History

The History of White People in America

We must know that the construction of whiteness has its own history. That story includes whites
who think of themselves as individuals with no significant racial identity and white nationalists.
There is much more to the history of whites.

Americans are still trying to understand that race is an ideology, not a biological fact, more like
witchcraft than empirical science. It is equally difficult to grasp, apparently, the idea that our idea
of the great white race, in which you participate or not, is less than a century old.

The white identity hasn’t just come alive and changed as most people think. Whiteness is seriously
underestimated, leaving millions of people unaware of a story whose constant characteristics
change. Whiteness has varied over time, depending on location and in a variety of human ranking
situations.

History Of White Supremacy In The United States

“History …is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally,
to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within
us, are unconsciously controlled by its many ways, and history is present in all that we do…And
it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror, one
begins to assess the history, which has placed one where one is and formed one’s point of view.
In great pain and terror, because, therefore, one enters into battle with that historical creation,
Oneself.”
—James Baldwin

Whiteness has a history whose meanings change. Neither scientists nor ordinary people have
reached a consensus about the definition of white people – who is white and not – nor the number
of races considered white. A disagreement has reigned ever since the modern scientific
understanding of the human race was invented during the 18th century Enlightenment.

Before the Enlightenment, people classified themselves and others according to clan, tribe,
kingdom, locality, religion, and an infinity of identities based on what people considered important
to themselves and others. Before the Enlightenment, Europeans could tell the difference between
people. Among the most typical characteristics, they could see high, low, fair-skinned and darkskinned differences attributed to religion, cultural habits, geography, wealth and climate, but not a
race.

But Enlightenment scholars began to classify humanity as races, defined according to physical
measurements such as eye colour, skin colour, height, and skull size. The most persistent
classification is Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), the German University of Göttingen.
Blumenbach based his classification on the size of the skull and divided humanity into five
“varieties”, which he arranged according to his aesthetic preferences.

At the two ends, Blumenbach placed the skulls, which he considered ugly, African and Asian.
There was a Tahitian next to the African. Next to the Asian was a Native American. In the centre
was the “most beautiful skull” of Blumenbach, a young Georgian woman, a former sex slave in
Moscow, where she died of venereal disease. Her beautiful skull became the basis for the name
given to white people; Born in the South Caucasus (between the Black and Caspian Seas), she
inspired the “Caucasian” label.

It is all too easy to think of Irish, Italian, Slavic or Greek immigrants and their children as “white”.
But this rhetorical construction ignores how Americans thought of whiteness before the 1940s.
Then racial scholars and ordinary people thought that there were several white races, such as the
Celtic (Irish) race, the northern Italian race, the Eastern European Hebrew race, the southern Italian
race, etc. – Saxon / Saxon / Teutonic / Nordic white race on top, depending on when you spoke
and with whom. Adult male immigrants from these supposedly inferior white races could vote,
while US-born black males could not.

Why were the 1940s such a turning point? Because the Nazis in Germany were committing racist
crimes while claiming that Jews were racially different from Germans, Jews were not Aryans.
Even an embarrassing percentage of Americans believed, e.g. Henry Ford, an ardent anti-Semite.

In the 1940s, with another looming world war and national unity a top priority, experts taught
Americans that whiteness was unitary, a key point supporting anti-black segregation.

The unitary whiteness lasted until the end of the 20th century when immigrants from Latin
America and Asia complicated the classification of American races. We now live in an age where
race (black, white, etc.) coexists with ethnicity (Hispanics, non-Hispanics). Who knows what
classifications the future will bring? We can already see that whiteness was more valuable when
the laws and customs of exclusion protected it. Laws no longer apply, and customs fall by the
wayside as Americans step on colour bars and marry whomever they want, regardless of race. At
the same time, whiteness continues to replenish itself as Hispanic Americans declare themselves
whiter and whiter, along with a constellation of Americans boasting mixed races and a
kaleidoscope of skin tones.

The whiteness is not over with us yet, but it does not have to be the same whiteness of two or three
generations ago, of age ago, despite the heroic efforts of white nationalists to back it up with
weapons. This is a good thing. After George Floyd’s protests, fewer and fewer white Americans
can now think of themselves without thinking of themselves as raceless individuals with no role
to play in eradicating white supremacy. May, their embrace of human rights, especially the rights
of blacks, once again changes the meanings of American whiteness.

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