Ahmed, Sara. 2007. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 2(8):149-168.

Whiteness is “an ongoing and unfinished history which orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting how they ‘take-up space, and what they ‘can do’” (149). Phenomenology can be used to bring to the surface things such as habits which have remained unnoticed. Ahmed follows postcolonial scholars, and other philosophers of the “phenomenology of race” who have refuted nominalism and the non-existence of race. She uses phenomenology: “to show how whiteness is an effect of racialization, which in turn shapes what it is that bodies ‘can do’”; to explore how whiteness is “’real’, material, and lived.” (150). For Ahmed, phenomenology is useful in becoming aware of “the ‘what’ that is ‘around’” (151). Following Husserl (1989), and Schutz and Luckman (1974), who have argued that orientations start from the point “from which the world unfolds,” she writes that whiteness begins with: the ‘here’ of the body, and the ‘where’ of its dwelling.” Thus, “orientations are about the intimacy of bodies and their dwelling places” (151). On whiteness as involving orientation, Ahmed follows Fanon to argue: that bodies and the performances of these bodies are shaped by histories of colonialism; that the world today is an inherited one “that is ‘always-already’ there before our arrival”; but like a gift, “history is what we receive upon arrival” (153-4). The author suggests that whiteness is a kind of orientation that “puts certain things within reach” (154). Whiteness also “holds through habits,” and “spaces acquire the shape of the bodies that ‘inhabit’ them” (156). White bodies, being habitual, are behind the action. For example, they are not subjected to stress when they encounter other objects or other bodies (156). As it is taken for granted, whiteness is not seen. Whiteness “can function as a form of public comfort by allowing bodies to extend into spaces that have already taken their shape (158). Whiteness can be a straightening device as bodies can disappear into a “sea of whiteness” (and others can approximate whiteness too to be able to blend in). Being not white, however “bodily movement” is not so easy as seen in the instances when these bodies are stopped and searched (161).


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