If I say "I am white," most people in the U.S. would think,
"That's obvious, of course you are." But the obviousness of my
being white has been shaped by a history of cultural beliefs and
practices and social, legal, and economic policies. My Jewish immigrant
ancestors of 100 years ago were seen as white by the immigration and
naturalization service in the U.S., enabling them to come here and
become citizens. But my Pennsylvania Dutch and English ancestors, who
were already here, probably saw my Russian Jewish ancestors as Jews, not
white. As did my Jewish grandparents themselves, who lived and struggled
in Jewish ghettos, not in "white" neighborhoods. I am using
this simple example to show that how and when we place someone in the
category "white" and the consequences of being in that
category --or being excluded from it--is a complex historical story, one
I refer to as the history of the social construction of whiteness.
In this paper, I hope to show that whiteness consists of a body of
knowledge, ideologies, norms, and particular practices that have been
constructed over the history of the American colonies and the U.S. with
roots in European history as well. The knowledge, ideologies, norms, and
practices of whiteness affect how we think about race, what we see when
we look at certain physical features, how we build our own racial
identities, how we operate in the world, and what we "know"
about our place in it. Whiteness is shaped and maintained by the full
array of social institutions--legal, economic, political, educational,
religious, and cultural. As individuals and in groups, affected by
whiteness, we in turn influence and shape these institutions. Thus,
whiteness is constantly evolving in response to social forces and the
constellation of people who are seen as white may change over time.
According to Theodore Allen, the knowledge, ideologies, norms, and
practices of whiteness and the accompanying "white race" were
invented in the U.S. as part of a system of racial oppression designed
to solve a particular problem in colonial Virginia. Prior to that time,
although Europeans recognized differences in the color of human skin,
they did not categorize themselves as white. I will provide more detail
later. For now, the important element of his theory is that whiteness
serves to preserve the position of a ruling white elite who benefit
economically from the labor of other white people and people of color.
Whiteness, as knowledge, ideology, norms, and practices, determines who
qualifies as "white" and maintains a race and class hierarchy
in which the group of people who qualify as white disproportionately
control power and resources, and within that group of white people, a
small minority of elite control most of the group's power and resources.
Not all studies of whiteness describe it as a system designed to
economically benefit a small elite, but most agree that racial
oppression is a key element in whiteness and that, as a group, white
people do benefit disproportionally from the race and class hierarchy
maintained by whiteness.
As individuals in the U.S., we are generally assigned a racial
identity at birth based on our appearance or on the race assigned to our
parents. Growing up, regardless of our assigned race, we are shaped by
the knowledge, ideologies, norms, and practices of whiteness, which
affect our self identity. In most cases, a casual observation is
sufficient for an observer to see us as members of our assigned racial
group. Those of us with light colored skin and certain European
features, are seen as white. But some of us who are seen as white,
through reflection on the nature of whiteness, may have decided that,
given the current meaning ascribed to the racial category
"white" and the unfair benefits we receive as members of the
white group, we don't want to identify as white. This may take many
forms, including both the desire to structure a new positive identity as
white and the desire to eliminate racial categories altogether. In any
case, there is a tension between (1) our self identity and our way of
operating in the world and the ways in which we are seen by others and
(2) the ways in which they expect us to operate. Much recent writing on
this topic attests to and explores this tension, and throughout the
history of the U.S. there have been white people who have engaged in
similar resistence to accepting their racial category, although perhaps
within different conceptual frameworks. Well documented is the
resistence of many of those categorized as people of color to accepting
the meaning ascribed to their assigned racial categories. These
tensions, this cumulative resistence to whiteness, has an impact on the
ideological, institutional, and social interactional construct of
whiteness at any moment in history. However, within the confines of this
paper, the focus will be on dominant forces working to construct
whiteness, with scant attention to oppositional or divergent forces.
This is, certainly, a failing in the approach which, without fully
examining the complex interaction of ideas and practices in play at any
moment in history, provides only an outcome-oriented picture of the
social construction of whiteness.
Also, this paper does not provide a complete history of the social
construction of whiteness, even on this one dimensional level. Instead,
the paper examines some historical events to provide examples of
whiteness being constructed. The early history of Virginia Colony
provides the foundational example, illustrating through laws passed by
the colonial assemblies how the knowledge, ideology, norms, and
practices that comprise whiteness evolved in response to the social,
economic, and political situation in that colony and ultimately resulted
in the creation of a white race. The history of immigration and
naturalization policy illustrate how the white race created in Virginia
Colony was maintained despite the entrance of people previously
unclassified as to their status as white. A look at who became land
owners in the conquered territories to the west after the Civil War
provides an example of how institutional and cultural forces reflecting
the knowledge, ideology, norms, and practices of whiteness contributed
to a system in which white people profited over people of color; postwar
suburbanization provides another. Labor history has provided numerous
examples of the construction of whiteness and this paper uses the
example of the Irish entering the workforce during the 1800s. Also in
the field of labor history, the Social Security Act, the Labor Relations
Act, and the GI Bill reveal how whiteness is constructed and maintained,
and white people benefit, through apparently neutral government policies
European Historical Basis for Whiteness
Prior to the establishment of colonial Virginia, Europeans already
had a history of viewing non-European people as different and inferior,
even questioning their humanity. The institution of slavery for African
captives was established in the Caribbean, and Spain purchased African
bond laborers to work alongside or replace the Indians they enslaved in
South and Central America with conquest. The slave trade was an
increasingly lucrative business for European nations during the
seventeenth century and became a booming business for England in the
eighteenth. Some researchers argue that European culture produced people
who needed an Other, a class of people who were inferior and
incorporated qualities rejected or even demonized by European culture,
in which case, Europeans would be predisposed to the development and
acceptance of a system of white racial privilege. These are all
interesting and important issues. Most likely, European cultural themes,
European thought patterns and psychological needs, and historical models
of slavery all contributed to the construction of whiteness, a system
designed for the specific conditions of colonial Virginia, and easily
adapted by other colonies in the U.S. In fact, the system was so well
digested that by the time of the U.S. Constitution, most of those
engaged in drafting and enacting it saw no internal conflict in adapting
a document based on liberty, equality, and the rights of men that
excluded African American lifetime bond laborers from those inalienable
rights. Liberty was, within whiteness, reserved for white people.
Virginia Colony and the Foundation for Whiteness
It is possible to trace the opening moves in the construction of
whiteness by reviewing laws passed in colonial Virginia against the
background of the corresponding economic climate. Virginia colony was
established as an English business venture. The investors planned to
profit through exploitation of the resources of the new world, which
were expected to be such items as furs, wood, and metal ore. The first
colonists were light-skinned people from England and consisted of some
investors and a larger number of laborers. Many of the laborers arrived
as limited-term bond laborers who were under contract to work for a
specified number of years for a master. They were fed and housed by the
master, but received no pay until their term was over, at which time
they expected to be rewarded for their labors through grants of land and
a small settlement of money and material goods. After a miserable
beginning, in which starvation and war with the native inhabitants
figured prominently (and the investors received none of the profits they
had hoped for), the colonists began to grow tobacco to export to
England. Tobacco proved profitable initially, the market seemed
unlimited, and everyone in Virginia turned to growing as much tobacco as
possible. Tobacco is a labor intensive crop and as the demand for
workers increased, more and more bond laborers were sent over from
England. The early survival rates were low. Few workers survived even10
years, which added to the need for labor. By the 1620s, dark-skinned
African bond laborers from the Caribbean colonies were also arriving in
Virginia. These workers were not necessarily lifetime bond laborers and
early historical documents seem to indicate that little distinction was
made between African descent (dark skinned) and European descent (light
skinned) bond laborers.
As more bond laborers survived their tenure, the number of freemen
increased. However, through a combination of factors, starting in the
1660s, land ownership evolved into increasingly large plantations for a
smaller number of rich men. Many freemen lost their small holdings, or
never received any, and were reduced to being tenant farmers or
unemployed wanderers. They became increasingly discontent with the
distribution of land and wealth in Virginia and resistence surfaced,
most notably in the famous Bacon's Rebellion of 1673. Bond laborers both
joined in and initiated their own resistence, protesting their current
situation and their future prospects. So by the late 1660s, around the
time when Virginia began to enact laws distinguishing between European
and African bond laborers, the large landowners had become an elite
group faced with an increasingly unruly populace of mostly European
small land holders and artisans, freemen without land, again mostly
European, and bond laborers, of whom one quarter were African descent.
These large landowners required a large workforce to grow, harvest, and
cure the tobacco which remained the basis of the Virginia economy. Faced
with the problem of how to maintain social control, the small ruling
elite searched for a way to defuse the potential for rebellion insofar
as possible and to create a class that would support the elite and help
suppress rebellion should it occur. To accomplish this they began to
create a system of racial oppression that would divide the laborers into
Black and white, with special privileges for the white. Further, "[b]y
a system of acts, the [Virginia] assembly did what it would to foster
the contempt of white for blacks and Indians."
One approach to dividing the bond laborers was to set different terms
for servitude. During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the
plantation owners continued to import bond labor. Around 24,000 European
bond laborers and 6,000 African bond laborers entered Virginia during
that period, but they entered under different conditions. In 1660
customary terms were shorter for bond laborers from "Christian
nations." Since no African nations were Christian, this meant that
African bond laborers served longer terms than most European bond
laborers. In 1670 non-Christian bond laborers brought by sea were to
serve their lifetime and by 1680 laws essentially ruled that all bond
laborers of African descent were to serve as lifetime bond laborers. No
Christians could be enslaved in this way. The laws were later adjusted
to ensure that no African American bond laborers would escape lifetime
servitude through converting to Christianity. By the end of the
seventeenth century, England had entered the slave trade and few
Europeans were entering Virginia as bond laborers, while Africans
arrived as lifetime bond laborers in increasing numbers.
Another approach to dividing the laboring classes was to prevent the
ties of marriage and family in specific instances. At first the laws
distinguished between bond and free status and appeared to be enacted in
the interests of securing for the owner the labor of children who were
born to bond laborers, which became increasingly important as lifetime
bonds became more common and bondedness became hereditary. For example,
a 1662 law stated that the free or bond status of a child would be
figured according to the status of the mother, in complete contradiction
of English common law. A 1664 law from Maryland that decreed that a free
woman had to take the status of her bond husband, must have served as a
strong deterrent to mixed marriages where the woman was free. But
apparently mixed marriages persisted, among both free and bond women and
men of all ethnicities. Later laws set out to specifically prevent
relationships between those of European descent and those of African
descent or Indians. In 1691 a law was enacted for the "prevention
of that abominable mixture and spurious issue" due to intermarriage
of Black, mulatto, or Indian men with "English or other white
women." A white who married a Black, mulatto, or Indian would be
banished, while the child of a free white woman and a Black man of any
status would have to spend 30 years in servitude.
A system of racial oppression was emerging, one which depended on a
distinction between white and black (or Indian) and was designed to
prevent freemen working as tenant farmers and bond laborers from making
common cause against the ruling elite, as had happened in Bacon's
rebellion. Ties of family or the existence of children with
indeterminate status as to whether they were white or black would have
impeded the workings of the system of racial oppression. Note the use of
"white" in these laws. Increasingly, "white"
replaced "Christian" or "free" in laws regulating
both bond and free men and women. This also indicates the emerging
system of racial oppression, in which an unchanging quality determines
ones social position, unlike a system in which, at least among the poor
and working classes, one might pass from free to bond labor and back to
free or might convert to Christianity.
Other laws aimed at dividing whites and Blacks by specifying special
privileges to whites or denying Blacks rights they had previously held.
For example, in 1670 a law forbid free Blacks from importing bond labor,
a severe restriction for a small land holder needing labor to work the
land. A 1705 law decreed that the livestock of African American bond
laborers was to be confiscated and given to poor white freemen, while
white bond laborers could continue to raise livestock. In 1723 the
Virginia Assembly passed a law denying the right to vote to free
African-Americans with property. Earlier laws had already prohibited
free African Americans from holding public office or witnessing against
a white person. Free African Americans were prohibited from lifting a
hand against a "Christian, not being a negro, mulatto or Indian.
This and similar laws legislated different social status for whites
and Blacks of the same economic status. Thus, over the course of fifty
years, in colonial Virginia, the system of white privilege emerged that
has lasted to this day. Allen summarizes:
The exclusion of free African-Americans from the intermediate
stratum was a corollary of the establishment of "white"
identity as a mark of social status. If the mere presumption of
liberty was to serve as a mark of social status for masses of
European-Americans without real prospects of upward social mobility,
and yet induce them to abandon their opposition to the plantocracy and
enlist them actively, or at least passively, in keeping down the Negro
bond-laborers with whom they had made common cause in the course of
Bacon's Rebellion, the presumption of liberty had to be denied to free
As the numbers of African American lifetime bond laborers increased
and the percentage of free European American laborers rose, the white
small land holders and tenant farmers were drafted into white militia,
organized to prevent African American insurrections. Systems of rewards
encouraged whites to turn in any runaways. Although whites remained
impoverished in large numbers, most felt no affinity with the African
Americans who suffered under the same system--a system that continued to
enrich the ruling elite at the expense of those in the middle and lower
classes. By the middle of the eighteenth century, poor European
Americans identified as white.
Defining Whiteness Through Immigration Policy
Immigration policy has determined who may enter the U.S. and whether
those who enter can become citizens, affecting demographics, influencing
who is seen as white, and indirectly providing economic benefits for
white people. From the beginning, a major determining factor in who was
allowed to become a naturalized citizen has been race. In 1790, the
Federal government ruled that the right to become a naturalized citizen
was reserved to "free white persons." In 1870, in response to
the granting of citizenship to freed Black lifetime bond laborers within
the U.S., a new category for those eligible for naturalized citizenship
was created--immigrants from Africa or those of African descent. This
category was clearly defined through geography, unlike the ambiguity of
the category defined by the phrase "free white persons," a
phrase that provided no geographic guidelines regarding a person's place
of origin. Over the years, until racial restrictions were removed in
1952, the court was repeatedly called on to determine who was white as
applicants of various ethnic and racial background requested citizenship
as "free white persons."
Immigration and naturalization policies were, and continue to be, a
significant factor in determining who "looks" white. As Haney
Lopez points out, such policies determined who was in the U.S., which in
turn determined what genetic stock was available to make up an
"American." Laws and social pressures also influenced
marriage. Most people are familiar with the anti-miscegenation laws, but
there were others that affected marriage as well. For example, until
1931 a woman lost her citizenship if she married a man ineligible for
citizenship. Taken together, segregation, laws restricting and
regulating marriages between white people and people of color, and
immigration and naturalization policies worked together to determine
which physical characteristics went into the mix we see as white. And
the original immigration restrictions are reflected in today's
assumptions regarding who is an American and who is a
"foreigner," a flash decision many of us make on the basis of
appearance (Blacks and whites are seen as citizens, others are often
Many immigrants, admitted as white, were not initially seen by the
general populace as white, for example, Italians. During the mass
immigrations of the late 1800s and early 1900s, within the U.S. there
was contentious, at times violent, response to the Federal government
policies that permitted people from European ethnic groups not typically
found in the U.S. to enter. Many of those already safely within the
boundaries of whiteness were not eager to accept newcomers often seen as
threatening economically and culturally. Researchers such as Jacobson
and Ignatiev provide a fascinating story of the construction of
whiteness among competing European ethnic groups during that period, a
topic which will be discussed later. This struggle was enacted amidst
the turmoil of industrialization and the dissolution of slavery with the
ensuing structuring of a new methods for maintaining racial oppression.
The point here is that once those who were judged white for immigration
purposes were here, they became citizens and despite possible hostile
reception, had the opportunity to gradually adopt the ideologies, norms,
and practices of whiteness, to be accepted as white, and to become
entitled to the accompanying systemic advantages. Those who applied as
white but were judged to be non-white, East Indians, for example, were
refused the right to become naturalized citizens, denied the privileges
awarded white citizens (voting, for example), and were not given the
same chances to be assimilated as white.
Immigration policy is further reflected in ideology that holds white
people capable of becoming good citizens who are full participants in a
democratic system, and constructs all others as less qualified, as
lacking the essential qualities that are required for responsible
citizenship. In writing of the import of the court cases which decided
who could qualify as white, Haney Lopez writes:
T o be [non-white] meant one was unfit for naturalization, while to
be [white] defined one as suited for citizenship. This stark division
necessarily also carried important connotations regarding, for
example, agency, moral authority, intelligence, and belonging. To be
unfit for naturalization--that is, to be non-White--implied a certain
degeneracy of intellect, morals, self-restraint, and political values;
to be suited for citizenship--to be White--suggested moral maturity,
self assurance, personal independence, and political sophistication.
Immigration policies also helped construct the economic dimensions of
whiteness. Some states, notably California, restricted land ownership to
citizens. This meant that Armenian immigrants, for instance, who had
been ruled white in 1909, could purchase land, begin farming, and
establish themselves as stable members of the local farming community.
Japanese immigrants, as non-citizens, were denied the right to purchase
land, which meant they worked as farm laborers or tenant farmers,
postponing the possibility of farm ownership until the next generation,
by which time they were already seen as poor migrants or marginal
members of the community.
The history of the Chinese in the western U.S. also provides examples
of how whiteness works to economically advantage white people. Chinese
workers, mostly men, were admitted to the U.S. during the mid and
late1800s to perform the hard manual labor required in setting up the
infrastructure needed for the U.S. expansion. Chinese built railways,
controlled and damned rivers, drained marshes, and cleared land. Some
Chinese workers desired to stay in the U.S. and become U.S. citizens.
However, Federal courts ruled, in two separate cases, that Chinese were
not white. Later, as the need for workers decreased, barred from
citizenship and buying land, many still attempted to remain, settling
down as merchants or service providers with plans for bringing their
wives from China and building family and community in the U.S. But an
economic recession interceded. Lawmakers warned "that the presence
of an 'industrial army of Asiatic laborers' was exacerbating class
conflict between labor and capital within white society." Faced
with social unrest, the ruling elite moved to assure white workers that
they would retain the privileges associated with being white. With the
Chinese laborers no longer needed for capitalist expansion, the
government rewrote immigration policy to exclude Chinese people
entirely. Without the possibility of a next generation of native born
citizens and denied the right of naturalized citizenship, the Chinese
community was excluded from political participation and restricted in
their economic and social participation in the U.S. Again, the
boundaries of whiteness were constructed by exclusion.
Mexican farm workers and service workers have been similarly
exploited. Shifting from one side to the other of the whiteness
boundary, Mexican Americans have never been fully accepted as white.
Today, immigration policy only allows a small number to enter the U.S.,
either as immigrants or resident aliens. However, because agribusiness,
factories, and food and service industries desire and will employ
Mexican (and Central and South American) workers, they enter illegally.
Popular discourse then constructs these Mexican and Latino undocumented
workers as criminal elements, "illegals" who do not belong
here. The strength of this discourse is such that Mexicans and Latinos
who are citizens or legal immigrants, but do not "look" white,
are often also seen as not belonging. The current census, with its
categories for Hispanic and non-Hispanic white, reveals the ambivalence
surrounding Mexican and Latino assimilation as white.
Haney Lopez writes about how immigration laws have given a physical
form to the U.S. citizenry.
… the categories of White and non-White became tangible when
certain persons were granted citizenship and others were excluded. A
"white" citizenry took on physical form, in part because of
the demographics of migration, but also because of the laws and cases
proscribing non-White naturalization and immigration. The idea of a
White country, given ideological and physical effect by law, has
provided the basis for contemporary claims regarding the European
nature of the United State, where "European" serves as a
not-so-subtle synonym for White. In turn, the notion of a White nation
is used to justify arguments for restrictive immigration laws designed
to preserve this supposed national identity.
The dualism inherent in whiteness is clearly illustrated in the
foregoing discussion of immigration policy. There are only two
categories that matter--white and non-white. Whiteness is defined by
determining who is not white; it is defined as the superior opposite of
non-white. Thinking back to colonial Virginia, this is a logical
extension of a system which created value in whiteness by associating it
with liberty and concurrently denying liberty to those defined as
non-white. And, as Haney Lopez demonstrates at length, the court
decisions illustrate that whiteness is a socially constructed concept.
Even as many in the scientific community during the nineteenth century
struggled to create a scientific basis for a white supremacist system,
the task proved impossible. The courts based their decisions on
scientific opinion when it suited them and on "common sense"
when it did not, determining who could be seen as white and would be
allowed to benefit from that categorization.
Building Whiteness with Land and Real Estate
The availability of land, policies affecting the acquiring and
retaining of homes, and segregation, whether imposed by law or through
other institutions, are central to perpetuating white economic
advantage, maintaining ideologies that devalue people of color, and
constructing images of white people and how they live in the U.S. This
section uses the examples of homesteading and suburbanization to
illustrate the complex relationship between property ownership and
whiteness. In the most basic way, owning one's home provides a sense of
security, one that is reinforced if land suitable for
growing crops and raising livestock surrounds it. That this sense of
security is illusionary has been illustrated abundantly throughout U.S.
history as people have lost their homes and farms in times of economic
hardship. But throughout this same history, even the opportunity to
attempt that security has often been a privilege reserved to white
Western Expansion and White Land Ownership
The Homestead Act was enacted in 1862 to regulate how the lands taken
from the Indian nations that had previously inhabited them would be
distributed among the colonizers. Policies hammered out eight years
earlier determined who would be eligible to homestead public lands. At
that time, anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions fighting over the
extension of slavery to new territories had settled on an act that
limited the land to citizens or those who intended to become citizens
and left the issue of slavery to be decided by the new citizens of the
territories. Advocates for equal rights of women managed to have women
included as those eligible to be homesteaders. Homesteading thus became
a right granted to white people, until after the Civil War when African
Americans became citizens. However, at that time, other factors largely
prevented them from staking claims in the new territories.
When the Civil War ended, land was an issue of overriding concern to
the newly freed African Americans. Promises of forty acres and a mule
never materialized and the small amount of land that was distributed by
Sherman was later taken back and restored to the plantation owners.
Presented with the challenge of restoring a system of racial oppression
from which they could benefit economically, defeated Southern planters
eventually succeeded in ending and reversing Reconstruction and forcing
African Americans back into a form of near slavery--tenant peonage, or
sharecropping. Allen, viewing the events through his theory of racial
oppression for social control, writes that freedom could no longer serve
as a defining characteristic of whiteness, the carrot of the social
control strategy. Accordingly, the Southern bourgeoisie re-established
the social control system of racial oppression "based on racial
privileges for laboring class 'whites' with regard to 'free' land,
immigration, and industrial employment." The privileges of free
land and immigration are illustrated through the phenomenon known as the
Newly freed African Americans, denied any opportunities to own land
in the South, turned to the new territories of Kansas, Indiana, and
Illinois. Many thousand immigrated and found places for themselves,
although most did not have the financial resources necessary to
homestead. The immigration was organized into a movement. At its peak
98,000 African Americans were planning to immigrate. Faced with the loss
of their workforce, the Southern planters moved to prevent the exodus.
They used a combination of murder, threat, harassment, and denial of
passage across the Mississippi. On the other end, whites prevented the
Black immigrants from landing or drove them out of town. Southern whites
and other white immigrants moving into the territories were not
bothered, demonstrating that it was not a lack of land that prompted the
hostility to Black settlers but an aversion to living among Black
settlers as equals. The right of homesteading was to remain a white
privilege, enforced through white violence. Northern commercial
interests also wanted to retain black labor for the south. For example,
the New York Commercial Bulletin printed "Can the South or the
North be benefited by encouraging the migration of that labor upon which
our chief commercial crop [cotton] is dependent?" Thus Black
Americans remained largely landless, at the mercy of white landlords,
and unable to accumulate any economic assets after the end of slavery,
as they had been prevented for the preceding 200 years.
As mentioned earlier, although Mexican Americans have at times been
granted legally the status of white, this status has never been fully
accepted by other white Americans. Thus, the history of Mexican land
grants following the Mexican war provides another example of
constructing the economic foundations and geographic boundaries of
whiteness on exclusion. Even though according to the treaty that ended
the war, Mexican land grant titles were to be recognized as valid,
Congress never enacted the relevant provisions and white settlers,
backed by legal, economic, and government institutions purposefully
wrested these lands away from their previously Mexican, now American,
owners. The methods employed included disputing claims and tying things
up in court for years, changing the system of taxation such that cattle
ranchers with large spreads couldn't afford the taxes, squatting on land
and destroying crops, and sometimes outright intimidation to force the
owner to leave. Although at the time of the Mexican war, many
well-established, even wealthy, Mexican families lived amid a rich
culture in the Southwest, a large percentage were forced down into
landless poverty by these tactics. The terrain of whiteness now held
"hard working" white European American ranchers assisted by
"those with less initiative and suited only to manual labor,"
the not-white Mexican American ranch hands. Similarly, Mexican Americans
who attempted to stake claims in the mining areas of California often
found that their claims were not recognized by white miners, who drove
them off. Prevented from staking their own claims, Mexican Americans
were hired for the back breaking work of excavating white-owned mines in
These examples--the Homestead Act, virtual imprisonment of African
Americans within the Southern states, and white monopoly on land
ownership in the Southwest--show that many institutional and cultural
forces worked together to reserve the right to own land to white people
during the westward expansion. During this period many European
Americans and European immigrants were acquiring property in the Western
territories and, eventually, the new states. Of course, not all whites
homesteaded or bought property, but it could serve as a dream, a
possibility. Today we think of "pioneers" as white folks,
another part of the ideology of whiteness, which depicts whites as
adventuresome, hard working risk-takers, central actors in the expansion
of the U.S. The economic assets accrued by those who were able to hold
onto their land (a large percentage succumbed to debt and were
foreclosed on) must surely have benefited the white community materially
as well. The simplistic picture presented here leaves out many important
actors in the construction of whiteness as it relates to landholding
during this period. For example, economic policies and institutions such
as banks, large industrialists such as the railroads, the promulgation
of the Manifest Destiny doctrine, and more. But the broad brush strokes
do reveal important features of the landscape.
Today we inhabit a landscape in which urban and suburban areas figure
more prominently than rural areas. Urban areas are commonly understood
to contain ghettos where people of color struggle amid crime and poverty
while in the suburbs white families raise children in a clean and
pleasant setting. This situation is accepted as a reflection of the hard
work and conscientious saving of European Americans over the years,
enabling them to "make it to the suburbs" leaving behind those
who hadn't been able to "get it together." However, as with
the previous examples of how white ownership of mid-Western and Western
lands was shaped by more than individual initiative, the whiteness of
suburbia was no accident. Suburbanization began after W.W. II, partially
in response to the post-war housing crisis. I remember moving to our new
home in the San Fernando Valley in 1950 as a five year old. Brand new
homes, a brand new elementary school, and a brand new shopping center
were surrounded on three sides by dairies, chicken farms, horse ranches,
and small semi-rural residences. Everyone in my school was white and
Christian. I was the only Jew I knew of in the neighborhood. Not far
away was another neighborhood where everything was older, even shabby,
and the people were Mexican American.
Of course, I never questioned this racial segregation, and if I had
thought about it when I got a little older I probably would have guessed
that only those who could "afford" it lived in my
neighborhood. But in actuality the racial boundaries were shaped by
Federal policies, agencies such as the FHA (Federal Housing Authority)
and VA (Veterans Administration), banks, and real estate developers. The
FHA and VA were key agencies after the war in making it possible for
young, first time buyers to enter the housing market. The FHA also
loaned money to builders, to enable them to build large tracts of
low-cost housing. Many city dwellers who had previously been unable to
buy were able to buy in the suburbs with a lower monthly housing expense
than they had had as renters. The massive federal program for highway
building provided the roads needed to link the suburbs to the urban
centers. Theoretically, VA loans were available to all GIs and the FHA
was intended to assist all first time buyers, but African Americans were
seldom able to obtain loans. And even if African Americans had been able
to obtain a loan, most suburban developments had restrictive covenants,
which meant owners were blocked from selling to people of color, and
often Jews as well. As Brodkin describes it:
The FHA believed in racial segregation. Throughout its history, it
publicly and actively promoted restrictive covenants. Before the war,
these forbade sales to Jews and Catholics as well as to African
Americans. . . . FHA underwriting manuals openly insisted on racially
homogenous neighborhoods, and their loans were made only in white
neighborhoods. . . . With the federal government behind them, virtually
all developers refused to sell to African Americans.
Blocked from entering suburbia, why didn't African Americans and
others use FHA and VA loans to purchase property in cities? These
agencies, as well as most banks, followed a practice called redlining.
Neighborhoods were rated according to the risk associated with investing
in them. High ratings went to white areas, particularly suburbs or
wealthy urban areas. The lowest ratings (red) went to mixed, non-white,
or working class neighborhoods or neighborhoods in transition. This
meant that loans were not available for purchasing homes in ethnic,
working class neighborhoods. So white middle class and working class
people, many of them from ethnic groups not considered fully white
before W.W. II, were able to become homeowners and began a process of
asset building. Working-class and middle-class people of color were
blocked from purchasing homes, either in suburbia or in urban centers.
Those who did already own homes in the cities were unable to secure
loans for home improvements. As an additional blow, the Federal
government began to implement urban renewal, which tore down entire
neighborhoods or separated them with newly constructed freeways, leaving
a blasted landscape where those who remained struggled to rebuild
community. What had once been working class ethnic neighborhoods were
now urban ruins. Brodkin comments "[those left behind] faced an
ideological assault that labeled their neighborhoods slums and called
Segregation is usually associated with the Jim Crow South, but as the
previous examples illustrate, segregation has been created throughout
the U.S. as the outcome of a variety of factors--homestead acts,
terrorism and violence, immigration policies, guidelines followed by
mortgage institutions, and real estate development programs such as
urban renewal, among others. Segregation constructs whiteness in
numerous dimensions. On the level of social interactions, segregation
makes it possible for many white people to lives their lives with few
interactions of any kind with people of color and often no peer or
friendship relationships. This isolation encourages the perpetuation of
white supremacist ideologies and continues the invisibility of white
cultural and behavioral norms. Hale argues that segregation developed in
the South as a means of removing visible signs of black success as the
increasing numbers of educated, middle-class African Americans
challenged white Southerners' belief that blacks were suited only to
slavery. Not only did white people continue to inhabit the
"better" parts of town, but forcing all black people to use
inferior facilities meant even uneducated, poor whites could continue to
feel superior to educated, well-spoken blacks. Within whiteness, white
people feel entitled to live in safe, clean, well-maintained
neighborhoods and believe that such neighborhoods are a reflection of
the quality people living in them--white people. (Of course, what white
people felt entitled to they didn't necessarily receive.)
Northern segregation has a similar effect. Because of segregation,
white people seldom enter middle-class neighborhoods of
African-Americans or other people of color. Suburban middle-class and
working-class whites may enter, or rather pass through, the urban
working class and poor neighborhoods when work or entertainment brings
them to the city. The poverty and homelessness they see on the streets
can remain the only image they have of non-white neighborhoods, an image
reinforced by the media. As adults, many white people attest to the
enormous impact of their first views of people of color, as poverty
stricken figures amidst urban blight, a view sometimes provided by
parents who drove them to the slums in order to show them how
"those people live." And much as immigration affected what
white "looks like" by affecting who those already defined as
white were able or likely to produce children with, so segregation
clearly defines who is white and makes it less likely for borders to be
crossed. Haney Lopez writes that the segregation laws increased the
stability of racial categories by fixing mutable racial lines in terms
of relatively immutable boundaries.
Those geographic boundaries drawn around various ethnic, racial, and
economic classes as a result of economic and government policies also
have an economic impact on the construction of whiteness. As discussed
earlier in regard to the post-W.W. II era, whites had the benefit of
policies which facilitated home ownership. They were assisted in buying
a home in white suburbs and beginning the on-going process of
accumulating assets. They also benefited from the superior services such
as schools, recreation centers, and cultural facilities associated with
stable, white suburban neighborhoods. People of color, especially
African Americans, who managed to obtain property, had to buy in mixed
neighborhoods or neighborhoods with largely people of color. Property in
such neighborhoods is valued below property in all white neighborhoods;
or, to put it another way, white neighborhoods are valued more by
economic institutions, real estate agencies, and certainly by white
homebuyers. So property of most people of color does not appreciate at
the same rates as that purchased by white people in white neighborhoods
and, if purchased in a changing neighborhood, may depreciate in value if
more white people move out. In this way, whiteness is socially
constructed to economically benefit white people. Today "white
flight" and suburbanization continue, but gentrification is another
factor in establishing neighborhood demographics. How are the economic,
social, and political forces behind gentrification constructing
whiteness in the twenty first century? This is a question that deserves
to be studied.
Whiteness Enforced and Revealed in the Labor Arena
Beginning in colonial Virginia, the primary benefits to being white
were found in the labor arena. The desire for economically rewarding
work has often been the enticement held out to white people to forge
their acceptance and support of a system of racial oppression. This
section exposes these issues through the example of the Irish immigrants
assimilation into the workforce and a consideration of prominent U.S.
labor and welfare policies.
Defining a White Man Through His Work
Many researchers have studied labor history as a means of
understanding both the construction of whiteness and how whiteness, in
maintaining a system of racial oppression, shapes the struggles of
working people. The privileges and economic benefits of whiteness are
frequently offered in the labor arena, benefits which on closer
inspection often reveal how a small wealthy elite uses whiteness to
maintain its position.
Early in the eighteenth century, in the process of creating a system
of racial oppression the Southern colonies began to pass laws securing
certain job-related privileges to white workers simply for being white.
Such laws, for example, required that plantations using Black lifetime
bond laborers employ at least a minimum percentage of "white
persons," barred Black workers from certain types of employment,
and regulated apprenticeship such that, with some exceptions, only white
workers learned skilled trades. By the middle of the eighteenth century,
white workers were claiming these privileges for themselves. "The
efforts of White artisans to keep free Negros and slaves from entering
the skilled trades" radiated from Charleston "to every sizable
town on the Atlantic coast." Within the system of racial oppression
being established in the U.S. white workers were encouraged to blame
enslaved and working class African Americans, not wealthy planters and
merchants, for lack of employment or depressed wages, a pattern repeated
throughout American history. In addition, within this system white
workers understood certain trades to be reserved for them alone, and
that they were entitled to the work.
The masses of immigrants from Europe who entered the U.S. in a wave
beginning in the early 1800s and cresting at the end of the century
entered a system in which being white entitled one to certain
work-related benefits. The industrial revolution was transforming the
U.S. during the nineteenth century, requiring manual labor to create the
infrastructure of canals and railroads; load, unload, and move cargo,
and perform a variety of unskilled tasks. This type of labor, typically
seen by whites as work suited to Black lifetime bond laborers or Chinese
wage laborers, was often undertaken by new immigrants. Immigrants also
moved into the new factory positions, filling the textile mills of the
Northeast. Many native white male workers looked down on this as waged
labor and on the people who took the factory jobs. A high percentage of
native white male workers left industrializing areas and moved on west,
working in livestock, lumbering, or farming. Brodkin writes that the
European immigrants who "took their places as the masses of
'unskilled' and residentially ghettoized industrial workers … found
that they were being classified as members of specific and inferior
European races, and for almost half a century, they were treated as
In How the Irish Became White, Ignatiev details the
construction of whiteness for one ethnic group from the early 1800s
through the Civil War. Early immigrant Irish men entered the workforce
as laborers, working on the canals and railroads and taking on dangerous
work "white workers" wouldn't take. With the flood of
immigration beginning with the Irish Famine (1845), the Irish began to
move into work traditionally performed by free blacks--industrial and
service occupation such as longshoring, coachmen, housemaids, waiters in
restaurants. They got a start by undercutting the African American
workers' wages. By the 1850s Irish had made major inroads into these
occupations. The lower wages may have been a start but doesn't fully
explain how, by the 1860s, Irish controlled, for example, drayage and
longshore work in New York City. They also had a firm place in trade
unions, for example, the boilermakers, masons, stone cutters,
bricklayers, printers, coopers, and more. In Philadelphia they dominated
construction trades. Ignatiev argues that the success of these Irish
male workers was made possible, in part, through the U.S. system of
The political context for the Irishmen's climb into the skilled
trades includes the increasing controversy over slavery. Having lost the
support of many Northern merchants and industrialists, the Southern
slaveholders recognized the need of obtaining Northern labor support.
They enlisted this support through the Democratic party. It was anti-nativist,
which attracted the Irish. But together with the party's plank for an
open door to immigration came a pro-slavery plank. In support of
slavery, the party stirred up fears that freed slaves would mobilize to
take over white men's jobs. In 1844, Henry Clay of Virginia gave
instructions for the writing of a pamphlet to be used in his campaign
[T]he great aim . . . should be to arouse the [white] laboring
classes in the free States against abolition. Depict the consequences to
them of immediate abolition; they [emancipated African Americans] being
freed would enter into competition with the free labor; with the
American, the Irish, the German; reduce his wages; be confounded with
him; reduce his moral and social standing. . ."
As the Democratic party began to gain political power, party members
were rewarded through labor contracts and employment. Once the Irish had
a foothold, gained through political patronage or undercutting wages,
they utilized various tactics to drive remaining African American
workers off the job and bring in more Irish. For example, continuing the
practice begun in colonial times, Irish and other European American
workers refused to work with black workers. This was particularly
effective in driving skilled black artisans and mechanics out of the
trades and during the period from 1830 to the Civil War the
socioeconomic position of free blacks deteriorated, in part because of
this practice. The Irish also used violence and threats of violence to
force African Americans out of the workforce. Ignatiev documents
numerous attacks by the Irish on free blacks in Philadelphia. These were
orchestrated examples of terrorism in which homes of working and middle
class black families were targeted and burned. White violence against
African Americans backed up Irish claims to traditionally African
American held jobs.
The history of the Irish men finding and fighting their way into the
trades illustrates how whiteness creates a world where newcomers see two
choices--become white and gain economic benefits or remain
not-quite-white, with grim economic prospects and the same social
position as degraded Blacks. In fact, the value attached to whiteness
becomes reflected in the value attached to specific occupations. As in
colonial Virginia, skilled trades were reserved for white workers, so in
New York and Philadelphia and Boston in the second half of the
nineteenth century, the Irish could increase the value of occupations
such as longshoring or masonry by driving out black workers. Ignatiev
argues that a white man gets part of his identity from doing "white
men's work." White men's work is work that black men don't perform.
Brodkin also explores the concept of "white" work in
documenting which ethnicities performed various kinds of skilled and
unskilled labor during the period from 1880 into the 1920s.
"White" workers performed more skilled labor, while
non-skilled, hard and dirty work was reserved for non-white workers,
including "Hunkies" or "Italians" or other European
groups not yet enfolded into whiteness as fully white. In a phenomenon
similar to attaching increased value to real estate in all white
neighborhoods, jobs held by white people are better paid and provide
higher social standing than those performed by people of color or
not-yet-white European immigrants. And once a job becomes white man's
work, Black workers are driven out.
The construction of whiteness is revealed in studies of working class
history because it is the working class, particularly the marginal
workers or unskilled workers, who comprise the social control group that
Allen theorizes as necessary to any system of racial oppression. This is
the group near the bottom of the economic hierarchy that remains allied
with the ruling elite through accepting the privileges and benefits they
receive from them, privileges and benefits denied to those in the
oppressed class--the bottom of the economic hierarchy that performs the
most menial and devalued jobs. As the gatekeepers to upward mobility,
the white working class is the group that adapts and responds to those
demanding admittance. Within the knowledge, ideologies, norms, and
practices of whiteness, the advantages to being seen as white are
evident, thus providing impetus for immigrants who can to assimilate
into the dominant culture and become white. This brief look at some
areas of interest in nineteenth century labor history is meant to
suggest ways in which whiteness is constructed through the economic
forces of waged labor and how, in turn, waged labor is shaped by
whiteness, a process which is, of course, far more complex than
Impact of Government Programs and Policies
Government economic and political policies affecting workers also
construct whiteness. The Social Security Act of 1935 is an important
example. The act was designed by corporate leaders and experts working
in think tanks financed by Rockefeller money and grew out of a need for
corporations to control the labor market and make it more efficient.
Largely as a concession to Southern plantation capitalists, agricultural
workers were excluded from the provisions of the act. This exclusion
especially affected people of color, who worked disproportionately as
agricultural workers. Brodkin discusses some ideologies invoked in the
public arena during the debate surrounding the passage of the Social
Security Act and revisions proposed a couple years later. First, wages
sufficient to support a family were seen as belonging to men. Despite
the fact that many women worked, their contributions necessary to the
family, a "successful" man could support his family by
himself. But, Brodkin states, "The idea that a man's wage should
allow him to support children and a non-wage-earning wife was never
meant to apply to nonwhite men." In fact, she sees the whiteness
and maleness of white men's work as inseparable. Unskilled factory work
or hard manual labor was not seen as manly work but as suited to women
or "boys." White men working in the trades, skilled
occupations, or in middle-class bureaucratic or management positions,
felt entitled to a wage that could support their family, and public
discourse and policy reflected this sense of entitlement.
Public programs designed to compensate for the loss of male
breadwinners' jobs (and which tacitly acknowledged that the capitalist
labor market does not always work as it should) were available in
practice to white men only. Thus for much of its history, unemployment
insurance excluded from coverage many of the industries, such as
agriculture and domestic labor, in which men of color and women have
The National Labors Relations Act of 1935, which affirmed the right
of workers to form unions, also exempted agricultural, seasonal, and
domestic workers from its provisions. Other provisions of the law
encouraged unions to form around trades, not across a given industry.
This had the effect of separating the white men in the skilled trades
from other workers in a plant or factory, keeping labor divided along
race lines and less united in struggles with management. Protective
labor laws, designed to prevent abuses of industrial workers, also
excluded domestic and agricultural work. In all these cases, economic
and political forces combined with dominant racial and gendered beliefs
about work to privilege white male workers, reinforcing beliefs about
the social importance and value of their jobs and their own entitlement
as white men to a living wage. These invisible assets are woven into the
stories of white success in which individual hard work pays off, and
they remain unacknowledged as white workers blame people of color
themselves for their poverty and lack of advancement.
The GI Bill of Rights is another example of an invisible asset of
white male workers. Brodkin describes it as "the most massive
affirmative action program in history" --one that helped European
American men. The bill provided financial support during job searches,
small loans for starting up businesses, home loans, and financial
assistance for attending colleges and technical schools, including
tuition and living expenses. It was enacted at the end of W.W. II when
massive numbers of soldiers were returning to the workforce, war
production was closing down, and the economic boom that would require
increasing numbers of managerial, technical, and clerical workers was
just beginning. The bill is particularly associated with college
education. Eight million GIs, the vast majority of whom were white, took
advantage of the educational benefits to attend college after the war.
The benefits of the bill were theoretically available to all who served
in the armed forces during the war, yet "[t]he military, the
Veterans Administration, the U.S. Employment Services (USES), and the
Federal Housing Administration effectively denied African American GIs
access to their benefits and to the new educational, occupational, and
residential opportunities." Examples of how these institutions
denied educational and occupational benefits African American GIs
include the disproportionately high dishonorable discharge rates of
Black soldiers serving under white officers (those with a dishonorable
discharge did not get any benefits); racism of agency officials who
failed to perform their duties; white racist violence against Black
servicemen; the overcrowding of Black colleges and the unwillingness of
white colleges to accept African Americans; and failure of the USES to
refer African Americans to other than unskilled jobs or their failure to
pressure employers to hire them as skilled or professional workers.
These were among the factors that kept black GIs from benefiting from
the opportunities for economic and professional advancement white men
benefited from. Women, who also served during the war in war industry
and in the armed forces, similarly found themselves laid off from
well-paid jobs to "make place for men who need work" or denied
the benefits of the GI Bill. During the post-war period of prosperity in
the 50s and 60s, many white men, including those, such as Jews, who had
previously not been considered fully white, were constructed as members
of the white middle class--the real-life counterparts to the dominant
50s image of whiteness given in the Dick and Jane readers the newly
suburban white families' children grew up on.
Who Gets Blamed in Hard Times
The anti-affirmative action movement of today is an obvious outcome
of the policies and ideologies historically shaping whiteness in the
labor arena. These policies and ideologies have encouraged white men's
belief in their entitlement to work, have constructed certain trades as
white men's work, and have created a tendency for workers to see a
threat to their employment in non-white people. Today as the policies of
increasing globalization remove jobs from the American economy, white
men forced out of work or working in lower paid positions, don't look to
the corporations as the cause. Instead, as the job pool shrinks, the
white working class argues that unqualified people of color are taking
their jobs. With their privilege to earn a living wage being threatened,
white men react by demanding that the privilege be reinforced, not by
new government and economic policies that will lead to full employment,
but by targeting immigrants and people of color. Without an
understanding of how their favored economic standing is a result of a
system of racial oppression designed to benefit the capitalist owners,
white workers tend to see themselves as individual actors who worked
hard to get where they are and to feel they deserve it.
There are many white people who live in poverty, either under
employed or unemployed. Yet whiteness keeps them largely invisible to
working class and middle class whites. I do not intend to imply that all
white workers have benefited equally from the economic advantages
whiteness provides in the labor market. However, within whiteness, even
those who have received little benefit, often accept the knowledge,
ideologies, norms, and practices of whiteness, and then find their
failure to succeed a personal failure, accepting their status of white
as an indication of their innate worth, which they have not lived up to.
As with the previous sections, the examples given here are but a few of
many and are presented somewhat one-dimensionally, without the full
context of the many cultural, ideological, social, political, and
economic forces in play.
Where to Go From Here
I wrote this paper to bring awareness to the complex array of forces
that comprise whiteness and that have worked together to create
"white" people and then distinguish them from non-white people
throughout the course of American history and continuing today. The
social construction of whiteness does not proceed along only one front,
but is occurring constantly in the social, cultural, economic,
political, legal, educational, and economic arena. I have touched on
only a few arenas in which whiteness is constructed: land and home
ownership and labor within the economic arena, creation of a racial
system of social stratification in colonial Virginia and immigration to
the U.S. within the legal arena, and all of these as affected by
government policies and institutions within the political arena. Notably
absent from this paper are examples of how whiteness is constructed and
maintained within educational institutions, the judicial and penal
system, electoral politics and voting, and health care. And even as I
refer to these various arenas, using common vocabulary that breaks down
our society as a whole into distinct parts, I am aware that nothing ever
takes place in one arena only. Legal decisions on immigration that were
decided in the courts were affected by what was happening, for example,
in the economic, educational, and social spheres as well. Essentially,
the few examples I did present were simplified, are intended as an
introduction, an encouragement for the reader to continue reading and
There is certainly no one "right" interpretation of how
whiteness is constructed.. What remains undeniable is the inequitable
distribution of wealth and income, and the inequitable distribution of
power, defined as the ability to influence outcome. The distribution is
inequitable in regard to race, and also within the "white"
category (and other racial categories as well). Those of us who choose
to work for social justice, for a more equitable distribution of wealth,
income, and power, can benefit from an understanding of how we have
arrived at the current situation. We also need to understand how
whiteness is constantly shifting, remaking itself as necessary to
counter our efforts to undermine the system of racial oppression at its
As a white, middle-class woman I'm finding that my study of white
privilege and the social construction of whiteness is, contrary to what
many white people assume, not at all guilt inducing. Rather, the more I
learn, the better qualified I feel to engage with the dominant culture
in an effort to rewrite the script that is laid out for me. Or rather, I
am tearing up my script and looking to others on both sides of the
white/non-white boundary to help create a new one for all of us.
Globalizing corporate capitalism is spreading whiteness around the
world, much as colonialism and imperialism did in previous centuries.
Social justice, environmentalist, and peace activists are really all
engaged in the same struggle. I'm suggesting, as one tool in our tool
belt, we use a framework from within which we look for whiteness in any
given social issue. Then we analyze the balances and tensions in the
ongoing construction of whiteness represented by that instance. This
understanding will aid us in strategizing, in figuring out where to
bring our energy so as to shift those balances and tensions in the favor
of harmony and justice among all people.
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1. 0 For example, see Christine Clark
& James O'Donnell, Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and
Disowning a Racial Identity, Bergin & Garvey (1999); Dalton
Conley, Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social
Policy in America, University of California Press (1999); Joe Feagin,
Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations,
Routledge (2000); Ruth Frankenberg, The Social Construction of
Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters, University of Minnesota Press
(1993); Michael Omi & Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the
United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, Routledge (1994); Paula
Rothenberg, Invisible Privilege: A Memoir About Race, Class, and
Gender, University of Kansas (2000); Thandeka, Learning to Be
White: Money, Race, and God in America, Continuum (2000).
2. 0 For example, K. Anthony Appiah
& Amy Gutmann, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race, Princton
University Press (1996); Maurice Berger, White Lies, Farrar,
Strauss and Giroux (1999); Chris J. Cuomo & Kim Q. Hall, Whiteness:
Feminist Philosophical Reflections, Rowman & Littlefield (2000);
Peter McLaren, Unthinking Whiteness, Rethinking Democracy: Critical
Citizenship in Gringolandia, in Clark & O'Donnell, Id..; Aurura
Levins Morales, Medicine Stories, South End (1998); Becky
Thompson & Sangeeta Tyagi, Names We Call Home: Autobiography on
Racial Identity, Routledge (1996).
3. 0 For example, popular college texts
such as Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror, Little, Brown and
4. 0 Marimba Ani, Yorugu: An
African-Centered Critique of European Thought and Cultural Behavior, Africa
World Press (1994); Thomas F. Gossett, Race: the History of an Idea
in America, Southern Methodist University Press (1963).
5. 0 Ani, Id; Richard Dyer, White,
Routledge (1997); Joel Kovel, White Racism: A Psychohistory,
6. 0 I use the terms limited-term bond
laborer and lifetime bond laborer in preference over the terms
indentured servant and slave in part because the former more clearly
indicate the similarities and differences between the two forms of
labor. I prefer lifetime bond labor over slave because "slave"
dehumanizes the person enslaved, as if the only aspect of that person
worthy of note is his or her condition of servitude.
7. 0 Theodore W. Allen, The
Invention of the White Race Vol 2, Verso (1997), p. 38.
8. 0 Allen, 1997; Edmund S.Morgan, American
Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, W.W.
Norton @ Company (1975).
9. 0 Morgan, Id., p. 330.
10. 0 Allen, 1997, supra note 7., p.
11. 0 Catholics were not considered
Christian, including the Irish Catholics, many of whom who were sent as
bond laborers to the Carribean and Virginia Colony.
12. 0 Morgan, supra note 8, p. 329.
13. 0 Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p.
14. 0 Allen, 1997, Id., p. 197.
15. 0 Allen, 1997, Id. p. 134.
16. 0 Allen, 1997, Id.
17. 0 Allen, 1997, Id., p. 251.
18. 0 Morgan, supra note 8, p. 335.
19. 0 Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p.
20. 0 Morgan, supra note 8, p. 333.
21. 0 Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p.
22. 0 Allen,1997, Id., p. 250.
23. 0 See Allen, 1997, supra note 7,
and Morgan, supra note 8, for a thorough presentation on these and many
24. 0 Allen, 1997, Id., p. 249.
25. 0 Allen, 1997, Id., p. 252.
26. 0 Allen, 1997, Id..
27. 0 Morgan, supra note 8, p. 369..
28. 0 Ian F. Haney Lopez, White by
Law: The Legal Construction of Race, New York University
Press(1996), p. 1.
29. 0 Haney Lopez, Id.. p. 46.
30. 0 Haney Lopez, Id. This law was
clearly an example of sexism as well as racism, since no similar law
affected men who were U.S. citizens.
31. 0 Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness
of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race,
Harvard University Press, (1998), writes how Italians were described in
the press as being of a different, savage, race. He cites a journalist
from the 1890s responding to the question, "Is an Italian a white
man?" with "No sir. An Italian is a Dago" (p. 56).
Jacobson also describes how, particuarly in the South, Italians often
found community with Blacks, and documents lynchings of Italians that
were justified along racial grounds.
32. 0 Those who entered as Africans
(after 1870), were also not assimilated as white, but became Black. So
immigrants were essentially offerred two categories for citizenship,
Black or white.
33. 0 Haney Lopez, supra note 28., p.
34. 0 Haney Lopez, Id., p. 92.
35. 0 In re Hallaadjian, as
cited in Haney Lopez, Id., p. 205
36. 0 Lisa See, On Gold Mountain:
The One Hundred Yeatr Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family, St.
37. 0 Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p.
38. 0 Takaki, supra note 3, p. 207.
39. 0 Takai, Id., p. 206.
40. 0 Mexicans were judged to be white
In re Rodriguez,as cited in Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p. 204.
This ruling was based on treaties made following the Mexican war.
However, in other cases, such as in early California, Mexicans were
judged to be Native American (Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White
Folks and What That Says About Race In America, Rutgers University
Press (1999) p. 72).
41. 0 In another example, the U.S.
Census changed Mexican from a non-white category to a white category in
1940 (Brodkin, Id., p. 193, n.56). This ambivalence is probably due to
the mix of ethnicities and races in the countries south of our border,
one that rivals the mix found in the U.S.
42. 0 Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p.
43. 0 Haney Lopez, supra note 28 and
Jacobson, supra note 31, explore this duality throughout their texts.
44. 0 Gossett, supra note 4; Haney
Lopez, Id.; Jacobson, Id..
45. 0 Theodore W. Allen, The
Invention of the White Race Vol 2, Verso (1994), p. 139.
46. 0 Allen, 1994, Id., p. 138.
47. 0 Takaki, supra note 3, p.133.
48. 0 Allen, 1994, Id., p. 144.
49. 0 I base my description of the
Exodus on Allen, supra note 45, p. 145-147, who draws from many sources.
50. 0 Cited in Allen, 1994, Id., p.
51. 0 Takaki, supra note 3, p. 180.
52. 0 Takaki, Id., p. 180-183.
53. 0 Takaki, Id., p. 178.
54. 0 Takaki, Id., p. 186-7.
55. 0 Brodkin, supra note 40, p. 45.
56. 0 Conley, supra note 1, p. 39.
57. 0 Brodkin, Id.
58. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 47.
59. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 49
60. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 50.
61. 0 Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making
Whiteness: the Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1949,
Pantheon Books (1998).
62. 0 See the first person accounts in
Clark & O'Donnell, supra note 1, and the analysis of similar stories
in Thandeka, supra note 1.
63. 0 Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p.
64. 0 Conley, supra note 1, p. 38.
65. 0 See Conley, supra note 1, for an
in-depth comparison of white and African American home buying, home
ownership retention, value of property , and the value of benefits
associated with some neighborhood.
66. 0 See, for example, Allen, 1994,
supra note 45; Brodkin, supra note 40; Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish
Became White, Routledge (1995); David Roediger, The Wages of
Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, Verso
67. 0 Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p.
68. 0 Richard B. Morris, Government
and Labor in Early America, p. 182 as cited in Allen, Id., p. 253.
69. 0 Ignatiev, supra note 66.
70. 0 Brodkin, supra note 40, p. 56.
71. 0 Brodkin, Id.
72. 0 Allen, 1994, supra note 45, p.
195; Ignatiev, supra note 66.
73. 0 As cited in Allen, Id., 1994, p.
74. 0 Ignatiev, supra note 66., p.
111. Allen, 1994, supra note 7, and Takaki, supra note 3, also discuss
this highly effective tactic for driving off African American workers.
75. 0 Ignatiev, Id., p. 130.
76. 0 In a personal communication,
Vernellia Randall gives the example of jockeys. Once a nearly all Black
profession, white jockeys took over, driving out Black jockeys, as it
became a lucrative job.
77. 0 G. W`illiam Domhoff,, Who
Rules America? Power and Politics (Fourth Edition ed.), McGraw Hill
(2002), p. 164.
78. 0 Brodkin, supra note 40., p. 93;
Donhoff, Id., p. 166.
79. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 90.
80. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 91.
81. 0 Domhoff, supra note 77, p. 173.
82. 0 Brodkin, supra note 40., p. 38.
83. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 38-42.
84. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 39.
85. 0 Brodkin, Id., p. 43.
86. 0 U.S. Bureau of the Census,
Percent of People in Poverty, by Definition of Income and Selected
Characteristics (2000) .
87. 0 This theory is introduced and
developed in Thandeka, Id..
88. 0 C. DeNavas-Walt., R. W.
Cleveland & M. I. Roemer, Money Income in the United States:
2000. U.S. Department of Commerce (2001); Chuck Collins & Felice
Yeskel, Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic
Inequality and Insecurity, the New Press (2000).
89. 0 Domhoff, supra note 77; George
Draffan, The Corporate Consensus: A Guide to Institutions of Global
Powe, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (2000); Leslie Skliar, the
Transnational Capitalist Class, Blackwell (2001).
90. 0 Collins & Yeskel, supra note
88; U.S. Bureau of the Census, supra note 86.
91. 0 Thanks to Afia Walking Tree for
introducing me to the notion of a toolbelt in the Spirit Drumz Institute
on Transformative Leadership.