Whiteness, white innocence, white institutions

Glossary entry:

Whiteness, white innocence, white institutions. Whiteness refers to the way in which white people – their customs, culture, history, episteme and beliefs – operate as the standard to which all other groups are compared. Whiteness created a culture where non-white persons are seen as different and lower in hierarchy; inferior or abnormal. This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can navigate society both by feeling normal and being viewed as normal. Persons who identify as white rarely have to think about their racial identity because they live within a culture where whiteness is the norm. White innocence reflects the idea that white people, because of their dominant racial status in a white dominant society, are generally naive about the realities of race and racism, particularly in systemic and structural senses (see for example the work of Gloria Wekker [1]). This sometimes leads to what is called ‘racial stress’: discomfort, anger or defensiveness of white people when confronted with their racism. White institutions are institutions largely dominated by white people and with whiteness as explained above at full play.


[1] Gloria Wekker (2016) White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race, Duke University Press.


Petra Van Brabandt & Els Silvrants-Barclay

For Parity and Diversity Commission (PDK) & D-ARCH Dean’s Office