The Workings of an Ideology in
American Society and Culture
This chapter is concerned with issues of race and social justice. Its overarching concern can best be located within the field of social ethics, exploring why human connection across such socially constructed racial categories as white and black, among so many others, remains uncommon and difficult to sustain. One reason may lie in the pervasive yet unexamined culture of whiteness in America.
In the United States, race is explored through a lens that focuses on “whiteness.” Whiteness refers to the meanings assigned to those classified racially as white or Caucasian. In other words, whiteness refers to what it means to be racialized white both as a matter of selfdefinition and as a matter of collective culture. What does it mean to me to identify as a white person? What has this racial classification meant for white people as a group within U.S. society? This exploration of meanings assigned to white skin utilizes tools and analyses derived from the academic field of critical race theory. Critical race theory evolved out of opposition to dominant conceptions of race, racism, equality, and law in the post-civil rights period. What emerged out of this opposition was a pattern of shared values, a sense of community, and a commitment to racial justice that shaped an identifiable theoretical tradition.1 More recently, some scholars in this field have begun to examine law as a site of the social construction of white racial identity.2
Like other studies in the genre of critical race theory, this chapter is concerned with making whiteness visible as a racial construction. In addition, it explores how constructions of whiteness shape and constitute mainstream U.S. culture and society; it also seeks to develop ethical responses to such constructions and practices. This chapter