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Thread: The Concept of the White Race

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    The Concept of the White Race

    What do you think of the idea of the white race? Can it be concretely defined? Are there more useful concepts that can be used in its place? Do you think it holds any value at all?


    I think that the white race is best viewed as a social construct. If we follow the history of the idea of the white race, we see that it evolves over time to encompass a broader range of physical types of people. From an anthropological point of view, it is a crude and unsophisticated way of describing a group of people, yet its relevance in the social arena cannot be denied, particularly in the United States I think, although as Europe continues to be flooded with immigrants from other continents, I suspect that it will come to be a more important idea there too.
    The white race was first used to refer to WASPs. That is White Anglo Saxon Protestants. It was essentially a barrier between descendants of the British colonists, and early immigrant groups to the United States such as Irish, Jews, and Italians. As time moved forward, these groups became more assimilated into the WASP culture (albeit not completely), and other even more "exotic" groups began to immigrate. At some point (or points) society felt that the more useful distinction was between the WASPS/established immigrant groups and the newcomers, particularly those of non-European origin. This was facilitated in large part by social norms which were much more permissive of procreation between different European ethnic groups than between European and non-European groups. Most contemporary "white" Americans have ancestry in multiple european countries.
    What white has essentially come to mean is a group of people who are priveleged because of their ethnic background. While this is not necessarily true, it is the rule of thumb used in American society. Phrases such as "White man's burden" or "White guilt", and phenomena such as blacks or Mexicans "passing" for white indicate this quite clearly. The government grants special priveleges 'affirmative action" to non-whites in order to "correct the problem". As Suut mentioned in another thread (inspiring this one), even those who do not consider themselves white (but who are in most peoples eyes) are subject to the ramifications of being white. They will be denied university enrollment or employment in favor of less qualified non-whites. They will experience hostility and resentment from non-whites.
    To many, particularly in Europe, the term white is meaningless and useless. However, in the United States, it has become an extremely relevant idea. While I certainly don't believe that it is a good criteria for assesing anything, particularly on a hard science level, society has created a schema (essentially trading rationalism for convenience), and the fact that this has happened opens the doors to new questions which can be explored and will yield new insights into what race and culture really are. I think the "white" phenomenon is particularly useful when comparing American culture to European culture in order to create a dynamic model of race and culture.

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    All concepts are, in some way, social constructs. They are not illusory falsehoods just because they are constructed through social and historical processes and don't have clear unambiguous undisputed boundaries. They are as real as any solid object.

    Each concept or category calls attention to a set of similarities and differences which are important for historically specific reasons. And, each obscures differences within that category.

    So the category of white is helpful for calling attention to some very practical differences with, say, Africans, while obscuring some very real differences between, say, Germanics and Italians or between working class whites and aristocrats.

    The concept of white could also be helpful for strengthening bonds between rich and poor whites and for discouraging the rich from replacing the white working class with, say, Mexicans or Somalis.
    The sitters in the hall seldom know
    The kin of the new-comer:
    The best man is marred by faults,
    The worst is not without worth.
    -- The Havamal, #133 (trans. Auden and Taylor)

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