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Whiteness: The Creation of Race

Signing of the U.S. Constitution.jpg

Signing of the U.S. Constitution
Signing of the U.S. Constitution

Explore how “white” was created, and consider how it was used as a tool to limit voting rights and political access.

When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no ‘white’ people there; nor, according to the colonial records, would there be for another sixty years.”
Theodore W. Allen, author of “The Invention of the White Race”

The Idea

The concept of “whiteness” is used constantly in historical documents, in survey and census data and in the modern media, but it was not commonly used by communities of European heritage until the 18th century. Before then, all of the European communities and nationalities were considered separate and unique, and to a certain point they still are today in Europe.

The idea for an umbrella term A word used to refer to a large variety of unique peoples, usually used to simplify a more complex subject for all of these distinct groups of people came from the desire for an expanded labor and slave trade that would not allow for rebellion. What this meant was that European colonists wanted African slave workers that would never be freed and a European lower class that would never join the slaves and fight back against the ruling class.

The Implementation

Starting in 1790, American laws began to refer to a new type of person: a “white person.” At first, this term referred mainly to people from Western European backgrounds.

As immigrants from other backgrounds began to migrate to the U.S. in large numbers over the next century and a half, many of them fought to be counted as “white.” For example, Italians, Jews, and Finns were often considered non-white when they first came to the United States (Minnesota even held a trial in 1908 to determine whether Finnish immigrants were white or ‘asiatic’).

Many of these communities fought be counted as white in order to separate themselves from oppressed groups such as American Indians and African Americans. Once they became “white”, immigrant communities were able to accrue wealth and social privilege much more easily than these non-white groups.

Some, such as German Americans, became “white” very quickly, while the racial identity of other groups is still contested today. For instance, the next Census will consider “MENA (Middle Eastern and North African)” a separate group from “white” for the first time in 100 years-- a reflection of the increasing discrimination faced by many MENA-descended people.

The Myth

The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes

Source: Vox