"White supremacy teaches us that generalizations 'are bad.' Refusing to generalize upholds white supremacy."
– Ericka Boston.
This statement is yet another inspirational thread prompt from Facebook by my friend, Ericka Boston, which sets my critical mind all a flutter every time she throws a prompt out there. For example, what is it about the word, "generalization" within the context of her statement that would suggest its conceptual use as “bad,” when white people generalize all the time? Is that a part of the white supremacist functionality of the word, where it is but one more privilege in the basket of privileges afforded to white people, akin to “individualism?” What turns the word generalization into one of the many racialized words for evaluation and analysis?
Of course, the first exercise is to pull in the definition of the word and then break it down by root and stem: first, general, then, general + the suffix “ize,” and finally generalize + the suffix “tion.” I am a wordsmith and a writer, and that’s what I do.
Dictionary.com describes the adjective, “general” taken as a whole as, “of or relating to all persons or things belonging to a group or category; relating to or true of such persons or things in the main with possible exceptions, common to most, prevalent, usual; and not limited to one class, field, product, service, etc., miscellaneous.”(1)
The suffix “ize,” when added to the adjective, general, turns it into a transitive verb that “makes renders, converts into, and gives a specific character and form to the root word.(2) Therefore, to generalize means
to take all persons belonging to a group or category and render it into a specific character and form.
Adding the suffix “tion” to generalize changes its context only slightly, turning the substance of the root into an abstract noun, “indicating state, condition action, process or result.”(3)
Having dissected the word fully, I can get a full, clear picture of the word generalization in order to gain the contextually racialized inferences contained therein.
A generalization is taking one or a few facts and making a broader, more universal statement.(4)
The ideology of white supremacy is steeped with generalizations – about white people, about whiteness, about non-white people and about African American descendants of the Enslavement in particular. Stereotypes that are formed from these sweeping generalizations promulgated by white supremacy have remained part of the tools for subjugation and vilification of Black people in America for generations.
So why is the use of generalizations considered bad by these same white supremacists? That is simple. One of the most important pillars of white supremacy is ironically, the privilege of “individualism,” even as seen through the dynamism of its generalized sociality. White people live with the dichotomy and oxymoronic nature of what can only be called, generalized individualism, created by, supported and maintained by the ideology of white supremacy in perpetuity. This “individualism” affords white people the opportunity to bask in the glory of their collective whiteness as a state of being without having to admit its existential relationship to its ideologic host. As “individuals,” white people can exist without responsibility or accountability to the history and aftermath of white supremacy. This ability to be both generalized and individualized was made especially evident upon the advent of the colorblind post racial paradigm shift of approximately 1968 through 2016.
With the advent of the Trump administration and the emboldened white supremacist collectivity existing today, generalizations of whiteness have become more problematic as factional representations of racist groups vie for domination, with some white people within these white enclaves trying to step away from particular kinds of generalizations of their whiteness, and others embracing and holding fast to the generalized individualism of the past. Black people cannot afford the luxury of turning off white supremacist generalizations. We do not have the privilege of an oxymoronic dichotomy, because all the generalized cogs and wheels of whiteness are still turning, and moving further to enjoin and reinforce negative notions of generalized “Blackness.”
In order to understand why it would be important to consider that dispensing with generalizations upholds white supremacy, we must consider that whiteness is the state of being in a broader, more universal statement of fact that never disappeared, but was only replaced with the code words, “natural,” “neutral,” and “normal.” We must understand these words are generalizations used to identify whiteness, and the ideology of white supremacy which declares only whiteness is natural, neutral and normal. Therefore, refusing to generalize white supremacy is the same as ensuring it will remain natural, neutral and normal forever.
1 Dictionary.com Definition of “General”
2 Dictionary.com Definition of “ize”
3 Dictionary.com Definition of “tion”
4 Vocabulary.com “Generalization”