McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Racism against non-white people continues to be a significant problem as we enter the twenty-first century. While slavery and other objectionable racist practices may be in the past, subtle yet powerful racism remains. This study explores racism against non-white people in the present by examining the meanings of the signifier, whiteness, for three people who participated in this study.
The three participants are adults, one male and two females, who responded to a poster requesting non-white people to participate in this study. The participants provided written descriptions of situations in which they encountered whiteness, and they agreed to expand upon their original descriptions in an interview. The written descriptions and the interviews with the three participants constituted the data that was analyzed for this study, using an empirical phenomenological method first outlined by Giorgi (1975). The interview process involved some unexpected difficulties regarding my position as a white person interviewing non-white people, and the possible impact that my whiteness may have had upon them. The difficulties encountered during the interview process are discussed in more detail at the end of the Results Section of this study.
The results show how personal encounters with white people impact the participants in this study by interrupting their attunement with others. These encounters have psychological effects upon the participants, evoking anger, confusion, and fear. When the participants reflected upon these encounters, they described the powerlessness and futility that they experienced. For the participants in this study, moving beyond encounters with people whom they identify as white means becoming hyper-vigilant.
The results of this study are discussed in a dialogue with the theoretical literature on whiteness and with Foucault's work on the subject and power. The discussion of the results includes a dialogue with psychological literature on anger, futility, resentment, and psychological resistance.
Mars, D. (2004). Whiteness as Experienced by People of Color: An Empirical Phenomenological Study (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/876