Contesting ‘European Whiteness’: Stronghold against Europe’s Internal Diversity

Academic Article

Abstract: The paper attempts to provide an account of a silent feature that structures, sustains and mobilizes policies and actions at the wider EU level: European whiteness. The paper argument that whiteness plays a pervasive role both at the individual and institutional level, despite the symbolic construct of the European community with its declared diversity as the foundation and prerequisite for coherence and unity. The issue of whiteness is important especially in the context of a persistent, almost obsessive discourse around the importance of diversity and its centrality in forging a European space of identification that mirrors the multiplicity of its cultures and peoples. Drawing upon Butler’s theory of performativity, the paper illustrates exclusionary practices with a focus on two vulnerable groups in the EU, asylum-seekers/refugees and Muslim communities. These practices show how the European norm of whiteness is constantly reproduced in the face of threats from outside others, i.e. in the context of global economic instability or terrorist threats. Whiteness functions to set the standard against which external elements are judged, classified and assigned an often punitive and discriminatory place. The paper argues that an increased awareness of the pervasiveness of the white discursive performance is a first step in challenging and deconstructing discriminatory narratives of identity and related practices.


The concept of race carries an important weight for the plausibility of the argument and therefore ‘whiteness’ and ‘race’ are allowed to stand in an uneasy interchangeability. The discussion around whiteness as a normative concept cannot be divorced from a racial understanding of its implications. Though the paper is meant as a contribution to critical race thinking, it attempts to focus on the normative and performative aspects. The concept of race is needed for a complex understanding of the term ‘whiteness’, implying nevertheless that whiteness cannot be reduced to just the racial implications of its meaning. I operate therefore with an extended definition of race/whiteness that goes beyond the classical definition related to biological traits and implies customs, practices, values, worldviews, cultural aspects. This definition cuts across clear-cut divisions between race, culture and ethnicity.

Race is defined by Goldberg (2006) and Lentin (2008) as an abstract signifier that has as a primary function the separation of human groups at various levels: social, political and economic. In this dynamic, race can operate under the veil of culture, religion, ethnicity or national identity, therefore not only nor always as skin color. In the same line of argument, whiteness is understood as a set of values, practices and norms that have been historically institutionalized and constantly reproduced, so that with time it has become normalised, becoming a way of being in the world, of materialising, of meaning-making (Goldberg 2006). Differentiation is the key feature in the process of defining and identifying, and in the case of whiteness it establishes, through border demarcation, the legality and legitimacy of belonging, the feasibility of speech and act, and the materiality of the body or community. In other words, ‘a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources […] and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings’ (Ansley 1997: 592).

The main hypothesis of the paper is that we currently witness a twofold process in the European Union: parallel phenomena, contradictory at a first glance, but quite constitutive of each other at a closer scrutiny. On the one hand, the politics of diversity are discursively promoted and celebrated, almost programmatically, in policy papers, EU programmes, EU logos and slogans, official speeches, statements and through advertising certain lifestyles. Quite edifying in this sense is the way the EU markets itself around its defining slogan ‘unity in diversity’.[1] On the other hand, there is another powerful discourse that operates silently and unnoticed, one that has not been named and loudly sloganeered: the discourse of European whiteness. This discourse is nevertheless able to perform authoritatively by force of a systemic coherence fed and adapted over time. Quite contrary to what the diversity discourse lets one believe, this white set of values and norms is in fact the one that determines institutional access and membership in the polity, educational and professional standards and citizenship requirements within the EU.

I argue on the contrary that the domain of the outside – embodied in the otherness that the promotion of diversity supposedly reaches to embrace – confirms and reiterates this European whiteness in a formative and performative way, reinforcing it especially in the current context of economic challenges, international threats and mass-scale migration phenomena.

In the course of my argument I try to resituate Judith Butler’s understanding of performativity[2] in an attempt to theorize the performative construction and operation of whiteness. Central to her formulation of performativity as ‘that power of discourse to produce effects through reiteration’ (Butler 1993: 20) is the production of an outside, of those banished or excluded (‘foreclosed’) from the proper domain. The concept of otherness is central to Butler’s theory, because through its production and constant reproduction by reiteration, the other side of the division becomes reinforced in a legible and valid way. It works through an ‘us/them’ binary in which ‘us’ gains strength by being opposed to a realm of unintelligibility, exteriority and otherness. This realm is bounded by and also reinforces the propriety of the acceptable domain (‘us’). This process, however, also contains in itself the potential for its disruption and rearticulation.

The case for diversity promoted at the official level of EU policies and regulations might as well function as a potential for challenging and rearticulating the traditional European domain governed silently by white cultural norms. I argue on the contrary that the domain of the outside – embodied in the otherness that the promotion of diversity supposedly reaches to embrace – confirms and reiterates this European whiteness in a formative and performative way, reinforcing it especially in the current context of economic challenges, international threats and mass-scale migration phenomena. European whiteness needs the discourse of diversity and the domain of otherness as a constant reaffirmation of its boundaries; it seeks to secure the white imperative precisely when there is a need in times of crisis to make recourse to an intelligible narrative that hides its own constructed and contingent character through the appearance of a normalised, essentialist account.

Whiteness in its historicity

Previous research focused on the necessity to view race, and subsequently whiteness, in its historical genesis and relationship with the European modern state, in order to expose unmistakably the embeddedness of race and white norms within the structure of European states (see Goldberg 2002, 2006, Hesse 2007, Lentin 2004, 2006). From the perspective of historicist racism, this research underlined how the European modernity with the birth of the nation provided the right circumstances for the consolidation of a racial view that defined Europeans and the rest of the world. Initially race and whiteness were used in an unstable, ambiguous relationship, helping to strengthen and legitimise the class and gender hierarchy within the nation-states of Europe. Directed at first internally against the working classes, racism later refined itself conceptually in the context of an increasingly competitive international market. The need for national strength demanded a nationalism based on racism, which turned into a political ideology. Therefore, the creation of race and the awareness of Europe’s own whiteness helped establish what it meant to be both European and non-European.

According to Lentin (2008) and Himmelstein (2000), race first developed during the European Enlightenment developed race as a biological category through its ‘obsession with the aesthetics of its own whiteness’ (Lentin 2008: 494). This created blackness as a corollary, thus establishing a hierarchy for the political purpose of preserving status. The racial classification of humanity created a sense of order that brought benefits (through colonialism and slavery) only to those who invented it, the Europeans. The classification was normatively charged from the onset, creating the domain of the superior white, intelligible, acceptable and valuable. To preserve its purity as a category, whiteness transferred irrationality, disorder, barbarity as attributes of the black ‘other’ (Wellman 2001).

Race and whiteness are therefore to be understood as cultural and political products of European modernity, socially constructed, though invested with scientific meaning and power. They became in the XVIIIth, XIXth and the first decades of the XXth century a central ordering principle of European societies, legitimizing slavery, colonialism, eugenics or genocide (Lentin 2008: 491-492). The main argument of these authors is that racism and the value of whiteness became institutionalized and naturalized in the political and social structure of European societies. Therefore after the atrocities committed in the name of race during the Second World War, with race and white norms being structuring principles of European societies, the only way out was to recast these concepts in new, legitimate ways. The legacy of the Holocaust consecrated the official refutation of the superior race, and the concept itself was deemed as socially, politically, and biologically irrelevant (Ibid.: 493). Goldberg shows how the recasting of race and whiteness in acceptable terms implied a radical discursive break with the intellectual and political histories of colonialism, and an almost exclusive focus on anti-Semitism as the main manifestation of racism (Goldberg 2006: 343). Consequently, the transition from race/whiteness to culture/ethnicity as markers of human differences happened very smoothly and in an unnoticeable way. Culture/ethnicity, being officially void of any implication of superiority or inferiority, appeared to be unproblematic. Racism on the other hand was officially stripped of its policy-shaping side and became redefined as an individual attitude, and as lack of intercultural knowledge and abilities (Lentin 2004: 433, 436. Its ideology component crafting the political and social fabric of European states was carefully obliterated.

The discourse of human rights was the centerpiece in remaking race through the postulation of a general idea of man, of a race-less, universalistic vision of humanity. Balibar, Lentin and Goldberg insist that one should avoid the trap and see how precisely the human rights discourse cannot be divorced for the regime of racial historicism, since universalistic claims operate within the logic of exclusion. The ideal they propose, the universal rational man, must be constructed in a relationship with an Other, therefore perpetuating the hierarchy of human beings categorized according to the universal ideal.[3]

Furthermore, the racelessness of the ideal man facilitated the redefinition of whiteness apart from its both racial and racist background. Constructing the ideal man and his universal rights around the white, western cultural image raised whiteness to its standardization as the norm and the inauguration of the era of color blindness that makes possible the denial of discrimination on racial grounds and its pervasiveness, as long as there are people that cannot be ‘whitened’ (Lentin 2004: 438). In the words of Goldberg, ‘racelessness is achievable only by the presumptive elevation of whiteness silently as (setting) the desirable standards, the teleological norms of civilized social life, even as it seeks to erase the traces of exclusions necessary to the achievement along the way.’ (Goldberg 2002: 206) Whiteness achieved this status through a discursive practice that effaced its linking to race, since white, being in itself no color, is reconstructed as an invisible, non-racial norm. Everyday race-related discourses have as their primary focus minority groups, with whiteness being excluded from this dynamic, because it functions in European societies as the standard of normality.[4] Through its function as the setter of the standard, its hegemony is secured and its underlying racism embedded in the construction of universal values of human rights is thus obfuscated.

This historical account bears testimony to the performativity of whiteness, along Butler’s line of thought, inasmuch as is was and continue to be constituted by a reiterative practice of race. The reiteration takes place through a discourse that conceals its genesis and so allows an implicit agreement to perform, produce, and maintain polarized racial identifications whose credibility hide them as cultural fictions (Goldberg 2006: 343). Although socially constructed, Butler warns us that the fictive character of these identifications does not make them either artificial, or dispensable (Butler 1993: 274 -284). On the contrary, they are able to mobilize, to become resources, to produce tangible, durable effects invested with a life of their own, endorsing the political discourses that (re)produce them.

Apparently, whiteness seems unchanging in its consistent position of dominance, especially because its power lies in the ability to convey a homogeneous account, across ethnic and class positions, asserting a normative social identity endowed with secured privileges (Hartigan 1997: 502). Those who benefit directly from the privileged status that European whiteness claims to offer are, overwhelmingly throughout history, members of the upper class, and male. Evidently not all European whites are male, middle-upper class, Christian, and in positions of power and privilege. The heterogeneous aspect of white identity comes to the front in the light of ruptures along the lines of class and gender. Also the local settings, the particularities of each national context across Europe are crucial in the way white identity performs[5].

The domain of the non-valued: the refugees[6]

The treatment of refugees across the EU and the current European regime of immigration and asylum are illustrative for Butler’s concept of outsiders that get produced in order to confirm and strengthen the domain of the recognizable subjects. Butler insists on the punitive claim of the hegemony of the universal ideals that secure their status by means both of naturalization, and also by punishments toward potential transgressions of their boundaries (Bell 1999a: 140). The policing at the frontiers of the EU increased substantially over the past years. In addition, national policies regarding refugees became more and more restrictive. Great efforts on the part of the EU are being deployed to contain the refugee flow to their homelands or neighbouring countries through development measures (e.g. Euromed Migration II Programme)[7], where the greatest part of the financial effort is going into securing the EU borders. Not of less significance are cooperation agreements on migration/refugee matters with governments having dubious human rights records, such as Lybia under Gadhafi (see Hamood 2008). This is a process concomitant to an increasingly loud and widely acclaimed value of European diversity and its corollaries of tolerance, acceptance and non-discrimination.

This apparent paradox operates in a perfect symbiosis in which one process feeds on the other, hence allowing them to maintain the boundaries of their domains. The EU diversity and its demand of recognition are projected against the background of whiteness that defines the domain of recognizable subjects. The reiterated exclusion of the other, embodied in refugees, is central to the (re)production of the recognizable European subject, whose identity is reified by the exclusionary criteria, allowing it, from the background of the European traditional, white cultural domain, to be viable, legible, ‘produced’ (Bell 1999a: 138; Bell 2010: 134). Revealing in this sense is the study by Gorodzeisky and Semyonov that analyze European attitudes in the face of migration and refugees, based on the European Social Surveys (Gorodzeisky & Semyonovn 2009). Their results indicate that the public support across the EU for restrictive policies and for the exclusion of foreigners is significant and on the rise. The surveys have shown that one area where Europeans feel most threatened is their identity. The threat manifests by attempts to exclude foreigners and refugees physically from the area of the visibility of the majority group, to avoid contamination of the European ideal (detention centers and refugee camps are among the most common practices). When this strategy is untenable, another exclusionary measure comes forth, namely denial of access to equal citizenship rights and privileges, since those fall within the exclusive property of traditional European members (ibidem: 405-406).

‘The findings show, rather clearly, that support for exclusion of foreigners from the ‘social system’ is quite prevalent across Europe. About half of the European population object to the admission of foreigners to the country (about a third object to the admission of all non-nationals regardless of their race or ethnic origin and about 14 per cent object to the admission of foreigners only on basis of racial or ethnic origin but endorse admission of foreigners of the same ethnicity). […]Whereas support for exclusion from the state is motivated by desire to maintain cultural and ethnic homogeneity and to preserve national identity, attitudes towards allocation of rights are influenced by democratic values and commitment to human rights.’ (ibidem: 416)

The study carried out by Bridges and Mateut, reaches similar conclusions (Bridges & Mateut 2009). The authors analyze data from the European Social Survey and Eurostat with a view on how economic and non-economic variables influence Europeans’ attitudes towards immigration in Europe. An important finding regarding non-economic variables was that a crucial factor shaping people’s attitudes is the race of the immigrants, with those of a different race receiving discriminatory treatment and being perceived as a threat to cultural homogeneity.

The fear of losing homogeneity generates of backlash of nationalism across the EU (indicative are the rise to power of right-wing parties in recent elections in Hungary, France, Netherlands, Belgium). As shown before, European nationalism cannot be conceived outside its organic relationship to race and its derivative whiteness, as a way of life, of making meaning, setting values and standards of being in the world. Hannah Arendt, cited by Butler, links the production of refugees precisely to nationalism as the basis on which the state is constituted (Bell 2010: 142). The homogenous identity of the community that the nation-state presupposes functions as the precondition of citizenship, so that the nation-state carries with it a structural reproduction of the refugee category. As Goldberg observes, Europe continues to be considered by the majority of its citizens as the home for Europeans considered from a traditional and historical perspective, specifically white and Christian (Goldberg 2006: 338).

A similar viewpoint is expressed by Garner, who analyzes individual attitudes and policy developments towards asylum seekers across Europe, particularly in UK and Ireland (Garner 2007: 137-153). His findings show that whiteness and European cultural values associated with it continue to be the main tool through which people negotiate and make sense of social difference. In this dynamic, the concepts of immigrant and refugees, even more generally, of foreigners (migrants, students, asylum-seekers, foreign nationals) are used interchangeably, with any non-white person being classified as a potential asylum-seeker and as a threat. Policy developments in the area of immigration and asylum have followed a similarly racist, restrictive and denigratory path. The humanitarian aspect was relegated at the declarative level, whereas the practical level followed the logic of security issues and national anxieties, turning into a strictly legal, technical instrument designed to keep the Other away. The outbursts of public officials in matters of immigrant and asylum threat is seen by Garner as an element of continuity of an underlying racist thinking that confirms the official discourse, rather than denying it.

Garner’s findings show that whiteness and European cultural values associated with it continue to be the main tool through which people negotiate and make sense of social difference.

The discourse of European whiteness, reiterated through nationalistic practices and exclusionary measures against prospective members that fall beyond traditional European identification schemes, produces also the subjects in their materiality/ corporeality[8]. Thousands of refugee lives were lost over the past few years in their attempts to reach European soil, in many cases with the complicity of border patrols, though their lives were never publicly grieved, their death obscured so as their bodies never existed. The ritualistic practices of grief presume form the start the grievable quality of a life once lost, its importance in the chain of the collective imaginary. Consequently, the denial of death, its effacement from the reality of every day events presumes that the life had no value, that the body had never existed as a visible, meaningful and recognizable subject. Deprived of their death, they are deprived of their life in their materiality. In Butler’s words, ‘there are subjects who get produced, other who do not get fully produced or who are only partially legible, and those who do not get produced at all.’ (Bell 2010: 134)

The Muslim threat. The production of viable subjects, able to confer to the imagined European community a sense of symbolic legitimacy and cultural intelligibility occurs through the performativity of whiteness enabled by a ritualized repetition of ‘commonsense’ norms. These ‘commons’ are defined through an appeal to tradition, conducing to an idea of a everlasting sense of belonging anchored in the myths of the European origin: the democratic Greek tradition, Roman law, Judeo-Christian religious heritage. The legacy of Humanism, the primacy of Reason, the Christian values of mercy, solidarity and love being deeply embedded in the dominant imaginary, it is upon this legacy that the concept of diversity and tolerance is devised and promoted. A happy, comfortable view of diversity, celebrating more than sixty languages (European Commission 2006) (out of which 23 are official languages of the EU) and ethnic groups, works hand in hand with the commonsense view favoring the closing of borders and associating Muslims with threat and terrorism. The unspoken, through constantly recursive subtitle of European whiteness make possible a way of transacting with the world which unreflectively associates Europe with Enlightenment and Christian humanist values. Therefore, peace-loving, tolerant and civilized. On the other hand, the ‘East’ is associated with the terrorist threat, therefore bellicose, fundamentalist, barbaric and tribal. A Eurocentric view gets produced in which the world and the EU are split in two camps: the acceptable, viable European and the illegitimate outsider whose presence can only be disruptive (Amin 2004: 2).

The sense of tranquility and easiness given by a homogenous referential system, be it white European norms or the Muslim threat, is helped by cosmeticizing the European institutional make-up, so that the structural causes of violence and intolerance, strictly embedded in the imbalances of the political and administrative power, are well concealed. The statistics on the other hand paint a fairly different picture. Surveys carried out in 2009 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights offer strong evidence of discrimination, showing that on average 1 in 3 Muslim respondents experienced direct discrimination during that year (2009). The perpetrators of harassment, threat or assault directed against Muslims were identified by 72% of the respondents as members of the majority population of their European country of residence. The survey results, carried out in all 14 Member States with significant Muslim populations, showed that in all these states the interviewed Muslim respondents reported discrimination in employment and private services, and unfair treatment from the police (Fundamental Rights Agency 2009).

The lack of employment and educational opportunities, the racial profiling, derogatory portrayal in the media, residential segregation and every day discrimination are often seen as unproblematic, since their subjects are not considered victims, but ones that even ‘deserve’ this treatment, since they do not fit the ‘white European code’. Hence racism and violence are not seen as inherent to European societies, on the contrary, they occur either as a state of exception (i.e. as the workings of the extreme right, the neo-Nazi groups, or ignorant individuals) or mostly portrayed as ‘foreign import’ (Goldberg 2006: 365). Violence, discrimination and intolerance are identified and relocated outside, in the figure of the Muslim. European legacy of hostility, resentment, slavery, exploitative profiteering, exclusion and extermination that has shaped over the centuries its self-making is silenced.  More than that, it is transferred to a scapegoat that is able to catalyze the European frustrations and problems, the Muslim (ibid.: 356, 362).

Since 2001 there has been a rise in Islamophobia, or Muslim-mania, fuelled by the participation of European countries in the Iraq War, the murder of  Theo van Gogh in 2004 in the Netherlands, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the controversy of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons or terrorist attacks such as the 2005 London bombings. The growing concerns over processes of radicalization and national uneasiness have triggered an intense debate in the EU around the need to re-examine the national integrity and cultural cohesion. Exemplary is the debate launched at the initiative of the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, regarding the French National Identity. He initiated in December 2009 a high-profile discussion on issues such as immigration, the burqa, and national identity, in the context of the Swiss ban on minarets during a referendum a month earlier. The speech that framed the debate reproduces the dichotmomy Us versus Them, conflating the European and French identity, pointing to the alleged wishes of ‘us’ Europeans. He used the strategy of demanding and presupposing a Europe-wide sameness, unity and cultural cohesion. Europe faces ‘the silent menace that so many people in our old European nations, rights or wrongly, feel weighing on their identity’ (Le Monde 2009)[9]. The construction of difference occurs, as one could say, by the book, with ‘us Europeans’ associated with hospitability, tolerance (as inherent part of European nature and culture), republican values – freedom, equal treatment of men and women, secular tradition, the separation of the profane and spiritual. He does not fail to emphasize also the profound traces of the Christian civilization, which is inevitably reified, as mentioned before, along side Europe’s secular tradition, regardless of their untenable juxtaposition. When dealing with the Muslim threat, all strategies and uneasy relationships become intelligible, justified and legitimate to employ. The Muslims, ‘those who arrive’, are carefully defined in his speech by silence, by the careful omission of direct references. Their identity is contoured by this silence as precisely the lack of the very traits Sarkozy chose to highlight regarding Europeans. The message is carefully packaged as to avoid offence, claiming a neutral, impartial and positive tone. The warning against ‘ostentation’ and ‘provocation’ in manifesting one’s religion, despite his appeal to people of all religions, is unmistakable targeted to Muslims, considering the immediacy of the fiery debate triggered by the minaret ban in Switzerland. Wrapped in a mobilizing emotional appeal, aimed at supplying social binding force, the speech concludes by pointing to the key solution: ‘successful assimilation’.

‘It is the task of the host to offer recognition to the one that arrives. It is the task of the one that arrives to respect what was there before his/her arrival. It is the task of the host to offer to share his/her heritage, history, civilization, way of life. It is the task of the one that arrives to manifest the will to take part, without violence, in a natural way, in the society that (s)he will contribute to. To take part in its history that (s)he will help write. The key to this mutual enrichment through the mélange of ideas, thinking and cultures is a successful assimilation.’ (ibid.)

The national debate on French identity that followed, with hundreds of debates around the country orchestrated under the tutelage of the Immigration Minister Eric Besson and complemented by online contributions on the official internet forum[10] could not but turn into a hollow debate, reproducing nationalism, (c)overt racism, voicing national frustrations and stirring up passions, rather than facilitating reconciliation. Needless to say, it provided Le Pen’s National Front with considerable political capital in March 2010 regional elections.

The example above is indicative for the discursive construction of Muslim identity into a single narrative of the Islam, as the existential threat to western civilization. Taking extreme forms, such as the Eurabia paranoia[11], or every day discriminatory practices, carefully legitimized in the media or national discourses around European cultural demise (as the before mentioned French identity debate), the fact that they operate with an Islamic singularization conceals the diverse complexity of European Muslims. There are variations in terms of ethnicity (of North of Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkish, Iraqi or ex-Yugoslavian descent), religious affiliation, secular tendencies, cultural traditions, languages and so on. Europe is now home to 15-20 million Muslims, with that number expected to double by 2025. France is leading the way as a host country (6-7 million), followed by Germany (4.5 million) and UK (2.5 million) (Deutsch Welle 2010), with innumerable particularities across these and the rest of the host countries regarding their social assertiveness, religious practices, political participation, networks of attachment, letting aside the internal diversity of each community.

The Muslim in Europe is capitalized, de-individualized, counting not even as the representative of a community, but as the ‘Idea of the Muslim itself’ (Goldberg 2006: 345-346). This idea represents the threat of death: death of freedom, of progressive scientific inquiry, of civilization, of the value of human worth, of equal respect for women and gay people, of freedom of expression. The Muslim in Europe is caught in this discursive dynamic, being constructed through this generalizing language and placed, by the discourse’s own life and historicity, within a temporality that exceeds its own. This dynamic helps thus reiterate discursively the process and context of its own emergence: the hegemonic matrix of European white norms.


The title of the paper might be misleading in its implication on the focus on contesting European whiteness. My arguments throughout the paper, following Butler’s understanding of performativity, aimed to reveal whiteness’ founding interpellation and its historical duration, ideological coherence and effective power, being reiterated by various authorities throughout time in order to reinforce its naturalizing effect. The discursive construction of whiteness functions through the setting of boundaries, by the repeated inculcation of the acceptable, recognizable norm. Within the same dynamic takes place the production of the domain of the rejected, unintelligible, non-viable other (be it the refugee or the Muslim). This domain contributes, especially against the background of the narrative of diversity, to that field of discourse and power that devises, delimits, and sustains that which qualifies as a viable European.

The Muslim in Europe is capitalized, de-individualized, counting not even as the representative of a community, but as the ‘Idea of the Muslim itself

Butler proposes a model based on contact and interruption that allow us to reformulate and remake one another. The possibilities of this remaking are opened by the very reiteration of the hegemonic norms, in the process of which gaps and fissures are opened, pointing to the constitutive instabilities of their own construction. These instabilities, in turn, force the norm’s resignification, deviating the reiteraiton process toward a more expanding notion of what counts as a valued subject (Bell 2010: 144; Butler 1993: 21-22). In order to set the hegemonic consolidation of the norm on a ‘productive crisis’ (Butler 1993: 10), it is important first of all to be able to identify and expose it.

This exposure is in itself an act of contestation, and this is what the paper aimed to achieve: the exposure of European whiteness as an invisible norm silently operating within the configuration of social, economic and political privilege, through a discourse that releases it from the complicity of constructing racism. First, as a commonsense matrix permeating the foundations of European societies and second, as a project that has cultural survival as its end:

‘The increasingly brown tinge, oil polluting the water, seeping through and across the map of European whiteness needs guarding against, lest it smudges Europe’s long imagined make-up.’ (Goldberg 2006: 357)


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[1]              A quick visit to the official EU website ( demonstrates – through its programmes, competitions, policies and documents, the choice of pictures, the layout and language used – the selling of the concept of diversity.

[2]              Space considerations prevent an extensive discussion of performance theories in sociology and how their conceptual underpinnings are understood and used in Butler’s work. For a more comprehensive overview, please see in particular Butler (1990, 1993, 1997, 2000) and Bell (1999a, 1999b, 2010).

[3]              A Lentin, op. cit. (2004), A Lentin, op. cit. (2008), DT Goldberg, op. cit. (2006), E Balibar, ‘Is there a ‘Neo-Racism’?’ in E Balibal & I Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Verso, London, 1991, pp. 17-28, cited in A Lentin, op. cit. (2004), p. 429; E Balibar, ‘Racism and Nationalism’, in E Balibar & I Wallerstein, op. cit., pp. 37–67, cited in A Lentin, op. cit. (2004), p. 433.

[4]              For extended arguments related to the racelessness of whiteness and its normalized, hegemonic standard see Lentin (2004), Goldberg (2002), Himmelstein (2000).

[5]              An aspect worth mentioning is that I do not wish to argue based on a homogenous narrative of whiteness, quite the contrary, I find it very important to acknowledge the fluidity over time and the contingent character of racial categories. My understanding of whiteness comprises these internal contradictions and tensions, which due to the extent of the paper cannot be addressed. Therefore this paper focuses more on its powerful establishment as the means of reproduction and maintenance of inequality.

[6]                             Here the distinction between legal/illegal migration needs to be clarified. I focus on the case of refugees since, as opposed to economic migrants, they should find themselves on the legal side under international refugee law. Therefore they should be considered and treated as legitimate prospective European residents. Asylum-seekers are protected by international law that prescribes protection, residence and economic security in the state of refuge. The analysis aims to focus on the paradoxical distortion of the refugee status in the EU, where restrictive asylum policies and institutional practices led to the criminalization of the refugee/asylum-seekers, constructing them in a category of illegality. The concept even of ‘illegal asylum-seeker’ is a contradiction in terms, since, quoting Butler, ‘to seek asylum is precisely to seek legal status’ (B Davies (ed), Judith Butler in Conversation. Analyzing the Texts and Talk of Everyday Life, Routledge, London & New York, 2008, p. 192).

[7]              For further information please visit

[8]              For a thorough argument on how hegemonic discourses create bodies in their corporeality or non corporeality, and their subsequent (non)viability see Butler (1993).

[9]              own emphasis, own translation.


[11]             For a wide discussion on the Eurabia ‘theory’, the coining of the term, its tenets and main proponents, please refer among others to Carr (2006),Ye’or (2005).