chapter  1
21 Pages

Whiteness as terror and supremacy

On 22 July 2005, armed British police held down and shot a man several times in an underground train at Stockwell station, South London. He had been chased into the station by detectives searching for suspects involved in the attempted bombings in London that had taken place the previous day. The police were looking for Hussain Osman, who was arrested later in Italy. Jean-Charles de Menezes was a Brazilian electrician, with a pale brown complexion and dark short curly hair. The officers’ racial misrecognition of Menezes thus resulted in his death. Regardless of where you stand on the play-off between civil liberties and public security (the incident happened a fortnight after the 7/7 bombings that had killed 52 people and injured hundreds in London) it is surely uncontroversial to posit that had Menezes been a blue-eyed blond he would not have been mistaken for a terrorist. The point of this is to demonstrate that being or not being white can be a matter of life and death, and that those on the white side of the equation generally make the decisions that mean this is so. It is the word ‘always’ in bell hooks’s formulation that transforms suspicion into systemic practice.