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What Is Whiteness?

“What is Whiteness?” explores the concept of whiteness, tracing its historical evolution and the impact of white supremacy culture on our country’s racial hierarchy.




Social Studies


6 +




“What is Whiteness?” explores the concept of whiteness, tracing its historical evolution and the impact of white supremacy culture on our country’s racial hierarchy. The zine discusses the privileges linked to whiteness, white privilege and white-passing privilege. It encourages youth to consider how they might be knowingly or unknowingly contributing to these norms. A culminating call to action asks youth to think about ways they and their communities can dismantle white dominant norms in their daily lives. This is part of the collaborative 4-part zine series, #IYKYK. Download the PDF to see additional resources.


  • Assimilate
  • Dismantle
  • Race
  • White-passing privilege
  • White privilege
  • White supremacy culture (also referred to as white dominant norms)

Why Learn About It?

White dominant norms (or white supremacy culture) are the waters that we all are swimming in. This zine asks youth to consider the pervasive influence of white norms as the predominant and oppressive standards in the United States.

Regardless of our diverse identities—be it race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, etc.—we may unconsciously adopt and reinforce these dominant norms. It’s important that we initiate conversations that prompt youth to recognize these prevalent norms and to encourage them to think about ways they can actively work towards dismantling them within the spaces they occupy.

While reading this zine with youth, be sure to articulate that there is nothing wrong with being white (the right often makes the argument that progressives are telling white youth to feel bad about their race) but that whiteness comes along with privileges that can be used as leverage to be in solidarity with marginalized communities. Remember that when we are talking about the term “white supremacy” we are referring to the idea or the ideology that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to those of BIPOC folks. White supremacy is the water that we’re swimming in in our society and even BIPOC folks can internalize this ideology. The zine promotes self-reflection and responsible use of privilege toward a more equitable society for everyone.

Before Reading Questions

  1. When you hear the word white supremacy culture, what comes to mind?
  2. How do you think white supremacy culture is upheld?

After Reading Questions

  1. In partners, discuss the following questions:

    a. Based on your understanding of the term, define whiteness.

    b. How does it impact your everyday life? How does it impact your classmates’ differently?

    c. What are other ways that you can dismantle white dominant norms in your day-to-day?

  2. Have students independently read Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (page 1-2). After reading, have students create their own additions to the invisible knapsack that are relevant to their everyday lives. Allow them to draw it out on a sheet of paper, using items to symbolize particular traits or values. Then, with the parts of your knapsack that they feel comfortable sharing, speak to a partner about your discoveries.

    a. What were surprising discoveries from your peer?

    b. What surprised you about your own knapsack?

  3. Four Corners is an activity that gets students to “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree”, and “Strongly Disagree. You will need a large space to do this activity. The teacher will say a statement and students will move to a corner that they most agree with. Afterwards, students will have a chance to speak to their corner group about why they chose this opinion. The teacher has the option of having students speak out loud to the class. Statements that can be used include:

    a. I carry heavier burdens because I am not white.

    b. I think my life would be easier if I were white.

    c. The U.S. was built on white privilege.

    d. The U.S. can dismantle white privilege to benefit everybody.

About Collaborator

Healing Equity United consults on creating antiracist and anti-oppressive organizational cultures, facilitates interactive workshops and trainings, and conducts diversity, equity, and inclusion audits. Learn more about their work at www.healingequityunited.com.

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