Thanks for these great insights.
When I read this, the first thing I thought of is the long-standing idea that many white people have that they are the only ones who don’t smell. White people (not ‘all’ white people of course — just reminding them that they are the individuals the rest of us are not) smell black people and other people of color. They feel as if they smell neutral (no smell) and all others smell.
This is actually dangerous in some cases, as for example when white teachers in Ohio think black boys ‘smell’ like marijuana EVEN WHEN THEY HAVE 2 NEGATIVE LAB TESTS. I’m sure these same people don’t ever think they, or the other white people in the class, ‘smell’ at all, never mind of marijuana. (See Michael Harriot’s twitter feed for this article.) Note that in this case, the olfactory hallucinations of a white teacher jeopardize this boy’s future through the onerous stereotype that black boys are always using drugs.
Critical race theorists have long written about the tendency of white people to think they are ‘clean’ and ‘neutral’ while others are the ones who smell; Joe Feagin’s book The White Racial Frame goes into some detail about the way in which whites ‘frame’ the ‘stink’ of POC in order to convince themselves about their presumptive comparative cleanliness.
I’ve always assumed these ofactory hallucinations undergird white people’s general beliefs about their lack of need for cleanliness.
I also note that white people (not ‘all’ white people, of course) tend to think that all people should be washing their hair all the time with toxic shampoos that are practically like pure lye. I’ve repeatedly had to tell a number of white people that not all POC need to wash their hair on a minute to minute basis since not all of us create as much grease in our pores which apparently creates the ‘perfect’ hair to which all of the rest of us are meant to aspire.
Yes, I do wish they would keep these details to themselves, mostly because it reminds me of a much more important fact: that white people, by ‘smelling’ others and not themselves, continue to uphold white supremacy with their automated beliefs in their automated ‘superiority.’
These dangerous olfactory hallucinations compromise the rest of us, and in particular black boys who are ONCE AGAIN framed as drug users in order to reassure the rest of the (white)class that, yes, they are the clean white ones.