Over the past 15 years we have seen the rise of a field of inquiry known as Whiteness Studies. Two of its major tenets are (1) that white identity is socially constructed and functions as a racial norm and (2) that those who occupy the position of white subjectivity exercise ‘white privilege’, which is oppressive to non-whites. However, despite their ubiquitous use of the term ‘norm’, Whiteness Studies theorists rarely give any detailed account of how whiteness serves to normalize. A case is made here that we can only understand how whiteness normalizes if we place the development of white racial subject positions within the context of the development of normalizing biopower that Foucault describes in his work through the 1970s. Once that context is provided, it becomes clear that a larger problem exists in Whiteness Studies, one evident in the use of the concept of ‘white privilege’. Whiteness Studies theorists have not thoroughly critiqued the juridical conception of power that they have inherited from traditional political theory; as a result, they cannot get away from psychological accounts of the origins of racism, even though they usually state very clearly that they believe racism is an institutional phenomenon and racist subject positions are formed within networks of power. If Whiteness Studies is to accomplish both its analytical and its political goals, its theorists need to pay close attention to Foucault’s work on biopower.

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Copyright © 2005, SAGE Publications.

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DOI: 10.1177/0191453705055488

Full Citation:

McWhorter, Ladelle. "Where Do White People Come From? A Foucaultian Critique of Whiteness Studies." Philosophy and Social Criticism 31, no. 5-6 (2005): 533-556. doi:10.1177/0191453705055488.