Once you log in to your Facebook account, you are bombarded with statuses that convey people’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and ideas. Although statuses allow individuals to share their lives on a public platform with their social networks, it’s interesting to note the nature of the messages that make it on to the news feed. Using critical white theory as a lens to analyze this social media mechanism, I argue that individuals may subconsciously use it as a tool to seem more powerful, or rather, more white.
According to some theorists, the concept of whiteness is shifting from a focus on skin color to a focus on power dynamics. Race is a social construct, or a social phenomenon that develops from society’s collective attachment of meaning on to people and objects; in 1967, sociologists Peter L. Bergerand Thomas Luckmann coined the term social construction in their book “The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge”. Being that whiteness is a societal concept, it has no biological foundation. Race is therefore recognizable due to the characteristics that people associate with the construct, which tend to change over the course of history. These characteristics first revolved around skin color and phenotype, but they now include symbols of power and privilege such as beauty, talent, wealth, fame, leadership, and intelligence. In her book “The History of White People,” historian and author Nell Irvin Painter identifies black celebrities and leaders such as Beyoncé Knowles, Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama in possession of these sources of power, which whitens their identities; Painter describes, “none of these individuals is white, but being white these days is not what it used to be” (389). Due to this view of whiteness as a power structure, people who do not have light skin have the ability to obtain whiteness and the privilege that comes along with it: “the attractive qualities that Saxons-Anglo-Saxons-Nordics-whites were assumed to monopolize are also to be found elsewhere” (389). Facebook is one of the social media outlets for people of all ethnicities and skin colors to express themselves while, through the lens of critical white theory, communicating their association with whiteness to others.
The connection exists between this theory of whiteness and Facebook because status updates showcase individuals with all of the same qualities that attribute to whiteness. Popular status content includes current event opinions that indicate knowledge, announcements about famous locations visited that attest to wealth in experience and the wallet, clever jokes that showcase intelligence, accomplishments that feature talent and success, and attendance at interesting events that boasts popularity and exclusiveness. Enforcing this white phenomenon to persist is the “liking” system. The more white a status, the more likes it receives. From my own experience for example, a status’s like count is especially high when a person communicates that he/she received a sought-after job offer or a letter of acceptance from a prestigious university. Even statuses that involve complaints about school assignments, job annoyances, or boredom indicate the individual’s possession of white privilege by showing that he or she has the opportunity to access education, earn money, and acquire the leisure time to be bored. These favorable circumstances associated with white privilege are constantly recycled on Facebook statuses, further perpetuating the need to vaunt a powerful identity.
How do Facebook users pick and choose which statuses to like and comment on? What is their societal motivation or strategy?
How do Facebook and other social media outlets help perpetuate different forms of discrimination including racism, sexism, ageism etc.?
Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor, 1967. Print.
Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. First Edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.