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White Sight: Visual Politics and Practices of Whiteness

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff

Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

From the author of How to See the World comes a new history of white supremacist ways of seeing—and a strategy for dismantling them.

White supremacy is not only perpetuated by laws and police but also by visual culture and distinctive ways of seeing. Nicholas Mirzoeff argues that this form of “white sight” has a history. By understanding that white sight was not always common practice, we can devise better ways to dismantle it. Spanning centuries across this wide-ranging text, Mirzoeff connects Renaissance innovations—from the invention of perspective and the erection of Apollo statues as monuments to (white) beauty and power to the rise of racial capitalism dependent on slave labor—with ever-expanding surveillance technologies to show that white sight creates an oppressively racializing world, in which subjects who do not appear as white are under constant threat of violence.

Analyzing recent events like the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd and the Central Park birdwatching incident, Mirzoeff suggests that we are experiencing a general crisis of white supremacy that presents both opportunities for and threats to social justice. If we do not seize this moment to dismantle white sight, then white supremacy might surge back stronger than ever. To that end, he highlights activist interventions to strike the power of the white heteropatriarchal gaze. White Sight is a vital handbook and call to action for anyone who refuses to live under white-dominated systems and is determined to find a just way to see the world.

Nicholas Mirzoeff is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. His many books include the best-selling How to See the World and The Right to Look, and his writing has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, Hyperallergic, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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