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Differences from Somewhere: The Normativity of Whiteness in Bioethics in the United States

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I argue that there has been inadequate attention to and questioning of the dominance and normativity of whiteness in the cultural construction of bioethics in the United States. Therefore we risk reproducing white privilege and white supremacy in its theory, method, and practices. To make my argument, I define whiteness and trace its broader social and legal history in the United States. I then begin to mark whiteness in U.S. bioethics, recasting Renee Fox's sociological marking of its American-ness as an important initial marking of its whiteness/WASP ethos. Furthermore, I consider the attempts of social scientists to highlight sociocultural diversity as a corrective in U.S. bioethics. I argue that because they fail to problematize white dominance and normativity and the white-other dualism when they describe the standpoints of African-American, Asian-American, and Native-American others, their work merely inoculates difference and creates or maintains minoritized spaces. Accordingly, the dominant white center of mainstream U.S. bioethics must be problematized and displaced for diversity research to make a difference. In conclusion, I give several examples of how we might advance the recommended endeavor of exploring our own ethnicity, class, and other social positioning and norms operating in U.S. bioethics, briefly highlighting "white talk" as one challenge.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bioethics and Anthropology Consultation Service, Oakland, California

Publication date: 01 June 2003

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