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, 1997, p. 152; 153

Historically, it has been white people who hold 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 often categorize themselves as white or Caucasian (and therefore, superior) or they may think of themselves as "raceless" and "normal." This "normalcy" is defined by the assumed "otherness" or "abnormality" of people of colour. In either case, the position of "white" has remained dominant and self-sustaining.

This process/history is with us today. You may find that the white people you are working with express contradictory ideas about race, 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 our definitions of Whiteness and Colour-Blindness/Colour Evasion)

Moreover, people of colour and Indigenous people may also internalize and use the racist historical/dominant terms regarding race to define themselves and others because they, too, have been born into this system and discourse. Internalized racism can be defined as “the individual inculcation of the racist stereotypes, values, images, and ideologies perpetuated by the White dominant society about one’s racial group, leading to feelings of self-doubt, disgust, and disrespect for one’s race and/or oneself” (Pyke, 2010, p. 553). (See our full definition of Internalized Racism/Oppression)

The term racialization can be used to understand how the history of the idea of "race" is still with us and impacts us all, though differentially. The term emphasizes the ideological and systemic, often unconscious processes at work. It also emphasizes how racial categories are socially constructed, including whiteness, but are 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. Put simply, “racialization [is] the process of manufacturing and utilizing the notion of race in any capacity” (Dalal, 2002, p. 27). While white people are also racialized, this process is often rendered invisible or normative to those designated as white. As a result, white people may not see themselves as part of a race but still maintain 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 designate 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.