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 African-Americans.
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 not).
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 smembers 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 suifor
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 people.
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 Negro Exodus.
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 the Southwest.
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.Urban/Suburban Segregation
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 them slumdwellers."
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 muracial lines in terms of relatively immuboundaries.
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 racially not-quite-white."
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 racial privilege.
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 for President.
[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 presented here.
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 been concentrated."
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 thinking.
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 inequidistribution of power, defined as the ability to influence outcome. The distribution is inequiin 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 equidistribution 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 heart.
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.
Allen, T. W. (1994). The Invention of the White Race
(Vol. One: Racial Oppression and Social Control). London: Verso.
Allen, T. W. (1997). The Invention of the White Race
(Vol. Two: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America). London: Verso.
Ani, M. (1994). Yurugu: an African-Centered Critique of European Thought and Cultural Behavior
. Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc.
Appiah, K. A., & Gutmann, A. (1996). Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bailey, A. (2000). Despising an Identity They Taught Me to Claim. In C. J. Cuomo & K. Q. Hall (Eds.), Whiteness: Feminist philosophical reflections
. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Berger, M. (1999). White Lies: Race and the Myth of Whiteness
. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.
Brodkin, K. (1999). How Jews Became White Folks and what that Says About Race in America
. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Clark, C. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.). (1999). Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and Disowning a Racial Identity
. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
Collins, C., & Yeskel, F. (2000). Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity
. New York: The New Press.
Conley, D. (1999). Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America
. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Cuomo, C. J., & Hall, K. Q. (Eds.). (2000). Whiteness: Feminist Philosophical Reflections
. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
DeNavas-Walt, C., Cleveland, R. W. & Roemer, M. I. (2001). Money Income in the United States: 2000.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved November 14, 2001, from: http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income00.html
Domhoff, G. W. (2002). Who Rules America? Power and Politics
(Fourth Edition ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
Draffan, G. (2000). The Corporate Consensus: A Guide to Institutions of Global Power
. Fossil, OR: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project.
Dyer, R. (1997). White
. London: Routledge.
Feagin, J. R. (2000). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations
. New York: Routledge.
Frankenberg, R. (1993). The Social Construction of Whiteness: White Women, Race Matters
. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Gossett, T. F. (1963). Race: The History of an Idea in America
. Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University Press.
Hale, G. E. (1998). Making Whiteness: the Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1949
. New York: Pantheon Books.
Haney Lopez, I. F. (1996). White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race
. New York: New York University Press.
Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish Became White
. New York: Routledge.
Jacobson, M. F. (1998). Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race
. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Kovel, J. (1970). White Racism: A Psychohistory
. New York: Pantheon.
McLaren, P. (1999). Unthinking Whiteness, Rethinking Democracy: Critical Citizenship in Gringolandia, Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and Disowning a Racial Identity
. Westport CN: Bergin & Garvey.
Morales, A. L. (1998). Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Integrity
. Cambridge: South End Press.
Morgan, E. S. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia
. New York: W.W. Norton @ Company, Inc.
Omi, M., & Winant, H. (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s
(Second Edition ed.). New York: Routledge.
Rothenberg, P. (2000). Invisible Privilege: A Memoir About Race, Class, and Gender
. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas.
See, L. (1995). On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Yeatr Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family. New York: St. Martins Press.
Skliar, L. (2001). The Transnational Capitalist Class
. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Takaki, R. (1993). A Different Mirror
. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Thandeka. (2000). Learning to Be White: Money, Race, and God in America
. New York: Continuum.
Thompson, B., & Tyagi, S. (Eds.). (1996). Names We Call Home: autbiography on Racial Identity
. New York: Routledge.
U.S. Bureau of the Census (2001a). Median Income of Households by Selected Characteristics,Race, and Hispanic Origin of Householder: 2000, 1999, and 1998. Retrieved November 10, 2001, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/income00/inctab1.html
U.S. Bureau of the Census (2001b). Percent of People in Poverty, by Definition of Income and Selected Characteristics: 2000 . Retrieved November 10, 2001, from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/poverty/poverty00/table5.html.
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,
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,
For example, popular college texts such as Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror,
Little, Brown and Company (1993).
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).
Ani, Id; Richard Dyer, White
, Routledge (1997); Joel Kovel, White Racism: A Psychohistory
, Pantheon (1970).
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.
Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race Vol 2,
Verso (1997), p. 38.
Allen, 1997; Edmund S.Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,
W.W. Norton @ Company (1975).
Morgan, Id., p. 330.
Allen, 1997, supra note 7., p. 218.
Catholics were not considered Christian, including the Irish Catholics, many of whom who were sent as bond laborers to the Carribean and Virginia Colony.
Morgan, supra note 8, p. 329.
Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p. 179.
Allen, 1997, Id., p. 197.
Allen, 1997, Id. p. 134.
Allen, 1997, Id.
Allen, 1997, Id., p. 251.
Morgan, supra note 8, p. 335.
Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p. 198.
Morgan, supra note 8, p. 333.
Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p. 241
Allen,1997, Id., p. 250.
See Allen, 1997, supra note 7, and Morgan, supra note 8, for a thorough presentation on these and many other laws.
Allen, 1997, Id., p. 249.
Allen, 1997, Id., p. 252.
Allen, 1997, Id..
Morgan, supra note 8, p. 369..
Ian F. Haney Lopez, White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race,
New York University Press(1996), p. 1.
Haney Lopez, Id.. p. 46.
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.
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.
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.
Haney Lopez, supra note 28., p. 16.
Haney Lopez, Id., p. 92.
35. 0In re Hallaadjian
, as cited in Haney Lopez, Id., p. 205
Lisa See, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Yeatr Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family
, St. Martins (1995).
Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p. 203.
Takaki, supra note 3, p. 207.
Takai, Id., p. 206.
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)
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.
Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p. 18.
Haney Lopez, supra note 28 and Jacobson, supra note 31, explore this duality throughout their texts.
Gossett, supra note 4; Haney Lopez, Id.; Jacobson, Id..
Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race Vol 2,
Verso (1994), p. 139.
Allen, 1994, Id., p. 138.
Takaki, supra note 3, p.133.
Allen, 1994, Id., p. 144.
I base my description of the Exodus on Allen, supra note 45, p. 145-147, who draws from many sources.
Cited in Allen, 1994, Id., p. 147.
Takaki, supra note 3, p. 180.
Takaki, Id., p. 180-183.
Takaki, Id., p. 178.
Takaki, Id., p. 186-7.
Brodkin, supra note 40, p. 45.
Conley, supra note 1, p. 39.
Brodkin, Id., p. 47.
Brodkin, Id., p. 49
Brodkin, Id., p. 50.
Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: the Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1949,
Pantheon Books (1998).
See the first person accounts in Clark & O'Donnell, supra note 1, and the analysis of similar stories in Thandeka, supra note 1.
Haney Lopez, supra note 28, p. 121.
Conley, supra note 1, p. 38.
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.
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,
Allen, 1997, supra note 7, p. 252-253.
Richard B. Morris, Government and Labor in Early America
, p. 182 as cited in Allen, Id., p. 253.
Ignatiev, supra note 66.
Brodkin, supra note 40, p. 56.
Allen, 1994, supra note 45, p. 195; Ignatiev, supra note 66.
As cited in Allen, Id., 1994, p. 165.
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.
Ignatiev, Id., p. 130.
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.
G. W`illiam Domhoff,, Who Rules America? Power and Politics
(Fourth Edition ed.), McGraw Hill (2002), p. 164.
Brodkin, supra note 40., p. 93; Donhoff, Id., p. 166.
Brodkin, Id., p. 90.
Brodkin, Id., p. 91.
Domhoff, supra note 77, p. 173.
Brodkin, supra note 40., p. 38.
Brodkin, Id., p. 38-42.
Brodkin, Id., p. 39.
Brodkin, Id., p. 43.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Percent of People in Poverty, by Definition of Income and Selected Characteristics (2000) .
This theory is introduced and developed in Thandeka, Id..
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).
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,
Collins & Yeskel, supra note 88; U.S. Bureau of the Census, supra note 86.
Thanks to Afia Walking Tree for introducing me to the notion of a toolbelt in the Spirit Drumz Institute on Transformative Leadership.