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Under the scrutiny of white gaze: understanding the influence of unconscious racialised bias

Under the scrutiny of white gaze: understanding the influence of unconscious racialised bias

Under the scrutiny of white gaze: understanding the influence of unconscious racialised bias

“The white gaze of development is measuring black, brown and non-white people against the standard of northern whiteness, and taking their political, economic and social processes as a norm […] Development uses that standard of northern whiteness to measure economic, political and social processes of people in the so-called global South.”

[De-centring the White Gaze of Development: Robtel Neajai Pailey]

This week's blog addresses the problematic concept of ‘white gaze’. This is prevalent in academia, research and corporate environments. White gaze can result in a myriad of outcomes and this article will discuss why a broadening of perspective on necessary for inclusion. The quote above is significant. It discusses what exactly is wrong with white gaze and how it can affect decision making in society.


What is white gaze?

White gaze is looking at individuals who are non-white through a lens of western or eurocentric (i.e. European ideologies) ideas. It assumes that these white, western political, social and cultural ideas are dominant or mainstream everywhere and that individuals should be judged and make decisions according to these values. This is the standard for processes of people should be taking place. White gaze can affect many institutions, and this isn’t just on a community, regional or national level, instead it can be seen influencing many territories on an international scale.

Let’s give some examples. Many of these will be focused on workplaces and their practices to help employers understand what this could look like.

  1. Assuming a specific standard for what being professional looks like in a workplace. This can range from believing headdresses and braids being unacceptable styles or stating that suits and skirts are the only acceptable items of clothing to wear in an office.
  2. Not giving time off for staff who have daily requirements for faith. This can include various forms of daily prayer that take place in all religions.
  3. Applying ideals, ideas and sources from western experts or research on clients or ideas or concepts that have been developed in countries that are considered ‘Eastern.
  4. Not understanding the intersectional and racial difficulty or disregarding the colonial history of individuals who are not white. This can be displayed or demonstrated through saying ‘I observe colourblindness' and I don’t see colour race. In many cases, this comes as a disregard for specific individuals' difficulties because they were not white.

Further along in this blog, I will reframe these situations to demonstrate how we can alleviate the white gaze and the alternative circumstances. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and it is not limited to ordeals and situations within the workplace. For example, in research and academia, there is an entire area of study dedicated to understanding the impact of white gaze in research, and they have examined the specific influences of colonialism on this subject.


What are some of the effects of white gaze?

Some individuals feel like they may have to utilise extra resources and give up their identity, energy and more at the expense of placating whiteness. Individuals and employees who work under the scrutiny of white gaze have to demonstrate behaviours and beauty standards. Whiteness and the values, behaviours and physical image standards that whiteness perpetuates are not only presumed as the everyday operations or functionings of life, but they are simultaneously considered dominant over any culture or practice that is not synonymous with whiteness.

In some workplaces, this can lead to specific individuals becoming hypervisible for not aligning with certain ideologies linked to the white gaze. But in other cases, this can also lead to verbal abuse within the workplace.

Let's re-look at the scenarios further above in the article. What would it look like if we omitted the white gaze from influencing the behaviours and actions?

  1. Globally many cultures have different ideas about what is considered professional. In eurocentric ideologies, the suit has become a universal image of what being professional should look like. Yet this is not the case and can make sure people feel insecure or uncomfortable. With relations to headdresses and hairstyles, particularly braids and afros. Assuming that these styles are not professional is a blatant disregard for different cultures, assuming that everyone can attain similar-looking fashions every day without damaging their hair and spending countless resources to do it is naïve
  2. Many eurocentric organisations do not acknowledge taking time off for faith, as it cuts into the time when working. Whilst to some degree that is understandable, breaks are not even administered to consider this, especially when faith is a vital part of living
  3. This is more related to academia, research and general ideas for workplace practice and cohesiveness. Not all programmes implemented in a workplace may be suitable or culturally appropriate for all members and employees. Maybe a diversity officer should be referred to when they are trying to implement to see if ideas or plans need to be adjusted to work for as many employees as possible.


*Here at DJM, we try to be as inclusive as possible, so an audio podcast will be released later this week for those who need or prefer audio materials and content



Robtel Neajai Pailey's article: "De-centring the ‘White Gaze’ of Development"