Feminists have found it useful to talk about Western art in terms of John Berger’s concept of “the male gaze,” meaning that a history of convention has taught us as viewers that “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (Ways of Seeing 1972).
In this recent blog, describing another cultural convention that is so pervasive we often don’t even notice it (or might argue that it is “natural” rather than socially constructed), Professor George Yancy talks about walking while black and the effect of “the white gaze.”
Professor Yancy urges readers to turn the gaze around. His blog suggests that change is needed in how we understand our social ways of seeing, test our convictions, look at ourselves as if from the outside…
Here are some highlights from this informative and thought-provoking piece.
* I wait for the day when a white president will say, “There is no way that I could have experienced what Trayvon Martin did (and other black people do) because I’m white and through white privilege I am immune to systemic racial profiling.”
*My point here is to say that the white gaze is global and historically mobile. And its origins, while from Europe, are deeply seated in the making of America.
*Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease.
*The white gaze is also hegemonic, historically grounded in material relations of white power: it was deemed disrespectful for a black person to violate the white gaze by looking directly into the eyes of someone white.
*As black, Trayvon was already known and rendered invisible. His childhood and humanity were already criminalized as part of a white racist narrative about black male bodies. Trayvon needed no introduction: “Look, the black; the criminal!”
*What does it say about America when to be black is the ontological crime, a crime of simply being?
*[During President Obama’s speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech], the narrative that Obama brilliantly told was one of black bodies being racially policed and having suffered a unique history of racist vitriol in this country.