by Maria Purcariu
As I wake up each morning with a frizzy hair that I somehow have to tame, I thought of buying some fancy hair polishing wax in an attempt of looking like a human being. So I went to the closest cosmetics shop and I noticed that the prices were varying, from very cheap to this-thing-costs-a-fortune. Considering how much I love my hair, but also constantly reminding myself that I also need food, I chose that one brand that cost somewhere in middle.
All went well, there’s nothing I can complain about. But yesterday morning I was so bored that I started reading what was written on the back of the recipient and began making connections in my head. I am not going to name the brand, since that’s not so important.
Before getting deep into this, I must mention that I bought my fancy hair polishing wax from a small town in Romania. Perhaps that’s exactly why I was expecting to find the description on the back written in Romanian. But no, there was no trace of such language, or something spoken in the neighborhood. Instead, I was surprised to see it translated from English to Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and Finnish. As I am crazy about the Scandinavian countries I felt good about it at first, but then I was like: “Hmm. Where was this made?!”
Apparently it was made in the UK.
I get this, but since it is sold in Eastern European countries too, shouldn’t it also be made more accessible to people there? What if my grandmother wants to use it but she doesn’t speak English? Shouldn’t she have the possibility to read it in her mother tongue? All these questions led me to one of the concepts I’m working with for my dissertation paper.
What is Whiteness? While it can be perceived in many ways and therefore many interpretations of it were identified over time, it can be broadly defined as a collective set of beliefs and discursive and social practices that demands and creates hierarchy, inferiorization and marginalization. The concept has its roots in the 1680s, along with the racialization of slavery, when whiteness and blackness came to represent racial categories. While agreeing that the term “white” was first associated with “European explorers, traders and settlers who came into contact with Africans and the indigenous people of the Americas”, American professor David Roediger also noted that in the development of America’s labor market white workers have demanded to be given the status of “freemen”, which guaranteed them supremacy, occupational exclusivity and civil rights. Thus the idea of being superior if white has emerged and was further explored and developed until it gained new dimensions.
However, “White” can only be defined if put in relation to another category in the hierarchy produced by whiteness, namely something “Non-White”. So according to that, anyone can be called white as long as there is someone else situated on a lower level in the hierarchy who will become the non-white. Therefore it is not just people with black skin who are non-white.
I guess it got a bit boring for those who are not interested in the subject, but without a little bit of background it would have not made sense. So, in the case of the languages on the fancy hair polishing wax recipient, I could easily say that the British are the “White”, because they produced the hair taming thingie, and they only translated its description into languages that are similar and have Germanic origins such as theirs (Norwegian, Swedish and Danish). Regarding Finnish, which falls into a completely different category, I have another explanation. Perhaps as we go East through Europe, people are seen as less white, and thus treated as inferior. That would explain why my grandmother, a citizen of a Eastern European country, doesn’t have the privilege of reading the description on the back of the recipient containing fancy hair polishing wax in her mother tongue.
* Intelligent stuff courtesy of David Roediger’s 1991 “The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class”, Frances Henry and Carol Tator’s 2006 “The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society (3rd Ed.)” , Jon L. Kincheloe’s 1999 “The Struggle to Define and Reinvent Whiteness: A Pedagogical Analysis” and blackeducator.blogspot.ro
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