Ethnic Minorities and the Media: Changing Cultural Boundaries

By Simon Cottle | Go to book overview

4
‘DREAMING OF A WHIT…’

John Gabriel


Introduction

In 1988, Richard Dyer wrote an influential piece which he called, simply, ‘White’ in which he explored its dominance in popular cinema. Since then a number of authors have written more fully about whiteness (see, for example, Frankenberg 1993; Fiske 1994a; Dyer 1997; Gabriel 1998). Why the sudden interest in whiteness? Of course, whites and white culture have always been visible to ‘others’, and explored in the writings of black scholars, including Frantz Fanon (1986), Walter Rodney (1988), bell hooks (1989, 1994) and W.E.B. Dubois (Sundquist 1996). The difference now is that whiteness is becoming visible to whites! But what is it exactly? And what roles do the established and new media play in the construction, circulation and contestation of ‘whiteness’?1

Is it a state of being, that is ‘being white’, or does it refer to a dominant (‘white’) culture? Is it an ontological state or should it be understood in epistemological terms? The difficulty here is that the answer to both questions is a very qualified yes. If we take the state of being white first, not only do many people fall within the ambiguously ‘white’ category in terms of skin and/or background but also there are populations such as Jewish and Irish whose racial status has fluctuated over time. I have used the term ‘subaltern’ whiteness to refer to white ethnicities which, at given times, are strategically distinct from and subordinate to dominant whiteness (Gabriel 1996).

Both Dyer (1997) and Fiske (1994a) have explored the sources of power of whiteness in discursive terms. The specific techniques of exnomination, naturalization and universalization have been identified as key mechanisms

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