Because race is constructed as residing in people of color, whites don’t bear the social burden of race. We move easily through our society without a sense of ourselves as racialized subjects28. We see race as operating when people of color are present, but all-white spaces as “pure” spaces – untainted by race vis á vis the absence of the carriers of race (and thereby the racial polluters) – people of color. This perspective is perfectly captured in a familiar white statement, “I was lucky. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood so I didn’t learn anything about racism.” In this discursive move, whiteness gains its meaning through its purported lack of encounter with non-whiteness29. Because racial segregation is deemed socially valuable while simultaneously unracial and unremarkable, we rarely, if ever, have to think about race and racism, and receive no penalty for not thinking about it. In fact, whites are more likely to be penalized (primarily by other whites) for bringing race up in a social justice context than for ignoring it (however, it is acceptable to bring race up indirectly and in ways that reinforce racist attitudes, i.e. warning other whites to stay away from certain neighborhoods, etc.). This frees whites from carrying the psychic burden of race. Race is for people of color to think about – it is what happens to “them” – they can bring it up if it is an issue for them (although if they do, we can dismiss it as a personal problem, the “race card”, or the reason for their problems). This allows whites to devote much more psychological energy to other issues, and prevents us from developing the stamina to sustain attention on an issue as charged and uncomfortable as race.

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