Paul R. Lehman, What is the value of a white identity today?

September 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Posted in African American, American Racism, blacks, democracy, discrimination, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, identity, immigration, liberty, life, Prejudice, Race in America, U. S. Census, whites | 1 Comment
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Ask some European Americans their race and they will generally answer white or Caucasian. Ask them if they know that the entire concept of multiple human races like black and white, brown and red, is simply a creation of society. The response will vary depending on the quantity and quality of information the responders possess. The concept continues to undergo its changing nature because as a social construct, a concrete definition is not possible except as the term relates to science. Let us look at the term white as it connotes to a so-called racial identity.
Many people believe that a so-called white identity is constant, consistent, and uniform with respect to its application. The word white is generally considered an adjective and used to modify a noun. So, for example, when someone identifies his race as white, he actually means white race. Without the noun race, white would simply be an adjective referring to a color that is used to masquerade as a noun. When the word white is used to denote a so-called race, its use also underscores the acceptance of the concept of multiple races, a concept we know is false. Nevertheless, many people believe the concept to be true and in the past have written many volumes to try and validate their opinions.
Many European Americans do not think of themselves as belonging to a particular race, just the human race. They often view people who do not look like them as belonging to a race different from theirs. European Americans have been led to believe that they are the model used for the creation of human beings, so people other than them belong to a race. Today, Americans hear the term “race card” being used and usually think of African Americans trying to gain an unfair advantage by using that term. In reality, European Americans play their “race card” every day. America was supposedly created as a democracy where all people, regardless of their differences could experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We know from our history that that experience was denied to many people, especially people of color. We also know that being white was not an identity that fit all people who looked white, but being white provided power and privilege from the very beginning.
When someone identifies himself as white, one might ask the question: with what white race Nordic, Mediterranean or Alpine? These are three races of whites that some scholars and intellectuals such as Theodore Lothrop Stoddard created to explain the differences among the white races. Although the subject is not generally discussed today, the concept of a white race was not fixed on one homogeneous group of people who all looked alike. Prejudice existed and was exhibited by those European Americans who identified their ancestry as Anglo –Saxon, and thought their Nordic race superior to all others. According to Thomas A. Guglielmo, author of White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945, new immigrants would create a problem because they were not of a superior breed: “IQ tests that the U.S. army administered to soldiers during World War I, as well as other intelligence studies, reached the same conclusion: Nordics, or ‘old’ Americans, were vastly superior in intellectual endowment to all other race.”
Who were these immigrants and why were they considered inferior to the Nordics? We are told that “These European races were condemned for their putative degeneracy, mongrelized nature, and general physical, moral, and mental inadequacies.”Never the less, they were labeled as “free whites” for purposes of immigration in 1790. These free whites were Celts, Slavs, Hebrews, Iberics, Latins to names a few and were later joined by the Anglo-Saxons and became known as white/Caucasians. (Caucasians is a term created shortly before the 1800, and used to identify people of Iranian decent). Still the stigma of superiority and inferiority continued among the so-called white races. Guglielmo informs us that “The term ‘Caucasian race’ has ceased to have any meaning except where it is used, in the United States, to contrast white populations with Negroes or Indians or in the Old World with Mongols.”In other words, the term lacks any specificity regarding race or racial value.
He further states that “It is, however, a convenient term to include the three European subspecies [Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean] when considered as divisions of one of the primary branches or species of mankind.” The only reason to use any of these branches would be to discriminate one against another. In effect, race is not based on color, but also includes geography, culture, scores on IQ exams, and a number of other considerations.
We know that today in America certain groups of European Americans are not treated with the same level of respect some other groups receive. For example, some European Americans are called “Trailer Park Trash,” or simply “Poor White Trash.” Other names like “Red Neck,” “Cracker,” or “Peckerwood” are not the inventions of other ethnic groups, but were created by European Americans to describe and distance themselves from people who looked like them, but were not accepted as equals.
We have mentioned a number of times the problems created by the Census Bureau regarding the use of the terms race, black and white without the benefit of definitions. The results of the 2010 census revealed an increase in the white population because people of various ethnicities were given the option of identifying themselves according to their ethnic group or just picking white. Many selected white which in turn created confusion for the Census Bureau. We can recognize the growing uselessness of the terms black and white as far as a so-called racial identity is concerned, but at the same time, we can witness the efforts of many Americans to disrupt any movement to encourage this change.
The changes relative to diversity in American society today are inevitable because of our growing population of people of color. The value of placing a color before the word race is rapidly diminishing because the emphasis on the values of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all Americans are taking precedence over ethnic identies

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  1. I am always encouraged by this conversation because I do believe as you do it is the key to dismantling the social construct of racism. It is difficult because a white and black identity has been super glued into American culture, but not impossible. As proof consider the Negro. Where has the Negro gone? Could it be that through education people came to realize this term was a creation of the racial construct, a word artificially dressed up to appear acceptable and real. Could it be that people began to understand that there really was no such thing as a race of Negros? The end of the Negro began with the individual, educated, conscience decision not to be identified as one. There is indeed hope.


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