From the time we are young, we are taught that time is something that is constant and unbiased. Time is the cornerstone of our lives and the basis for which we measure progress. But what if the way in which we view time changes from person to person? This may seem like an abstract concept; however, the way we perceive time is influential to the way we view our lives and our histories. The idea of time has been shaped over years and years of racialization and in return has created what many refer to as “White Time.”
Charles Mills, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, makes the argument for the addition of a “white temporal imaginary” to add alongside the idea of white spacial imaginary. In layman’s terms, he is arguing that we need to add a concept of white time to the ideas of white space, which is defined as the areas created by whites in order to keep themselves in a higher position in society. With this in mind, what actually is this “white time?” White time is described by Africana studies professor Michael Hanchard as the inequalities of temporality that comes from unequal power relations between different racial groups. This, in return, produces unequal temporal access to goods, services, resources, power and knowledge. As an example, consider the way we structure our calendar, which is widely accepted as being centered around the Christian holidays and traditions. Think about when we define the New Year, or when schools structure long breaks around holidays like Easter or Christmas. Now think about someone who does not fit into the “mold” of those who follow this calendar. This can create a sense of conflict within the person, as it would to anyone. But Hanchard and Mills would argue that the sense of conflict is much more complex. This conflict permeates into other aspects of society, such as how the individual feels that they should spend their time, for example, the balancing of work and leisure. Rather than feeling like they ought to work in accordance with their culture’s ideals, because of the constant looming of “white time” around their heads, they may act in accordance with a Euro-centric model of using time. This is also due to the viewed “misuse of time” by those who do not fit the Euro-centric mold.
So, what can we college students do about all of this? Well, in short, not as much as we would probably like to. I would love to just reset our scale of time and establish an entirely post-racial society as much as the next person, but that’s not exactly realistic at this current point in time. But this doesn’t mean we can’t do anything during our day to day lives. Helen Ngo, a professor at Deakin University, points to many public controversies that deflect a claim of racism with a push towards innocence or ignorance. An example she uses involves a cartoonist depiction of Serena Williams in a manner strikingly similar to a racist caricature of African Americans from the Jim Crow era. The cartoonist’s defense was that he drew her as she was and denying the similarities to this racist caricature serves as a means of decoupling representations such as this one from their racist histories. By decoupling these representations, though, these people are attempting to forget these racist histories; they do not understand that these histories do not forget their subjects. Furthermore, this instance shows us the ability for white people to move on from these histories and not have to claim or face a sense of reckoning from them.
So, what can we do? Call things out! If something is racist, call it that! If individuals make a plea to ignorance or innocence, don’t just accept it, attempt to educate these individuals on the impact of what they are doing and how they can work to avoid similar behaviors in the future. Also, recognize what has happened in the past and make an intentional effort to understand the impact of this on people today. Recognize that white time does exist and that it can benefit your way of life without you even recognizing it. Talk to people that may be affected, educate yourself on this, and work to reject any racist ideals that present themselves throughout your time here and your time once you leave.