Friday Shares (2-24-23) – A look into the history of whiteness

As I was catching up on some episodes of NPR’s Throughline this week, I listened to the episode from February 9 which was titled The Whiteness MythThe episode features the University of Virginia Professor Amanda Frost who details the history of whiteness in the United States as it pertains to the ability to become a legal citizen in her book You Are Not American: Citizenship Stripping From Dred Scott To The Dreamers.

The episode got me into a deeper dive into the history of whiteness. Below are just a few of the excerpts I found meaningful and a list of resources I found along the way.

Let me say it again: Whiteness has a history whose meanings change. Neither scholars nor ordinary people have been able to agree upon the definition of white people — who is white and who is not — nor on the number of races that count as white. Disagreement reigns and has reigned since the modern scientific notion of human races was invented in the 18th-century EnlightenmentNota bene: invented in the 18th century. (Painter 2020)

What appears to have some people confused is the way anti-racists differentiate between white people, on the one hand, and whiteness as a social, political, and cultural idea, on the other…Whiteness is inherently oppressive and racist because the history of the concept has been intrinsically bound up with creating and maintaining a racial hierarchy. It has no history separate and apart from oppression. But the people called white are not the problem. In fact, the anti-racist position is that whiteness was something done to so-called white people, which those of us so-called should reject. (Wise 2021)


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