Minority Births the Majority? On how the whole idea of White People is Made Up

The news is going around breathlessly that 50.4% of births in the US in the past 12 months were to families categorized as ethnic minorities, presaging the time when ‘whites will be a minority’ in the US.

The unselfconscious deployment of these categories just takes your breath away. Who gets to decide which ones are ‘white’ and which ones ‘ethnic minorities?’

As historians such as David Roediger have shown, the idea of ‘whiteness’ is a relatively new racial category, and it has changed enormously over time.

Whiteness as it was constructed in the nineteenth century was not about skin color but about being Protestant and propertied. There were even distinctions within the group. WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant did not refer to all Protestants of English heritage, but rather to a northeast elite that tended to marry within themselves and to have a disproportionate hold on political and business office. The Scottish-American elite was another subgroup (Presbyterian as opposed to Episcopalian).

So not all whites were equally white. Moreover, Catholic immigrants such as the Irish, the Poles and the Italians were either not considered white when they first came or were denoted as a lesser category of white. Jews, Arabs, Japanese and Chinese were also not considered white. Indeed, a special law was made to keep Chinese in particular out of the country.

Over time, the Catholic minorities who immigrated into the US in the big 1880-1924 wave, before racist immigration laws were implemented, became accepted as ‘white.’ In the past 30 years, Jews have been accepted as white. It is even possible, I think, to argue that middle class Blacks on the model of the Huxtables have become ‘white.’ You’ll note that Harry Reid said of Obama the candidate that he ‘had no dialect,’ so for older ‘whites,’ blackness was in part cultural, wrought up with an imagined African-American speech pattern. Thus, the Obamas are in some sense ‘white,’ producing that odd argument about whether Obama is ‘black enough,’ which non-Americans must have found baffling.

In 1965 the US was finally too embarrassed to go on with the racist immigration laws and put a ceiling of 25,000 for each country in the world. That change kick-started a whole new big wave of immigration, which may now be ending. About a million a year had been coming, half of them from Latin America.

The Latinos have for the moment been categorized as non-white, but surely everyone can see how arbitrary that is. Many Latinos in Argentina and Brazil are of Italian ancestry. If they come to the US now, they are a ‘minority’ or ‘brown.’ But their cousins who just came straight to Rhode Island are ‘white.’ For that matter, why is there a difference among people who speak Romance languages and practice Catholicism, such that a Colombian is a ‘minority’ but a Calabrian is not? And consider that if a Sephardic Jewish family of Spanish ancestry immigrates from Israel, they are ‘white,’ but Spanish Catholic families who settled in Mexico and then came to the US recently are not (that’s an interesting reversal!)

Arabs are an interesting case. I’d argue that Lebanese Christians became ‘white.’ Arab Muslims were on the verge of becoming white before 9/11 but may have been at least temporarily demoted. (They are white in the census categories, but social acceptance has fallen). My guess is that demotion is a temporary blip, since they are typically well educated and well off, and over time economic eliteness tends to produce racial eliteness in the US.

And, the old prejudices against the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ‘Slavs’ has completely collapsed, so no one thinks Poles or other Eastern Europeans are not ‘white.’

So given the history of ‘whiteness,’ likely the new wave of Latinos will be awarded the category over time. My guess is that Asians will be, as well. Remember, it isn’t about ‘race,’ it is about a weird kind of social status. By the way, Apartheid South Africa declared Japanese to be ‘white.’

Ultimately, the whole idea of whiteness can only be kept going through a set of racial and class exclusions. Working-class African-Americans eternally get the short end of the stick. Recent immigrant groups are often excluded along with them.

The better outcome would be to just stop using the word ‘white.’ As should be clear from the above, it doesn’t actually mean anything. If you really had to categorize citizens of the US by ancestry (why?), use geographical terms. We have African-Americans. Why not have European-Americans or Euros? Since there may not be a currency called that much longer, we can repurpose the term.

We should also stop using the phrase ‘ethnic minority’ to refer to post-1965 immigrant groups if we are not going to apply it to the post-1880 wave. Just be specific. If you mean Latinos, say that. If you mean Asian-Americans, say that. And, you may need a term for the new wave of African immigrants other than “African-American,” since they aren’t exactly the same (Africans have complained to me about this issue).

Me, I don’t want to be called ‘white’ and I hope we can get rid of the whole idea of whiteness. You go back a thousand years and all of us have diverse ancestries. Most Europeans are part Arab and many are part Jewish. In the US, a lot of people have Native and African ancestors that they don’t know about anymore.

Best of all if we can just say that in the US, we are all Americans and stop categorizing people with regard to their adaptation to ultraviolet waves. It is anyway a temporary adaptation. If you took Swedes and left them in the Congo for 13,000 years, the mothers that could shield their embryos from harsh ultraviolet rays better would be selected for, and they would be darker, and eventually the group would be ‘black.’ If you took Congolese to Sweden, the mothers that could provide their embryos vitamin D more reliably in a low UV environment would be selected for, and over time the group would get ‘white.’ (In fact, we’re all from Africa, so that is exactly what happened historically). It is a minor epidermal health issue, not a matter of character or essence. Get rid of it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 58 Responses | Print |

58 Responses

  1. This is brilliant and so timely, when once again the issue of race and color is raising its ugly head, may be even during the forthcoming presidential election. Your piece shows the absurdity of dividing the people according to their racial or ethnic or even religious backgrounds. Indeed, when European scholars began to write about race, they identified only two races, the Caucasians (white and beautiful) and the Mongolians (brown and ugly). The irony is that many people, including over one million Iranians who have immigrated to the United States, many of whom come from the Caucasus, are classified as ethnic groups, and not as white. Max Weber rightly maintained that ethnic groups were artificial and a social construct, and of course they evolve over time. Historically, all societies have been formed as the result of waves of migration and it is difficult to find any pure races. In fact, on the basis of DNA studies we are all related together and there is only one race, the human race.

  2. “I have a dream…”

    Nice if one could actually fix the problem. Dr. Seuss described the fundamental problem in “The butter Battle Book,” and had a great, technology-pushing idea on how to fix it as described in “The Sneetches and Other Stories.” link to en.wikipedia.org

    I personally am probably considered “white,” though my skin tones are creamish, tannish, yellowish with a hint of pinkish on the palms and soles, etc. Raised Presbyterian, “pure” Scotch-English. “Black” people, most of whom grip their identity as “Black” as fiercely as “white” people grasp theirs, have skin tones including ochre, red, multiple shades of brown and khaki and blues of various hues, all the way to obsidian. And so it goes for the rest of our species.

    I wish all of us, especially my grandkids who are pure Melting Pot, ripe with the strength of admixture and alloy, luck in escaping our common inheritance of idiot limbic-system-driven tribal identification.

    One might hope that … (add your own prescription)

  3. I always put ‘human’ on the census (and other) forms in answer to these obnoxious questions. These categories are as you say meaningless.

  4. With blonde hair, blue eyes and for a portion of the year light skin I often have to remind people I am only half “white”. And while I admit that it has afforded me opportunities my brothers and cousins have not enjoyed, the reality is anyone whose family has lived here across more than a couple of generations has a drop of “not–white” blood in them. So too with the “purity” of the europeans.

    On a day-to-day basis I take it as a failure to have learned the lessons of WWII.

    • Good observation on WWII. I think Southerners and northern bigots were fighting that war for a different idea of victory than FDR’s liberal supporters. But the need for propagandists to paper this schism over laid the groundwork for much of our cultural strife since 1945: those who think Nazism discredited white supremacy, militarism, and even inequality in total, versus those who think that America simply proved it is populated by and best run by the true master race.

  5. It would be wonderful if this essay could be presented in every classroom in the US. There’s no substitute for clarity.

  6. Western and particularly American definitions of race have seemed to me for a long time to be bipolar disordered.

  7. These are some good thoughts but they perhaps leave off a bit of the story. If we stop using these catagories now perhaps things would be left as they are with Whites having a disporportionate amount of economic and politcal power. Efficatively meaning that those whites how have always had disproportionate economic and political power get to keep it.
    For many years I have wondered why blacks who have actively opposed the power structure in the US have been treated so much more harshly than the whites which have opposed it. To me someone like William Kunstler was a much bigger threat to power than say Fred Hampton.
    It did not make sense to me that blacks should be treated more harshly because I thought that those at the top were evil but not stupid. Yet racist policies seemed to be the policies of the stupid. Perhaps my perceptions are inaccurate but recently another idea came to my mind that I had not had before. Perhaps there is some rational behind the idea that black dissedents have been treated more harshly than white dissedents. The idea that came to me is that it would create the idea among black dissedents that they can not trust white dissedents becasue they are phoney.
    If they were real they would be suffering. Have any important black dissedents of the past or present ever made this charge? I am not so familiar with the subject that I know the answer to this question.

    • The reason is that up to now African-Americans have tended to bloc-vote for whichever political faction is most favorable to reducing inequality. So the black dissidents could theoretically obtain a constituency of 40,000,000 citizens and whatever resources a firebrand could talk them into sacrificing. Worse, they might embrace socialism. Whereas white dissidents are always at the political margin of white society, because most whites assume that it is for the best that their values dominate the land. Leave Kunstler to his Sisyphean task, he can’t make whites give up what they have. The annihilation of the Black Panther leadership, while black gangsters and the right-wing Black Muslims were mostly left alone, was a way of sending a message to blacks about not challenging white capitalist society.

  8. When I was growing up in Hawaii in the 1950’s, the local term for whites (Haole) did not include those of Portuguese ancestry who were mainly the descendants of plantation overseers.

  9. Belonging becomes a disease when you can’t find peace and satisfaction within yourself and if what you’re doing doesn’t include helping others and yourself to do your best.

    Belonging to a culture, a country, a country club, a team can become a disease.

    Watch the Americans at republican or democratic rallies screaming and cheering for their candidates to win or when they win. All the insane, manic screaming is saying, “We now have a chance for peace and satisfaction.” “We will succeed.”

    Having a mate, children, a job you enjoy, a home, a car and other things will help. But unless you are “helping others”, the peace and belonging soon evaporates, you get bored. Then you try a new mate, new and more possessions, more respect for you, but no lasting satisfaction. Nothing is permanent.

    The Beetles, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” has some guides to mankind’s’ desires for peace and belonging.

    A country to die for. A group to belong to. A team to support and help you go crazy when they win. When the US military wins you feel great. Only problem, what the military is fighting for is not peace but continual wars to keep the billionaires and millionaires rich.

    Lyrics of Imagine

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

    There’s no heaven nor hell. BS to control people.

    What we each becomes and what we do is strongly influenced by our environments: parents, friends and enemies, culture, country born in, school, etc.

    Born in Iraq and your wife and kids are killed by US military, chances of you becoming a terrorist are increased. No heaven nor hell.


    Beded at 10:30pm, up at 5am.

  10. Wonderful piece Juan. When I was young and a white boy living in a primarily black neighborhood in Detroit, we were relatively unaware of “race” until a certain age, and I had left Michigan to return to the West Coast where I had been born before I reached that racially aware age. However even in grammar school days I figured the solution to racism and racial conflict etc. would ultimately be when folks finally became so inter-mixed no one could tell the difference.

    However I think you make a great point with “over time economic eliteness tends to produce racial eliteness in the US.”

    “By the way, Apartheid South Africa declared Japanese to be ‘white.’”

    If I’m not mistaken, the Nazis also created some special “Aryan” class for their Japanese Axis allies during WWII.

    • With all due respect, I disagree.

      The Jewish people in 1920s Germany had been very intermixed with Germans. In the 1930s, Hitler put people in concentration camps, not because they kept to the Jewish religion, but because they had fractional Jewish blood.

      People will always find ways to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.

  11. I can only hope that all of the ‘races’ intermarry, have kids, those kids intermingle, and at some point everybody looks pretty much the same, complexion-wise, and we have to hate someone because they are truly despicable, instead of just appearing despicable, to the differently-ethniced observer.

    • genetics doesn’t really work that way. the majority of people would be “shades of grey”, you’re right, but there will always be some people with none of the dark genes, and some people with all of them. (a fascinating example is the twin girls of the biracial couple who were born looking very much alike, but then one started expressing more of her white grandparents’ genes and the other started expressing her black grandparents’ genes. apparently one got lots of them and the other got very few. but looking at their features, you can tell they’re sisters. it’s so cute.)

  12. Agreed.

    On this… I wish:
    “Best of all if we can just say that in the US, we are all Americans and stop categorizing people with regard to their adaptation to ultraviolet waves. ”

    But, most people who are most curious about me from the perspective of: “where are you from,” “what’s your background” are light-skinned and would be classified as ‘white.’ This wouldn’t be a problem if those folks (who think themselves ‘really American” (as opposed to x and American)) were also intrigued by other ‘really American’ folks’ backgrounds. But they aren’t (in my experience). What does that say?

  13. Thank you for this!

    It is worth considering whether this is actually a sort of social milestone for the US: isn’t it the first time we haven’t redefined “white” fast enough to maintain majority status? There’s still hope, of course — “whites” have only fallen below 50% in births, and there’s still time to redefine before “whites” are <50% of the population. But maybe, just maybe, allowing "whites" to fall below 50% is an indicator that racial association is losing its psychological importance.

      • Or, they’re just planning to do what they did in 1876, passing one law after another to disqualify more minority voters so that whites always stay ahead. Maybe even swapping Jim Crow schemes with their Likud buddies in Israel.

        It’s amazing to me that no one believes that many whites are still willing to conspire to disenfranchise blacks, when it’s worked all too well in the past. The only logical deterrent to such a monstrous crime is massive, potentially violent resistance, yet if anyone on the Left talks about fighting back on any issue at all, he’s shouted down by liberals and centrists.

    • I’m sure by this time next week the new adjusted numbers will come out with whites still in the lead. Living in Calif. whites lose the lead soon and I sure hope new majority does a better job running the state than the old guard, that’s if we can ever get them to go away.

  14. A moment’s thought would show that obsession with skin color has little to do with biology and much more with social conditioning of the most pathological sort.

    • But what if this pathology had an evolutionary advantage? Humans were never meant by nature to live in a crowded, diverse human environment that requires dealing with strangers and negotiating with radically different moral systems. Loyalty insured one’s kinship group would have a survival advantage over others. But aggregation into larger and larger societies means we needed new ways to define “us” and “them”. And boy, we’ve tried them all.

  15. Hey, it could be worse. I just bought a TV at Best Buy and filled out their survey so my salesperson could get the bennies — their survey uses the utterly bogus “Caucasian”. And in response to “Sherm” — while this is indeed an admirable essay, I can assure him, after teaching and writing on this topic for two decades, that “Whites” have enough invested in the present system that challenging it in any way, shape, or form is very, very difficult and meets lots of student resistance. They are amazingly ingenious at coming up with reasons why all the history that Professor Cole presents so eloquently is irrelevant.

  16. Racial issues have always been strong in the US but I think class issues have been under-appreciated (for lack of a better term). This article shows that. “White” has never been solely about skin color. It’s also about region (North vs. South), ethnicity (Anglo-Saxon vs. Mediterranean), and especially wealth (rich vs. poor). As racism declines, the significance of these class divisions are becoming more obvious.

    Will Latinos eventually be accepted as “white”? Maybe. More importantly, will the upper classes accept the middle and lower classes?

    • I think when America was colonized, Whiteness was manufactured by the elites precisely as a way of legitimizing the class system. Look into “Bacon’s Rebellion”, a 1676 crisis in Virginia which led to white indentured servants winning their freedom (and property! very important) – predicated on the importation of black slaves to replace their labor. In other words, your freedom depends on the black man’s bondage, so remember to whip him extra hard.

      I think the very first “American” identity was created at that moment, and it was specifically racist. It was designed to convert the ruling English and their Scots-Irish servants from traditional enemies into a single colonizing army. We’ve never fully repudiated it, because we’ve never accepted that America needed this giant caste scam to keep investors happy and be economically viable. A new American identity would have to demolish all the values that the rich skillfully wove into the Bacon’s Rebellion settlement, the very same values the GOP and Christian Right will kill to preserve.

      It would look a lot like being Canadian.

  17. Wow. To admit that ” a set of racial and class exclusions” have been the mechanisms of enforcing racial distinctions, and then to conclude that we simply “stop using the word ‘white'” would be to deny the powerful impact those intergenerational exclusions have had on people of color in this country. You only have to look at the racism in the GI Bill and post-war housing policies to find evidence of how race has had a powerful role in the lives families have been able to build for themselves, and you only have to look so far as the staggering (and ever-growing) racial wealth gap figures to know that that legacy lives on today. Wishing away your whiteness is a denial of the real work that needs to be done to repair these injustices.

  18. I’m with JHill. Race may be an illusion, but the way in which race has been manipulated in order to organize power has given it a meaning and force that is undeniable.

    BTW, to say all of that about whites and then suggest that we continue to use the term “Asian American” to describe the incredibly diverse array of people who make up that category, divided as we are by culture, language, and vast stretches of geography is indicative of the inconsistencies here.

    There is no “Asian” race in the sense that this article describes “race.” However, many consider themselves “Asian American” because we are defined as such relative to a group called “whites.” The Asian race may be an illusion, but Asian Americans by the second generation after immigrating to the U.S. generally identify as such because of the common experience of anti-Asian racism.

    I believe is was whites who decided we were all “Oriental.” “Asian” was proposed as an alternative because “Oriental” is a racist term, but it hardly addresses the specificity of experience among the diverse groups that make up the category. But whites insist on a category – I’m guessing because the investment in whiteness comes with a corresponding investment in lumping people together into “others.”

  19. There’s a whole literature, scholarly and otherwise, on how people create and then treat differences between one another, for identity or for personal gain. But a picture is worth at least a thousand words, so how’s this for giggles?

    “A Class Divided, ” link to pbs.org

  20. Unluckily for liberals such as Prof Cole, what happens more often than not, is that when “racism” is relaxed as practised against one (unassimilable as opposed to for instance the Slav as depicted above) minority, the vaccuum
    is filled by the racist vindictive resentment of the former victim.

    So, as Pat Buchanan writes, tribalism will always be with us.

    • For Pat Buchanan to write that tribalism will always be with us is the equivalent of a heroin dealer proclaiming that the need for a high will always be with us. He’s made a lucrative career out of exacerbating it for 45 years.

  21. “The Latinos have for the moment been categorized as non-white”

    By whom? I categorize them as white. But even further, there is only one race. The human race.

  22. I completely agree with the premise of this article, but I think that the power implication of the term “white” is why it continues to exist, not so much who ethnically falls into the category. I also feel that despite the fact that ethnicities and cultures are constantly evolving, there is something to be noted about judgements based on skin color alone. Yes I do believe that type of judgement indicates stupidity more than anything else, but I still believe skin color affects how we perceive each other’s power scale, if nothing else. In 2012, in most places in this nation, a light-skinned person is still expected and believed to hold more power and influence than a darker-skinned person – it is a conditioned expectation based on statistics, it doesn’t necessarily indicate racism or classism. That’s why the “minority” numbers tipping to majority was an interesting fact to me. Because if more people begin to at least look “less white,” I wonder how that will affect the perception of power, which may in turn affect real power.

  23. And, Juan, is it not also true that part of the heritage of many southern Europeans, especially those from the Iberian Peninsula, is Arab?

    All of which simply goes to your points, as well as the many excellent comments above, that these “color lines” are nativistic and, ultimately, silly.

    Thanks for the excellent perspective –

  24. The U.S. census lumps persons of “Middle Eastern ancestry” in with whites in order to avoid having to figure out how to treat Jews vs. say, Arab Muslims. Obviously this does not reflect the social category of whiteness. Although Ralph Nader and Casey Kasem are received as white, even by rednecks, identifiable Muslims can obviously expect different treatment.

    Incidentally, I have always wondered about the eastern limits of “the Middle East.” What do the census people make of Turks, Iranians, and Pakistanis? Where do they draw the line, and call them “persons of Asian ancestry”? (Itself a strange category, lumping Japanese together with people from India.)

    The most likely evolution would be for many or most American Hispanics to become assimilated into the “white” group. In the Zimmerman / Trayvon case, notice how the revelation that Zimmerman is Hispanic seems not to have affected the discussion at all. People on all sides treat him as white.

    If I were to claim Obama to be white, most people would think that I had said something absurd. And yet he has as much claim to whitness as to blackness. This shows how pervasive these categories are in the USA, and how much they depend on local political conditions (such as the “rule” that no one can be both black and white, or that no “white” can have dark skin.)

    Coherent or not, racial categories are as real as other types of identity groups (religion, nationality, language) and there is no getting around this. On the other hand, they can be negotiated to a certain extent. “Spanish” surnames are often erased, or acquired, through marriage, while language use changes over life cycles and generations. In this light, how can anyone know if someone is Hispanic? That Harvard professor who claimed to be Cherokee has been vilified for “lying,” but if she believed herself to be Cherokee, then perhaps in some sense she is Cherokee.

  25. Honestly, I think it would be the greatest human loss to create a world of invisible persons. Wouldn’t that be the the the most pernicious implementation of genocide yet? None, nobody should have to endure stereotyping, of course, but healthy identity is extremely important and we get help with that from moral traditions, ceremony, culture, how we define ourselves. Diversity is healthy and I don’t believe it’s simply a function of UV. It’s nature being smart. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cultural iconoclast, but, any botanist for example will admit there is serious risk and disadvantage to monocultures of any sort, either plant or animal. On the other hand, you must be aware of blood quantum fractionation in the American Indian community as a method of legal disposal as well? To quote Toni Morrison in her book “Beloved” “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” – That is, maybe it’s not the label or categorization but it’s use to diminish.

  26. “The Latinos have for the moment been categorized as non-white”

    I am not sure precisely what is meant by this statement, but I will point out that as of the 2010 US census, hispanic is considered an ethnicity, not a race as is white, so that one can be either white hispanic or non-white hispanic (or both?).

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    • The main reason ‘ethnic minorities’ are said to have had more babies last year than ‘whites’ is that the US is categorizing Latinos as ‘ethnic minorities,’ not “whites.”

  27. ‘white’? I’m not American, I live on an island west of Europe and my skin is all different colors depending on where I am and light conditions etc, but I do believe that a harmfull obsession with race does exist. For my part I dont believe in race, but I do believe that people believe in the concept of a ‘race’. My country is far more realistic in its application of the reality of skin color, a black man is called black a brown man is called brown and a white man is called white. The issue is obviously to do with cultural identity (which feeds into national idendity and political nationalism)and an element of that is economic wealth. I see rap mucisicans on MTV wearing the very best suits and driving top range cars, the symbols of the ‘rich white business man’. Could anything be more ‘black’ now, or did I mean white, I dont know anymore…

  28. I’m trying to share this on Facebook, but no matter how many times I click the Share link for it, it doesn’t work. Help! Thanks!

    • Works for most people, and the techies have tested it successfully repeatedly. Beats me. But if you just click on the posting’s link in the headline and copy the URL, you can paste that in your Facebook status and it should show up fine. Sorry for the inconvenience!

  29. Surely one of the oddities of these kinds of clarifications by ‘race’ is that (I think)those who come from the Iberian peninsula are not Hispanic, since the term seems to be reserved for the western hemisphere south of the Rio Grande.

    Another observation: Fielding, the protagonist of E.M. Forster’s Passage to India, gets in trouble with his fellow Anglos in India, because he refers to their color as “pinko-grey.”

  30. While my origins are such that I could claim “whiteness” – 1/2 English, 1/4 German, 1/4 Swedish – for years I have pointed out the obvious – I’m still trying to find the part of my body that is actually WHITE. My skin is beige, at best, and not much lighter than some of my “black” friends’ skin. My teeth are no longer white, the whites of my eyes are not really white…where is that “white” part of me?

    Some years ago I was chatting online with a woman from Slovenia. When I told her about my lineage, she called me a “mongrel”. She was 100% Slovenian.

    So much for my “whiteness”. So much for ALL of our collective “whiteness”. Then there’s this pertinent fact – a person born blind knows nothing of this notion. It’s impossible to describe color just with words to someone who has never seen anything. So obviously “whiteness” is totally a matter of perception. As the light of day wanes, my skin color shifts darker, until it disappears in total darkness. So much for anything objective about this notion…

  31. “By the way, Apartheid South Africa declared Japanese to be ‘white.’”

    I remember that. But Chinese were “Oriental” aka “coolies.” The difference was that the Japanese had a thriving economy of cars and other stuff and they came in pursuit of trade. The Chinese had, like the Chinese in the American West, been imported as, well, “coolies.”

  32. “stop categorizing people with regard to their adaptation to ultraviolet waves.”

    that’s my favorite.

  33. I think you’ll find that the standards of “whiteness” have not shifted so very much. Many of these groups–and the Irish are a serviceable example–were never considered to be of a different race. The Irish were white, and were reckoned as such on every Census form, but they were a distasteful, lowly white, and they were poor. I don’t know that race had even a whit to do with anti-Irish sentiment. I think it was mostly anti-Catholicism.

    Even if the notion of “white” (a word which, in the English-speaking world, has always described fair-skinned persons of Caucasian extraction) was contrived by ignorant men to oppress underclasses to their advantage, we’ve learned since that it’s a genetically useful distinction. For instance: white people, Black people, East Asian people, and people of mixed race, when receiving marrow and organ transplants, usually need a donor of the same race.

    link to sfgate.com

    People die all the time on waiting lists because the marrow of people of other ethnicities just won’t do. That doesn’t sound “socially constructed” to me.

  34. Juan Cole, a Jew, is attempting to weaken the cohesion of a rival group (the white race) by deconstructing their group identity. I don’t see Juan Cole as a liberal. I see him as a conservative trying to strengthen his own group’s power by weakening an arch-rival.

    I strongly suspect that Cole is happy that many of his readers view his white face and Hispanic first name and are misled about his group loyalties and underlying motivation.

    • Cole is originally Kohl, German for cabbage farmer, and is a name sometimes taken by Jews in the medieval period who were forced by the Inquisition to convert to Catholicism. While there is no evidence I know of that the Kohls of Darmstadt were originally Jewish, it is entirely plausible. If so, I would be proud of it. As we know them in family history, though, they are German Catholics. They’re only one line among many in my background(Largents, French Brethren; Hills, presumably Irish; Rudolphs, German Lutherans; McIlwees, Scots-Irish, etc.; there are rumors of a Native American alliance back a couple centuries, presumably Iroquois).

  35. I guess all colors are a social construct too. There’s no such thing as red or blue.

    The continuum fallacy doesn’t exist in the mind of the author.

  36. @Moths: Here’s an article on bone marrow transplants from a medical journal: “In the United States, race is often a surrogate for socioeconomic, education and health insurance status…. Race and ethnicity definitions are country-specific and reconciling race data can represent significant challenges to unrelated donor registries worldwide.”

    link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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