👀How White Women Got White
It's definitely not pretty
James Baldwin told us how white men became white. He did not tell us how white women became white. I’ll try to fill in the gaps.
Of white men he said:
“White men—from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians —became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the wells, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women.”
Baldwin made it clear that white identity comes from nothing good. Everything on his list is an act of terrorism, white terrorism. And he makes it clear that racialization is a verb. Race doesn’t just come from assertion, it comes from actions. From his words, we learn that race is not innate or fate, it’s something people do and create.
For whatever reason, Baldwin, in that instance, didn’t tell us how white women became white. The only gender he specifies in white identity is male. I’ll use that to make a side point.
Baldwin is right to start with white men because that’s where white identity began. White identity comes from European men who later called themselves white. If we look back at history, the major racist theorists and scientists who invented race were men, white men. Race is a male idea. White womanhood was initially a product of toxic masculinity, and toxic male sexual interests.
The racist misnomer “Caucasian” comes from a European man’s sexual obsession with would be white women. The early formations of what would become white womanhood started in the sex slavery Nell Irvin Painter catalogues in her book “The History of White People.” That history of white beauty is ugly. It’s not a stretch to say that the white in white womanhood comes from patriarchy, domination, and captivity.
White men also made white women by law. We can literally mark where the law changes from “English women” to “white women.” In colonial Virginia, white men first mentioned “white women” in colonial law to prohibit them from marrying Black men. All of that is proof of Ta-Nehisi Coates' point that “White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint.”
Steve Martinot says, “‘Gender’ and ‘race’ remain hierarchical social structures that have never been independent of each other. They name forms of power.”
Well, the gender that conceived the “white race” was male. According to Nell Irvin Painter, Ralph Waldo Emerson was “the philosopher king of American white race theory.” Painter says for Emerson, “Alongside the Saxons, all others are lesser, gendered, and by default, female.”
In my book, that makes white identity mannish, which means white womanhood has a mannish quality. And yet, white identity wants and needs to ascribe a mannish quality to Black womanhood. It’s really the opposite. The tropes of whiteness are actually true of whiteness. White feminism is a mannish feminism that constantly betrays Black women because white identity has no femininity. None.
White feminists don’t choose race over gender; they choose the gender of their race, which is maleness, white maleness. White feminists choosing whiteness is a gendered selection. At the very least, relative to me, a Black gay man, white identity has no femininity.
Look at what Frank B. Wilderson III writes in his book on Afro-Pessimism:
“White femininity and White masculinity occupy the same structural position vis-à-vis a man or a woman of color.”
In a sense, white women are implicated in white maleness. But I still want to know what Baldwin would have put on white women. White men may have started it, but white women have long been co-creators of whiteness. If white men became white by slaughtering, poisoning, torching, massacring, and raping, what’s on the list for white women?
Enter Abigail Elphick. She provides the answer.
Elphick is the white woman who attacked Ijeoma Ukenta in a New Jersey Victoria’s Secret. From the video Ukenta took, we see Elphick chasing, attacking, screaming, shaking, lying, feigning, accusing, policing, quivering, crying, and all sorts of damseling.
In Elphick, I see Trump responding to his election defeat. I see a Capitol insurrectionist. I see whites responding to Critical Race Theory and “the Black gaze.”
Some look at the video and point to her privilege. But Elphick was not merely weaponizing her white privilege. Neither were the white men Baldwin says went around slaughtering, poisoning, torching, massacring, and raping. That was race making, and Elphick was doing the same. Elphick was birthing new shades and levels of whiteness.
Look at what Steve Martinot says in “The Machinery of Whiteness” and think about Elphick:
“The violence served to increase the sense of threat, and with it the demand for white solidarity, which necessitated greater violence in turn. This cycle of paranoia (a sense of threat), solidarity, and violence...generated its sense of white racialized identity. That cyclicity is the structure of white racialized identity as such. It is from this cyclicity that the concept of whiteness, and thus race, was born.”
The girl was making whiteness on the spot. Because white identity is a spooked identity tormented by paranoia of its own making, Elphick was at her whitest when she wrongly felt threatened, when she violently chased Ukenta, and when she demanded white solidarity.
Elphick could’ve just said, “I feel white.” And it’s interesting that Ukenta said the opposite.
According to The Root, Ukenta said she felt like the N-word for the first time. That’s what I mean by race making. And that’s the paradox Baldwin wanted us to understand—when whites do something to others, they do something to themselves. Don’t miss what Elphick did. She conjured white identity. She shows us again how white women got white.
Elphick is a face of white terrorism. She is all the white in every white woman. Lynchings, false allegations, and police protection are the basics of the white in white women. Origin stories provide important context, especially when they’re ongoing.
Read also: Donald Trump Did What White Women Did
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