In the chapter titled Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination, written by Bell Hooks in her book, Black Looks, Race and Representation, Hooks addresses how black individuals have created an image of whiteness throughout history and how this image has affected African American society.
Hooks writes that this image or, “special knowledge of whiteness” shared by black individuals was developed from close analysis of white individuals throughout history. Hooks writes that this knowledge’s purpose was to “help black folks cope and survive in a white supremacist society”. Hooks writes, “For years, black domestic servants, working in white homes, acting as informants, brought knowledge back to segregated communities – details, facts, observations, and psychoanalytic readings of the white Other”. (165).
Hooks writes that many white individuals become angry when they realize that black individuals have developed this ‘image’ of whiteness. Bell Hooks writes on page 167 in regards to this reaction of white individuals, “Their amazement that black people watch white people with a critical “ethnographic” gaze, is itself an expression of racism”. Hooks writes that this frustration turns into rage because white individuals believe that these ‘looks’ which emphasize the difference between white people and black people threaten “the liberal belief in a universal subjectivity (we are all just people) that they think will make racism disappear” (167). Hooks continues to write that many white individuals have an “emotional investment in the myth of ‘sameness’”, but that the dominance of whiteness is reinforced through their actions and serves as a sign of who they really are and what they really think. (167).
Bell Hooks continues to give some examples of how this representation and knowledge of whiteness has developed in her own life as an African American. She writes about how she had to walk through a white neighborhood to get to her grandmother’s house. She writes, “I remember the fear, being scared to walk to Baba’s, our grandmother’s house, because we would have to pass that terrifying whiteness – those white faces on the porches staring us down with hate. Even when empty or vacant those porches seemed to say danger, you do not belong here, you are not safe” (175). Hooks writes on page 169 that this representation of whiteness “…is not formed in reaction to stereotypes but emerges as a response to the traumatic pain and anguish that remains a consequence of white racist domination, a psychic state that informs and shapes the way black folks “see” whiteness”.
I found this article written by Hooks difficult to summarize and also a little difficult to take in. Although it is troubling that a knowledge and image of whiteness has developed into fear and anguish in the minds and hearts of African Americans, it is also troubling that this knowledge and these images are still prevalent and developing in society today. Hooks’ article is rather harsh, but at the same time I feel as if the reality of her article is what turns my stomach so much. What is even more frustrating is that I cannot find a stable or realistic solution in her article. Although it seems that her solution is to deconstruct the “association of whiteness as terror in the black imagination…” and to “…decolonize our minds and our imaginations,” I do not feel as if the solution could possibly be that simple (178).