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Why I No Longer Refer to “White People”

Sam McKenzie Jr.
3 min readFeb 7, 2021

Every writer has their preferences and style. I pay attention to racist and antiracist language and usage. I noticed the recent talk about capitalizing or not capitalizing race categories. But I’ve long settled that one: Lowercase w because white needs to come down; capitalize the B in Black because a shift in society must occur.

I know debating language and terms is tiresome, pedantic, and seemingly useless. But I believe what bell hooks says about language also being a place of struggle is true.

I like how bell hooks says, “The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. Language is also a place of struggle.”

Unfortunately, I don’t get the sense that enough people struggle with the words “white people.” Perhaps that’s because the people who think they’re white are enough of a struggle. It’s understandable, and it’s a distraction.

For me, part of James Baldwin’s brilliance is his interrogation of white identity itself. I rarely see him refer to white supremacy. Instead, he titled an essay “On Being White and Other Lies.” The title alone brings me so much joy. It is clean as a bone, and it cuts to the bone. And then he says, there are no white people, only people who think they’re white. In another place, this man said as long as you think you’re white, there is no hope for you.

Why have we moved on from those points, and that work?

Baldwin’s work disabuses people, and that’s why I stopped referring to “white people.” You may still see references in my writing to gender and whites when I refer to white men or white women, but I will eventually work around those references.

On its surface, saying “whites” is pretty common. It is not a slur. I’ve read plenty of polls that refer to “whites” and “nonwhites.” The question is why someone makes their language choices.

Let me be clear: I refuse to normalize white identity. The entire existence of white being is not only questionable, it is damnable. And it concerns me that many people, even in the name of antiracism, want to make white identity humane. Ain’t no way.

I refer to whites as whites because there is nothing humane about white identity as a political category. When I refer to white identity, I’m talking about terrorism. Humans may do it, but there’s nothing humane about it. And with its claim to purity and its denial of African ancestry, white identity is not only inhumane, but it is also inhuman.

I’ve seen and read enough. I’m eager to take the legs out of white identity, to dispeople white identity, to separate people from white identity, and get to a world that’s post-white. It starts by being clear on white.