the assurance of humanity. When whites feel too mechanized, they turn to men of color and ask for some human food”. The number of white mutinies to whiteness is growing.

White culture could be an empty place, but also an iconoclastic one. Whiteness, as the cathedral of capitalism. Whiteness is then the place of commodification and degradation of meaning and human dignity.

According to the French psychoanalyst, Fethi Benslama, the Muslim jihadist, the “supermusulman” (“supermuslim”), as he called him, rebels against the commodification of everything in Western societies, the negation of meaning.  In a demented way, he argues, they are fighting for some kind of collective dignity.

African-Americans too are fighting to regain their collective dignity – Kehinde Wiley’s paintings where Blacks are painted like old European generals.  African-Americans have been erecting a monumental dignity that whites keep degrading or ignoring. They have been crafting spaces of meaning and dignity that whites keep invading.


There is a white apathy. A performance of ignorance, as said the artist Kenya (Robinson). Otherwise, whites would have put an end to police violence in the United States and in France a long time ago. Whites would have put an end to systemic economic discrimination against non-whites in the United States and in France a long time ago. Whites would have taken the stories of non-whites seriously a long time ago. Whites would have stopped the objectification of the black body and the appopriation of black culture a long time ago. Whites would have policed their imagination (Claudia Rankine) a long time ago. Whites would have cared a long time ago.

It is time to do just that.

It is time to be daily traitor to white supremacy.

It is time to forge a critical whiteness that expands human dignity.

Alix Lambert

Image & Text

Jason Lipeles

Image & Text