Metaphor for Whiteness

Kody Cowell, Assistant Opinion Editor

Racial politics in Western society play around whether you’re “ethnic” or not. The issue with this is that everybody is ethnic.


There is no default race. There is no standard, no “normal.” It’s all relative.


The concept of “whiteness” exists because Western culture (laws and medical practices too, sometimes) treats people of caucasian heritage or appearance as a standard, a default.


If you’re white, you’re just white — you’re not ethnic, and certainly not exotic. Everyone else is different, and filtered through a lens of how similar they are to the white standard.


I want to present you with a metaphor for the way whiteness is ingrained in how we think without us realizing it. Whiteness is one of those aspects of our society where once you see it, and understand it, you begin to notice it everywhere. Sometimes just being aware of it is enough to bring about change.


When we think of ice cream, we think of it in terms of what flavor it is.


Vanilla is one such flavor, but we don’t really think of vanilla as being on the same level as cookie dough, mint or rocky road. It’s plain, it’s boring. It’s the basic flavor for ice cream. We even use the term “vanilla” to describe other, non-dessert things with “blah” traits.


No offense to people who like vanilla, though. It is a flavor, after all. It’s not “unflavored.” Unflavored ice cream just tastes like milk and sugar.


It is a flavor, but we treat it as the standard.


To be white in American society is to be like vanilla flavored ice cream. Being white is the standard for racial and cultural identity. White experiences are often perceived as universal.


This isn’t so bad with ice cream; not a lot of harm comes from thinking of vanilla as rudimentary.


But it is a problem when we start to think like this for a demographic of people, especially in a country that was developed from so many separate cultures. Cultures that don’t fit the white narrative are expected to conform to it.


We don’t really develop harmful stigmas for dessert flavors, nor do they have rights we need to take into consideration. Most of us aren’t concerned with the unique backgrounds and circumstances of chocolate compared to strawberry. Any stereotypes about rum raisin remain firmly rooted in “pointless opinions with no consequences.”


Look around at the culture you partake in. See if you can find other examples where white is the unspoken “default.”


To what degree is this acceptable, given a white-majority population, and at what point does it harm our view of other cultures?



Look around at the culture you partake in. See if you can find other examples where white is the unspoken “default”.