The best explanation of “white” I know of comes from Melville. He writes in Moby-Dick, “in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?” As a color and a concept, “white” is at once forbidding and provocative.
There are many rich readings of this passage that make important connections between the paradox inherent to “white” and Melville’s position on antebellum racial politics. I don’t want to diminish or trivialize its meaning. So, with my apologies: while Melville never knew the unique horror of fighting with his boyfriend over AIM at midnight on his family desktop as an angst-ridden tenth-grader in the year 2000, there is no better way to describe a chat window than a “dumb blankness, full of meaning.”
There’s a lot of fumbling in the dark that comes along with teen romance, physically and emotionally. Just as I entered my first serious relationship, AOL provided a glaring, pristine white box that held the potential to organize and illuminate it all. Mixed results. Unsullied whiteness is complicated.