Did you know there is an academic field called, “Whiteness studies?” Here’s a primer. Well, Lace, who no doubt is familiar with the discipline, suggested we discuss the changing meaning of whiteness in America. Obviously, who qualifies as white and who does not has been one of the central battlefields of American history.
And for good reason. Being white has always conveyed enormous advantages in life relative to the circumstance of not being born white. The advantages of being white often were invisible to and unacknowledged by its beneficiaries throughout our history, of course. But the power of white privilege in the past is obvious from the endless, furious efforts made over 225 years to devise highly precise cultural – and even legal – racial categories and hierarchies.
What about today, and tomorrow? As you probably all know, the United States is poised within a few decades to become a “majority-minority” country; i.e., one in which whites are less than 50% of the population. Most Americans seem to sense that the country is changing pretty fast, even if they don’t know this demographic prediction. Some people think that fear of the loss of white privilege and the dilution of whiteness is a factor behind some of the bitter, apocalyptic opposition to President Obama’s policies (“the Redistributor-in-chief,” or Obamacare as “reparations?”) Hatred of illegal immigrants and extreme forms of fear and loathing of Muslims could be connected to this, as well.
Maybe so, maybe not. Even if you doubt the racial panic argument (and I think it’s too simplistic), I still think Monday will amount to a lot more than just a good history discussion. Given the malleability of racial categories in our past, the future of them is up for grabs, too. Will our society enlarge the definition of whiteness to accommodate the more diverse country that’s coming? Or will racial identification in America slowly fade away, as it finally has begun to do in recent decades? I’ll open with something short and then we can do our thing.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How has the meaning of whiteness changed throughout American history? Was whiteness a construct of culture, politics, or law? What about science and religion?
- Who is considered White in America today and who is not? Why?
- So what? What privileges does being white convey – today? Has that privilege eroded over time, or are many white Americans exaggerating what they have lost?
- What is the future of whiteness in the United States? Will we ever have our melting pot, or will being white always be aspired to because it always will be a privileged status?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- A brief history of whiteness in America.
- Why who is white matters:
- The vast racial socioeconomic gap in America.
- Does a desire to protect white privilege by preventing government wealth redistribution lie at the core of our political battles? Controversial. Try this one that’s a little less incendiary.
- BTW, are “poor cultural values” and lack of “personal responsibility” the causes of this gap? I recommend both POVs.
- Is white privilege coming to an end, maybe? Long but good.
- Will Hispanics soon think of themselves as white? Recommended.
- Conservative POV:
Next Week: Why do San Diegans pay such high utility rates?