The white gaze is looking at the world through a white person’s eyes. In America it is everywhere. It is in history books, on billboards, on television, in films, in fashion magazines, on the Internet. It is the world as told by white people for white people.
Most White Americans do not see it that way: they are just presenting the world as it is, the way anyone would who was being fair, honest and open-minded. Any twist it might have is purely a personal one.
They fail to see how the colour of their skin colours their view of the world. That is for two reasons:
- Many live in such a white world that their white gaze is rarely challenged and so they do not even notice that it is there. Only certain black voices make it through into that world, mostly those of Rented Negroes.
- Whites like to believe “I do not see race” and “we are all the same”. In a colour-blind world there is no white gaze. They believe, want to believe, in a colour-blind world, which means the white gaze should not be, therefore must not be.
That is why certain posts in this blog seem to hit a raw nerve with white readers: they come from beyond the white gaze. Like the ones that say “whites have a culture” or “whites cannot know what it feels like to be a person of colour” or “most whites think so-and-so”. Whites are not used to being seen that way.
Some of what you can see in the white gaze in America:
- Most people as being white.
- Race as not all that important.
- America and Europe as advanced, Africa as backwards.
- Poor whites as going through hard times, poor blacks as screwed up.
- White women as beautiful, black women as ugly.
- People of colour presented as stereotypes.
- People of colour as being at the edges of things.
- White people:
- as important, as having lives that matter.
- as generally good and well-meaning.
- as ordinary, not strange.
- American society as pretty much fair and just.
- The police as upholders of the law.
From watching American television you would have no idea that:
- half of all black Americans are middle-class.
- honest, rich, hard-working black people with good educations live in Africa.
- Africa has had empires and great scholars.
- Africa and India are each three times bigger than America; China, four times.
- Most missing Americans are not pretty, young white women.
- The world is less than a fourth white.
It is a comforting, self-serving but false and racist picture of the world.
It is one that blacks in America cannot easily avoid since it is pounded into their heads every day: from school, from television, from advertising, even from other blacks. It is, in fact, what led to Black History Month.
Blacks do not have the same experience of America as whites do, so there is a black gaze too. But part of that black gaze is knowing that the white gaze is there.