Author: has written 142 posts for this blog.

Chally is a student by day, a freelance writer by night, a scary, scary feminist all the time, and a voracious reader whenever she has a spare moment. She also blogs at Zero at the Bone. Full bio here.
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84 Responses

  1. Athenia
    Athenia November 30, 2010 at 8:48 pm |

    In Japan, my whiteness and English-speaking was “cool” (well, when people weren’t freaked out). My foreignness made them feel cool, cultured etc. I could speak a word of Japanese, and people would love me for trying.

    Now I live in a predominately latino community in NYC. My whiteness does not give me any privilege within the community and my inability to speak Spanish is looked down upon.

    So, yes, it all depends on the context.

  2. Ariane
    Ariane November 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm |

    I think in Australia, the overwhelming whiteness for so much of its history has meant that there is really very little understanding of the meaning and significance of ethnicity and race at all in the general cultural swill. It is only very recently indeed that there has begun to be any understanding of the diversity of culture and identity that is the first people of our country.

    There isn’t really much understanding of what race and ethnicity means to non-white people either. Many white Australians just consider themselves Australian, and since no-one has ever questioned that of them, they haven’t thought much about any other identities of other people, or why they may want to maintain them in addition to their “Australianness” (whatever that means).

    This has the effect of erasing people, but I wonder if, as understanding spreads (as it most certainly has started to do with respect to the various Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples) it might also make it easier for the new and better ways of constructing identities to replace them? (I’m ever the optimist!)

  3. Jadey
    Jadey November 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm |

    I’m not only a white Canadian, but I’ve lived most of my life in predominantly white enclaves with a huge focus on “colour-blindness” – I’m still only just beginning to unpack my racial identity and experiences, and I’m still learning a lot about other people’s. For that reason, I’m very excited about this thread and your proposed series, although apprehensive about the flak you will almost certainly get, given what has happened on past threads. Good luck, internet hugs if you want them, and whatever fortifying beverage you prefer in vast quantities (and that goes for everyone else gearing up to participate, not including the trolls, of course).

    It’s not my experience, but one of my favourite books on racial identity in Canada is Lawrence Hill’s Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada. It chronicles not only his experiences, but the diversity of experiences of the 30 some-odd black and white biracial Canadians he interviewed.

  4. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel November 30, 2010 at 10:34 pm |

    I’m a Latina and depending on the context, I pass for white. This made growing up the white sheep in my family really rough because since I liked to read, my cousins would tell me that I was actually white- even though kids at school would tell me to go back where I came from. So I don’t really belong anywhere.

    I actually just wrote a blog post on this a few days ago, so check it out.

  5. Andrea
    Andrea November 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm |

    When you spoke of race as being more than skin color and physical characteristics, my mind went to a recent conversation with my brother who is in the process of filing for Metis status (Metis being the decendents of the French Settlers who married First Nations women when they came to Canada.

    I was kind of surprised upon talking to him that during our conversation he distinctly differentiated between the Metis as a group and the First Nations people as another group… It surprised me, because I kind of always put them in kind of the same group, which was my own ignorance at work. But looking now, the Metis group come from a higher place of privilege because of their built-in ‘whiteness’ – probably half or more Metis people could pass as ‘white’, especially when factoring predominantly french names.

    So while I saw both groups as part of the same subset (please forgive my lack of a better word), he was seeing himself as part of a racial group separate from the First Nations.

    I don’t know if I’ve contributed anything, just an observation.

  6. Andrea
    Andrea November 30, 2010 at 10:47 pm |

    Andrea: my mind went to a recent conversation with my brother

    Sorry, that should read Brother-in-Law

  7. David
    David November 30, 2010 at 11:13 pm |

    In Japan, my whiteness and English-speaking was “cool” (well, when people weren’t freaked out). My foreignness made them feel cool, cultured etc. I could speak a word of Japanese, and people would love me for trying.
    Now I live in a predominately latino community in NYC. My whiteness does not give me any privilege within the community and my inability to speak Spanish is looked down upon.
    So, yes, it all depends on the context.  

    This reminds me somewhat of a story my brother told me about some time he spent in Japan as part of language study. He remarked on how everyone treated him quite differently for being a foreigner. One time a man on a bicycle nearly ran into him when he was walking and the man stopped and said “sorry” in english. I think my brother ended up saying “no problem” back in japanese.

    Or of course, there’s the instance when my dad had a black acquaintance who grew up in a middle-class suburban household. All of the people who met this black aquaintance asked for stories of what he was like growing up in the ghetto. At first he would set the record straight, but eventually he made up an elaborate story to match people’s image of what his childhood was like. He got a big laugh out of that.

  8. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. November 30, 2010 at 11:15 pm |

    I think Hawaii offers an interesting example particularly over time.

    Hawaii was settled by Polynesian peoples perhaps in a single migration, but more likely in successive migrations with the “newcomers” taking the islands by force and subjugating the prior inhabitants.

    While “we” label these successive groups a single people called Polynesians, there is some indication (although I stress there are many theories) that the (inaptly named) ancient Hawaiians relegated the prior inhabitants to their lowest caste, the Kaua.

    Captain Cook “discovered” the islands in the late 1700s and the empowered inhabitants at that time were labeled the native population by the West irrespective of the caste system.

    Over the course of the next 100 years disease, environmental degradation, economic coercion and military shenanigans decimated the Hawaiian people and led to the overthrow of their sovereign state.

    Westerners came in turned the islands upside down, shook out all the valuables and then started using the land to grow sugar. But sugar takes human power to plant and harvest and the Hawaiian people numbered in the tens of thousands by that time. Not a sufficient labor source for sugar.

    So plantation owners looked to Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines to satisfy their labor demands. These new migrations brought and maintained their own cultural identities but overtime the immigrants also constructed a collective identity with its own food, traditions, and language.

    This culture is called “local” by most in Hawaii to distinguish it from Hawaiian which refers to the native peoples of Hawaii. This identity is constructed almost entirely on community acceptance. Any local can be come a haole (direct translation foreigner…but also constructed as white) and any haole can become local.

    I think the history of Hawaii demonstrates several key aspects about the cultural construction of race and racial identity.

    1) That who gets labeled what is about power. The kyriarchy in part constructs our understanding of who is a part of what group. The native Hawaiians are not named such because they were the “native” population, but rather because they were the native population when discovered by the West. Similarly people on the mainland often persist in calling me Hawaiian even after I correct them and explain the difference.* Even now the construction of Hawaiian is being changed by others who are attempting to change the labels irrespective of what the inhabitants of a place want.

    2) That we can have multiple racial or ethnic identities. People in Hawaii do not forfeit their identities as the descendants of other cultures when they identify as local, rather a person’s ancestry is in addition to their local status.

    3) That while we may have multiple identities, the kyriarchy pays litle attention to our self-identification and instead assigns the label that works best for it. As an example, my SO self identifies as Japanese, Okinawan, Local and USian. As a generally rule, on the mainland he’s just brown…maybe Latino…or possibly Arab…occasionally Indian…but definitely brown.

    4) It likely goes without saying, but I’ll say it here anyway. Ethnicity and race are not necessarily the product of physiological similarities or biological ties. Although I agree with you that in the US we hyper focus on physiological similarities. Local culture developed not in response to “Asians” (a word that grates on my nerves) being similar physiologically or being connected by family ties (although interracial marriage was and is more prevalent). Instead, it was the product of shared experience and community. Pidgin developed out of a need to communicate. The unique foods came out a mixture of native species and traditional cooking techniques from all groups. You get the idea…

    All of this is to say…essentially I agree with you and provide some additional fodder for the discussion.

    *Claiming to be Hawaiian when you’re not is a really, really big fucking deal in Hawaii.

  9. Avida Quesada
    Avida Quesada November 30, 2010 at 11:38 pm |

    Chally: Athenia, being a white person in the United States absolutely gives you privilege over Latino populations.  

    I second that. Being latina myself I will say that whiteness have a massive impact on terms of privilege. There is a hierarchy that we inherited from colony days that is still there in the minds of our people. We have to fight against it, the first step is recognizing it. From a feminist point of view this harm the girls of our countries that sometimes dream themselves as an export product. Also our community is embed on the fabric of the society at large. You can ask a Black men if we have privilege or not dealing with police. Or to a Black latina if we have privilege when going to the grocery store. Since we are discriminated as women and as latinas, some times we forget (for an instant) the deep multi-oppressive nature of the system. And pleas don’t misunderstand my standing: Sometimes it happens to me, but I have my fellow fighters to call me out :)

  10. Nanette
    Nanette December 1, 2010 at 12:22 am |

    Chally, thanks for taking this on. It’s a complicated topic, as I well know! A fascinating one, though. It will be interesting delving into this.

    Sorry, that should read Brother-in-Law  

    Andrea, thanks for clarifying this. I was getting just a tad puzzled reading your original post, lol.

  11. karak
    karak December 1, 2010 at 12:52 am |

    I read a book about this for one of my classes, about acquiring whiteness in America. It’s really good, I thought, “Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs” by David R. Roediger.

  12. Li
    Li December 1, 2010 at 1:17 am |

    I’d just like to say that I’m really excited for this series of posts and I’m looking forward to reading all the discussions. It’s already pretty fascinating and it’s only just started!

  13. April
    April December 1, 2010 at 3:58 am |

    Avida Quesada:
    I second that. Being latina myself I will say that whiteness have a massive impact on terms of privilege. There is a hierarchy that we inheritedfrom colony daysthat is still there in the minds of our people. We have to fight against it, the first step is recognizing it. From a feminist point of view this harm the girls of our countries that sometimes dream themselves as an export product. Also our community is embed on the fabric of the society at large. You can ask a Black menif we have privilege or not dealing with police. Or to a Black latina if we have privilege when going to the grocery store. Since we are discriminated as women and as latinas, some times we forget (for an instant) the deep multi-oppressive nature of the system. And pleas don’t misunderstand my standing: Sometimes it happens to me, but I have my fellow fighters to call me out :)  

    I think she was just talking about her small community, not the world at large.

  14. timothynakayama
    timothynakayama December 1, 2010 at 4:23 am |

    I see this all the time in that free MX Newspaper they hand out all the time when you go catch the trains home. It becomes very apparent in the Comments section.

    “Man” and “Woman” is code for White Man and White Woman. I always wondered why those who made comments who put in “Asian” in front of Man and Woman, especially when the story has nothing at all to do with race.

    Like “Today I saw an Asian lady wearing one of those flu masks.” Why the need to put the “Asian” in?

  15. Kaija
    Kaija December 1, 2010 at 6:22 am |

    I will add my enthusiasm for your undertaking in starting this post/this series and I hope it the discussion will remain spirited yet civil (and I realize that this subject is very personal and emotional for many for many many reasons).

    From the comments so far, it’s very clear that “identity” is extremely variable and often one’s “self-identity” clashes with the “identity” label that gets applied externally from a majority group, power structure, or history (which is history according to the majority/power). It also varies with locale and generation. And this resonates with my first observations about identity, both racial and ethnic, when I was a teenager leaving my small remote northern hometown in North America and attending a big university. Where I was from, just about everyone identified as part of an ethnic group or groups depending on where their parents/grandparents emigrated from and when, with the one exception being the native people (who most likely had their own take on identity outside of the current norms) who preferred to be identified by tribal affiliation.

    It was honestly very very strange to me to arrive at University and perceive that identities were completely differently constructed than the only ones that I had ever known up to that point. It was MUCH more about skin color/race and not much about ethnicity (other than this nebulous “Hispanic/Latin@” group which seemed very vague). I honestly felt disappointed at just being lumped into this big “white people” group that didn’t feel like it represented me and wondered what the other groups felt about their labels as well. I suppose this was a “click” moment for me, to realize the social construction of identity, and it is definitely something I’ve been interested in talking about, reading about, studying about, questioning ever since.

    Looking forward to the rest of the discussion/series! *Shakes large stick at trolls*

  16. Aiyana
    Aiyana December 1, 2010 at 6:41 am |

    1. Very excited for this series of posts!

    2. When reading this, I immediately thought of racial categorizations (not the best term, but I’ll have to use it for lack of a better one) in places like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and much of Latin America. There are numerous categories for people based on skin color, many of which are locally specific terms. Not surprisingly, people with the darkest skin are subject to regular harassment by police.

    I read an essay by some anthropologists about how Puerto Ricans define themselves, racially, both in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. In Puerto Rico, something like 60% of Census-takers said they were “white.” In the U.S., that number was something like 15%.

    3. In terms of my own personal experience, I have had a hard time accepting “white” as part of my racial background. I am half Chinese, half eastern European (or white, whichever you prefer), but I definitely cannot pass as White, and have received my fair share of the racism so generously accorded to Chinese Americans and any other east Asians. White American culture has never accepted me as one of their own, and I’ve never felt White. I guess the only conclusion I’ve come to is that I am half white, but I’m not White.

  17. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin December 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |

    Where I grew up, in the American South, there was a historic context of being essentially two “racial” groups: blacks and whites. A minority group which lurked underneath the surface was that of “Indians”, who are now called Native Americans. Many whites had Native American ancestors, as did many blacks.

    Native peoples were distributed unequally throughout the region, and this added to the fluidity of identity. With the exception of South Florida and Louisiana, French and Hispanic influence was negligible. It’s only been relatively recently with the arrival of migrant workers, primarily from Mexico, that the South has had a Latino population of any size.

    White versus Black struggles still typify the region, though the odd thing is that poor whites and poor blacks share much in common. Whites of privilege and wealth have always sought to fan the flames of racism to keep a natural alliance from forming. There are a lot of contradictions and ironies present too numerous to go into here, but a region still largely behind the times, impoverished, and ill-educated will always be easy to exploit.

  18. Kaz
    Kaz December 1, 2010 at 11:44 am |

    I am very very excited for this series! :D

    Some thoughts…

    – coming from Germany, I find that there’s a strong conflation between being a German citizen and ethnically German. Which is to say, I know there are issues with, say, USAmerican being taken to mean white, but I think it’s much worse here- I suspect quite a few people think being a PoC and being German is a contradiction and I’ve heard stories of German PoC being disbelieved or told they can’t possibly be German (main one I’m thinking of right now is to do with the biracial kids of a friend of mine, who are German through their (white, ethnically German) dad.) Tying into this are the German citizenship laws which are very restrictive. I’ve caught myself saying I’m German to imply that I’m white before, which I’m not happy about. I think it’s better in the UK.

    – something that often doesn’t seem to be on people’s radars, especially USAmerican’s, is different white ethnicities and different treatment of different white ethnicities. I am thinking for instance of Polish and other Eastern European immigrants to Western Europe and discrimination and stereotypes that have resulted, or, in Germany, Russian Germans/Volga Germans – this last one gives a nice view of some of the wonky things going on in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, etc. So something that has been important to my experience of whiteness is being of, err, native German ethnicity (I don’t even know how to properly describe this) specifically, both living in Germany and outside it – I think I’d get treated a lot differently here in the UK if I were from Poland rather than Germany, whereas I’m not sure it would have mattered when we lived in the US.

    – on a related note, are the Roma considered white? as they’re one of the ethnic groups facing the most persecution in Europe today.

    – on the construction of Whiteness: I remember going to visit a friend of mine in northern Cyprus over the holidays. There are two large ethnic groups in Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. To my mind, and I think to many Europeans’, the former would be white and the latter not. I couldn’t visually distinguish between the two when I was there. Similarly, a lot of people from the northern countries around the Mediterranean now “count” as white but didn’t always, wouldn’t necessarily in all places and often aren’t… obviously visually different from groups coded as “white”. I went to the US with a Portuguese friend recently, and I’m pretty sure some people were reading him as Latino. Whereas I can’t think of any situation where I wouldn’t be read as white.

  19. SereniT03
    SereniT03 December 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm |

    Count one more Latina who is often read as white.
    I’m half Mexican and half Welsh/Croatian/Italian…
    It bothers me to have people (generally white people, but I’ve had this happen with African Americans and other Latinos as well) criticize me or be weirded out for identifying myself as Latina or a person of color. I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. When people make that assumption about me I feel like they’re saying Your father is not your father, your aunts are not your aunts, your grandmother is not your grandmother…
    My dad was historically not a fan of people who showed pride in their heritage, but he came from a time when it wasn’t cool to be Mexican. He and the rest of my Latino family (my grandmother, aunts, cousins) also for the most part doesn’t look like the stereotypical Latino family. They are lighter complected, middle to upper socioeconomic status, and live in predominantly white neighborhoods. My Dad and Aunts speak perfect English with no accent, except my aunts do use the accent on everyday Spanish words like tamale, quesadilla, etc.

    It sucks to be an invisible minority. I’m not easily accepted into Latino spaces (I’m fair complected and my Spanish is mediocre at best), and in white spaces I have to hear racist jokes and comments because no-one assumes I’ll be offended and no one assumes the comments relate me or my family.

    No one gets to decide for me what my race or ethnicity is, any more than they can decide me gender for me. I know who I am, and it’s not my fault that hundreds of years of rape, pillage, and hegemony have made my family look and act the way they do. I’m still me.

  20. SereniT03
    SereniT03 December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |

    * woops, I meant to say

    …any more than they can decide my gender for me.

  21. bhuesca
    bhuesca December 1, 2010 at 12:12 pm |

    @ Chally at #2 and #28, there’s some cognitive dissonance when you say “I want to have a conversation” with people of many experiences and then rudely shut down #1 Athenia with basically “no, your life experiences aren’t what you said they are at all” – when she is the best judge of her life experiences, not you, no? Given your privilege of being a moderator here, it makes me and likely others uncomfortable for you to use your power to steer the conversation in only the direction you want it to go – especially since you have the power to delete, say, ME from this conversation, not allowing my participation at all. It is slightly intimidating.

  22. Kaz
    Kaz December 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm |

    (a note: the Volga German link isn’t exactly perfect as it deals with only a subgroup of the people I’m thinking of and doesn’t really go into the current situation in Germany, and I’ve been away from Germany too long to feel comfortable trying to explain Russian-Germans as a minority ethnicity. If anyone knows of something like the German wiki for Russlanddeutsche in English I’d appreciate it.)

  23. Nanette
    Nanette December 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm |

    bhuesca, regardless of what moderator power Chally has or does not have, being one of few whites surrounded by non-white people does not remove or negate white privilege. Think South Africa – a bit of an extreme example for this conversation, I know, but there are plenty of other places to also consider.

    Athenia may experience temporary discomfort at being in the minority in her neighborhood, true – but she is still privileged through whiteness. Perhaps this privilege is more manifest in how often she is stopped on the streets and ordered against the wall to be searched, in or out of her neighborhood, or how often she is followed around the stores in or out of her neighborhood, or often how she is asked for extra ID when she wants to write a check at a store (or even use a credit or debit card), or how often she is listened to when others are not, or…

    Well, I could go on, but why?

  24. isitisabel
    isitisabel December 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm |

    I am excited for the rest of this series as well, especially since I have thought a lot about my own racial identity in the past couple years.

    My mother likes to call herself “European Mutt”–Norwegian, German, English, and little bits of a few other things, but definitely all white. My father’s parents both came to the US from Mexico when they were young children. Technically I can call myself Hispanic/Latina, and on forms I usually end up marking myself as such, or both white and Hispanic if that’s an option. But when I started applying for colleges and scholarships, areas still heavily influenced by affirmative action policies, I started having qualms about labeling myself as such. I grew up in a smallish, suburban town in the Midwest–middle class, good schools, not racially diverse. In other words, I had a very privileged, “white” childhood.

    My discomfort came from the double privilege I had when my applications were looked at through affirmative action (none of the colleges I applied to had specific quotas or points assigned to race, but some still do, and most colleges are not completely race-blind). I had advantage over my white peers because I could mark Latino/a, a better choice for acceptance by diversity-starved liberal arts schools. But I also had advantage over other Latino/as with more stereotypical, less privileged backgrounds. I think I ended up marking both white and Hispanic, hoping that my applications were strong enough that it didn’t matter. But the experience opened my eyes to how I identify myself racially.

    Now, I primarily self-identify as white, though I do take pride in my Mexican heritage. However, all the enchiladas I make or Spanish music I listen to does not counter the privileges I have had by being raised effectively white.

  25. bhuesca
    bhuesca December 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm |


    Perhaps people like Athenia could be ASKED about things such as following in stores, ID requests, etc. – but I choose to respect Athenia’s personal experiences as defined and described by Athenia.

    I think it was one of the first things that blogs like this taught me is that “people are the best/only arbiters of their own experiences.” Do people not get this respect anymore? Do you (in the general sense) wish to get this respect?

    Or do you want to open yourself and your experiences up to people whom you do not know on the internet only to have them tell you that no, you couldn’t possibly have the lived experiences you do have, just because that may be a pattern or stereotype that occurs to some but not all? I would prefer to be respected – you?

  26. Artemis
    Artemis December 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm |

    But I don’t think Athenia’s comment needs to be read as “I don’t have any white privilege in any aspect of my life” and it certainly didn’t say “no white minorities have white privilege”. I think it was actually saying “when I am within this particular racial community, that racial community does not give me privileges because I am white”. That doesn’t mean that the police, the government, and other individuals don’t treat her better because she is white. It just means that *the minority racial community* that she spends most of her time with does not treat her better, and in fact may treat her worse, because she is white.

    It doesn’t follow that POCs or communities of color never perpetuate white privilege. But Athenia also wasn’t saying that it was impossible to have white privilege if whites are a minority, she was relating her personal experience with a particular community. Maybe she is missing the subtle ways in which she still has white privilege in that community, but maybe not. Surely we can all agree that there are some situations in which a white person living in a community of color would not have white privilege *in that community* (though white privilege might still be doled out by other people and groups in their lives). In which case, I agree with bhuesca that the responses to Athenia’s comment just served to shut down a legitimate contribution.

  27. Adrian
    Adrian December 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |

    Thanks for starting this conversation. I’m fascinated by how the categories of “ethnic minority” and “foreigner” can overlap and be confused, now that I’m better at recognizing they are not the same. As Kaz pointed out, some ethnic groups are regarded as “white” in foreign countries and minorities at home. There are also groups that aren’t recognizable as distinct groups in some places.

    As an American, I used to think “Latino” was a universally-recognizable ethnic group. Then I was in a long-distance relationship with a man in Germany…for nearly 2 years, I didn’t notice that he would be considered Latino by American standards. I thought of him as German, (with an ethnically-German mother, living in Germany most of his life, fluent in German, Spanish, English, and French.) From his perspective in Germany, it had often been significant that his father wasn’t German, but not that his father was from Mexico rather than elsewhere.

  28. JP
    JP December 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    bhuesca: I think it was one of the first things that blogs like this taught me is that “people are the best/only arbiters of their own experiences.”

    Alternatively, one could consider precisely this sort of thing a reductio ad absurdum of the view that the first-person standpoint is always epistemically superior.

  29. Adrian
    Adrian December 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm |

    Kaz asks a good question:
    “Are the Roma are considered white?”

    The answer is going to vary, based on WHO is doing the considering. In Europe*, the Roma are considered an ethnic minority, subject to discrimination. Most Americans are so oblivious to their ethnicity that they count as white by default. (The lingering effects of discrimination elsewhere may still leave them subject to discrimination based on being poor or uneducated.) I have no idea how it is elsewhere.

    This sort of relates to Athenia’s comment about white privilege in a Latino community. It’s the community that decides who has privilege, and what kind of privilege. Individual acts of courtesy or rudeness are easy to observe, but it can be hard for an individual to recognize a *pattern* of privilege from the inside. (The nature of racial privilege is a group thing.) It’s all complicated by the fact that she’s not living in an isolated Latino community…a predominantly Latino community in NYC is surrounded by and dependent on a larger community with a white power structure.

    *Most places in Europe, as far as I know

  30. Tec
    Tec December 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm |

    “Something that’s been kind of weird for me in consuming as much US media as I do is seeing how race is constructed in terms of which races get recognised, used as examples. So, someone might use person of colour and black interchangeably, or might add Latino/a and Asian. Less commonly Native American. Even less commonly Arab. No one else, really. ”

    Yes! As a Canadian (like Jadey) I consume lots of US media. I live in Toronto, which is quite a multicultural city. One group that rarely gets recognized is South Asians like Tamils, Indians, etc. They’re usually doctors or cab drivers when they’re presented at all. Which is very strange to me since I grew up in an area that had a huge brown population, not to mention black, white (incl white immigrants) and East Asians. The other really strange thing is how it tends to be an either/or. E.g. It’s a completely white cast with 1 token black person or vv. There’s literally no diversity. This is completely different from my personal experiences. You see more of a diversity in Canadian TV. E.g. Corner Gas, which was a huge hit here, had First Nation (Aboriginal) cast members. Or Little House on the Prairie, about a Muslim community.

    That being said, I think in some ways the prevalence of African Americans as non-whites in US media is reflective in some ways of their population demographics as well as people in the media industry like Tyler Perry, Chris Rock, etc. who are creating shows, movies, etc. with black main characters.

  31. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm |

    It’s still a very new thing, and what Greek and Italian whiteness can mean is still evolving, still partial. On the other hand, in the United States, my understanding is that these groups have been understood as white for decades

    Yes and no. Yes, in the fact that these groups are legally white, and have been for decades. Yes, in the sense that in many major cities (and even minor ones on the east coast), these groups constitute either a numerical majority or have a critical mass that translates into a great deal of political clout—and thus the power to insist on their whiteness and being treated as white people.

    But no in the sense that so many of us don’t physically present as white (or, white enough—white enough to satisfy the folks for whom white status is never questioned. Those are the people with the power to confer/confirm white status).

    On Shakesville, there’s a thread on “what’s the worst thing someone assumed about you”. Mine could probably be that I was assumed by the “good white parents” in the apartment complex I lived in as a child, that I was having sex with the young adult men (early 20s) of that complex—at the age of 10 and 11. I overheard several conversations between white mothers (in the laundry room, around the corner inside one or another or the buildings, behind the fence surrounding the pool) about what a little slut I was; how I’d grow up to be a whore or welfare mother. They made reference to my ethnicity when making these comments (the wrong ethnicity, but hey….things like that don’t matter to bigots), so I had no doubt it was racism-related.

    As an adult, I’ve gotten a lot of police attention while driving. They always want to search my vehicle when I’m stopped, and check out the undercarriage. They spend a great deal of time back in their cars, trying to find some record on me. After 9/11, I was frequently stopped. I was working outside my jurisdiction (union jurisdiction—I’m an electrician and was “on the road”…but not too far from home; I drove back and forth every day). There’s one county in particular I couldn’t drive through to save my ass. The last time I was stopped there, it was by a young, nervous cop. I told him I had to get my wallet out of my lunchbox to give him my license, and he nodded—but unsnapped the strap on his holster and put his hand on his gun. He didn’t draw down, but the threat was clear. After that, my mom plastered a bunch of USA flag stickers and “Proud to be an American” bumper stickers on my truck; she was afraid I’d get shot. Me, I cut off my hair (I don’t get stopped as often when I have short hair—short hair helps me “pass” for white).

    Sometimes people ask me what I am. I don’t bristle when POC do it, but I do when white people do it….it immediately flashes me back to negative childhood experiences. There are times when I’ve had to produce a birth certificate to prove citizenship (when people who are read as “white” get by with a driver’s license—my name reads as “Hispanic”).

    So….we still occupy a somewhat liminal space in many areas of the US based on physical appearance alone. It’s weird. I grew up in various parts of what-we-call “downstate” Illinois (meaning: south of Interstate 80, which is just south of Chicago). My family is from in/around Joliet and Chicago. So, I grew up in areas where “white” meant…..something different from what I was, and it was very confusing to me as a kid. Still is, in a way.

  32. Dorian
    Dorian December 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm |

    THIS POST, Chally. I have been thinking so much about race recently as I negotiate what being Métis means to me (as someone who passes for white and spent his adolescence in an entirely white household), so I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.

    I think in Canada there is maybe slightly more recognition of First Nations and Métis identities than in the USA? There are some communities in Northern Quebec that have Cree on their street signs, some culturally significant events (Festivale du Voyageur in Manitoba comes to mind) are recognised…

    Conversely, we aren’t nearly as recognised as, say, the Maori of New Zealand. (Which is not to dismiss the very real anti-Maori racism that exists, obviously. But the Maori language has a much stronger foothold there than any FN languages could get in Canada, to name one example).

    It’s really interesting thinking about negotiating these categories, and how they change depending on where you are–I am well-aware that outside of communities with some knowledge of the diversity of Métis appearances, I am read as white, full stop. With all the attendant privilege (as well as the ache of being misracialised) that that entails.

  33. Nanette
    Nanette December 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm |

    Well, okay, bhuesca. I’m not going to do any sort of “white privilege 101″ type comment because for one thing I am on my phone now and I garble stuff enough as it is. And I am kinda old. And also, in this thread I think it is a derail and likely a function of that selfsame privilege.

    Lots of sites where this exact type of thing is and has been discussed on the Google, tho!

  34. Jessica
    Jessica December 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm |

    This is an interesting thread, and here are some thoughts I’ve had while reading everyone’s comments.

    1. I think Athenia’s comment may have been taken a bit out of context. From the wording, it seems that she was trying to say that in that particular community, she did not have the same privileges that being foreign afforded her in Japan. I think we should all recognize that being that we all are on this forum, posting about race, that we are in some way on the same side. Let’s not alienate each other over something that may or may not have been a matter of syntax.

    2. La Lubu’s comment made me think of my dad. We live in a predominantly POC (Black, Latino, South-Asian) suburb in New Jersey that is pretty solidly middle class, with neighborhoods that are slightly wealthier and neighborhoods that are slightly poorer. My parents are both bankers, and since they are good with money, my sister and I were afforded alot of privileges growing up. For the first 15 years of my life, my dad drove this bucket of a car, I think a Camry that from the early 80’s. He kept saying that one day he was going to buy a Mercedes. So, a few years ago, he bought one. It’s black, he takes good care of it, and it’s a really beautiful car. He’s been stopped 3 times over the last 5 years (not in NJ all 3 times- in PA or in NY) by police over trumped up reason. Speeding? Really? My dad’s the most careful driver around. They always double-check his registration and always imply that his car is stolen. He had alot of experience with law enforcement growing up in Jersey City, so he just smiles and waits for them to be done.

    Me on the other hand, with two light-skinned parents, rarely get called out for being a POC. If I do, it’s with what I call “ethnic questions.” Questions designed to figure out what the hell I am. How about the World Cup? Man, it’s a shame what’s happening over in Greece. Doesn’t the situation in Iran really make you mad? I answer these questions, and normally in a way that makes them safely assume I am a POC, because that way I don’t have to hear as much inclusive racist crap.

    The most formative experience I’ve had with racism was when I went to Disney World with my family. My parents were speaking Spanish, as they often do in public because they like their conversations private. I was reading a book because we were standing on the line to get in, a few feet apart from my parents. A white woman in front of me turned to me and said “You know, if you’re not going to speak goddamn English, then you should go back to wherever the fuck you came from.” I proceeded to curse her out with every English word I knew, but in retrospect, I wish I would have siezed upon that moment in a more constructive way. Oh well.

    P.S. Another book to check out is How the Irish Became White.

  35. Nic
    Nic December 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |

    1. I tend to lurk about these parts but I am very excited about this post and the ones that are promised to follow. I wish you the best of luck moderating this obviously emotional topic, Chally.

    2. I, myself, am biracial (US black and white) and my ambiguous skin color/ethnic features have played out in some really interesting racial ways, to say the least. The reception I receive in certain parts of the US, for example, have often been contingent on what brown people are there and how much I look/dress/speak like them. I have been known to take advantage of people’s ignorance in this way, I won’t lie, because sometimes the alternative is downright terrifying!

    3. My mother’s whiteness and its role in my own racial identity has always caused me some personal grief. There are a lot of ways in which I have benefitted from white privilege, for instance, but there are a lot of ways in which I have not. Trying to make sense of that – as a child and still now – has always been a challenge for me because, like, when are my complaints valid and when am I just acting as Privilege Denying Dude? Sometimes, I just don’t know, so I am anticipating some interesting revelations during this conversation, for sure.

  36. Jadey
    Jadey December 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm |

    Jessica: I think we should all recognize that being that we all are on this forum, posting about race, that we are in some way on the same side.

    I think that it is really, really, really important for all of us to remember that while we may feel and want to be “on the same side”, we are still talking about hierarchical structures of race and ethnicity that pervade every aspect of our lives whether we recognize it or not, and those of us with white privilege would do well to keep that at the very front of our thoughts.

    I have no doubt that there is going to be a lot of intensive moderation and supervision going on in this series of threads, moreso than usual even for most Feministe threads, because of the nature of the content. I, personally, would not want to participate if it were otherwise. I trust Chally, and the other Feministe mods, to make difficult choices in sometimes fuzzy situations with a mind to what is best overall for the continuing integrity of the conversation. (I’m saying *I* trust them – this is not an argument that everyone ought to. Obviously I have no grounds to tell anyone what they ought to think about the mods.) I think if that means pointing out where people are making problematic assumptions and/or conveying them in a problematic way based on their judgements as moderators (not infallible by any means, but, again, I’m only here because I trust them, and Chally in particular, to take on this task for these kinds of discussions), then that is not any kind of “abuse of power” or disruption to the productive flow of discourse. Quite the opposite.

    Anyone who truly believes that this is a neutral and level space for talking about race and ethnicity might want to go read some old threads under that tag.

    (Jessica, I am responding to your comment specifically because you stated this opinion in a very concise way and because yours is one of the more recent iterations of it, but this sentiment has been threading its way throughout the conversation, and this is not meant to be an indictment of you personally.)

    Sorry for continuing to derail on this.

    In compensation, I offer up some Thea Lim awesomeness from Racialicious! (I know, again with the mixed race stuff, which isn’t all that this thread is about, but I can’t help how much I love Thea Lim and I’ve been thinking about these posts recently.)

    Tuesday Nitpicking: Mixed Race People and the Language of Fractions

    100% Cablinasian: Getting the Race Facts Right on Tiger Woods (Note: there was some problematic stuff about stereotypes of black people in this thread, that Lim revisited in the follow-up post below.)

    Revisiting “100% Cablinasian”: 6 Thoughts on Tiger Woods

  37. Jadey
    Jadey December 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm |

    Ack, I feel like I really should have made the point above that as a white person participating in this discussion it’s not just that I expect Chally and the other mods to moderate *other* commenters contributions, but mine as well. I wouldn’t be interested in participating in a conversation where I didn’t feel that I *couldn’t* or *wouldn’t* be called out on problematic behaviour. I see this as a positive, not a negative.

    Also, and in a similar vein, I did not make sure that I didn’t imply that Jessica is white (I did read your comment and see that you are not, but someone reading my comment alone would probably not see that) when using her comment as a focus for responding to a whole theme of comments, which was completely bogus of me and I apologize. I should have just responded to the other commenters or been more general instead of using your comment as the most recent one.

  38. Cole
    Cole December 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm |

    I read Athenia’s comment as “In Japan, people treated me as special and cool just because I was white and could speak some Japanese” and then “but in a Hispanic community I don’t get special treatment and I am looked down on because I don’t speak their language.” That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have privilege and more economic and educational and many other opportunities, it just means she’s contrasting two different experiences.

  39. Cole
    Cole December 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm |

    Oh, okay. Which comments are we allowed to talk about?

  40. David
    David December 1, 2010 at 8:56 pm |

    I just realized. There’s too much “meta” conversation on this site. Like the oft said ” OMG, comment X was bad” followed by “How dare you insult comment X!”. Then after all of it, we’re treated to a discussion of epistemological systems. Kudos to people who brought out some actual personal, real life examples to this topic.


    I like the content of your post and you made an interesting point in the third part (with regard to introspection and self-checking). Personally, this is the way I see it: Many things in life are best when taken into moderation. So it is always a good idea to examine your own actions words and behaviors to make sure you’re not acting like a typical arrogant ass, or are taking advantage of other people. (In the case of talking about privilege). However, too much introspection gets in the way of actually enjoying life so don’t take it too far. If you’ve even considered the possibility that you’re PDD you most likely are not. If it seems like i was stating the obvious (or you totally disagree) don’t worry about it. I’m just some random dude talking on the internet. Dime a dozen.

  41. Amanda
    Amanda December 1, 2010 at 9:01 pm |

    I love this discussion! I often describe myself as ethnically ambiguous and have occasionally joked that I’m a human Rorschach test for people’s beliefs about ethnicity. Everywhere that I travel or move – within the United States or abroad – people tend to “read” my ethnicity differently. I’ve been asked if I’m mixed, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Thai, Moroccan, Asian, and if I’m from Tajikistan. When I lived in Pennsylvania, people guessed pretty quickly and correctly that one parent is African American and the other is European American. In other places, though, people tend to be quicker to guess other backgrounds.

    Although I choose to identify as Black and do on some forms — I have more African “blood” than many people who identify as Black — I rarely identify myself as Black because people so rarely read me as Black. My brother, on the other hand, who has the same parents I do, rarely gets interpreted as anything other than a Black man and that shapes his experience in a way that is very different from mine. I’m just always amazed that Americans make such a big deal about heritage, but really the thing that shapes your life the most will be how you look and how people interpret your skin color, hair, facial features, clothing, etc.

  42. Jessica Isabel
    Jessica Isabel December 1, 2010 at 11:26 pm |

    @Jadey: No worries. I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t examine the privilege we all bring to the table, so it’s good that you reiterated that.

    @Chally: There have been plenty of people, myself included, who have moved past the first comment and devoted significant effort to deconstructing the issues you’ve put forth. Why not address them?

    In terms of shifting cultural paradigms, I tend to look at race and ethnicity with both a US and a Latin-American lens. In Cuba, for instance, race is much more closely tied to class than it is in the US (not to say they aren’t intrinsically related here, but it’s less concrete). It’s very much rooted in the history of Cuba as a plantation-colony of Spain, with equal numbers of African slaves, Spanish settlers, and mestizo/criollo mixed race people. The awful truth is that 98% of the indigenous people were completely exterminated, and therefore didn’t figure in a significant way to the new social order that was created throughout what historians call “the long 19th century:” 1798 (the French Revolution) through 1914 (World War I).

    The idealistic society that Jose Marti advocated, the idea of a raceless, classless egalitarian in Cuba, it just didn’t work out that way because Cuba essentially changed hands in 1898. Though they won their won their independence, Batista was pretty much a military dictator puppet of the United States. He maintained the white planter elite and the everybody-else, blacks, mulattos and poor whites were left completely immobile geographically and economically. Castro’s coup d’etat did little to change the racial stratification, other than level everyone off to similar living conditions.

  43. Han
    Han December 1, 2010 at 11:49 pm |

    I don’t often comment, but I am really excited about this discussion.

    Personally, I was raised to view my ethnicity as a really important part of my identity, and race was pretty much an afterthought. I can still remember filling out a standardized test in elementary school and thinking something like, “wtf is ‘Caucasian’? Where are the bubbles for Italian and Lithuanian?” My teacher told me to fill in “white/Caucasian”, and I remember actually being really disappointed and confused about that; I had never thought of myself as white before.

    Physically speaking, I’m tan, and my eyes are…kind of almond-shaped, I guess? As a teenager I worked as a waitress, and a lot of the white customers would ask me what race or ethnicity I was and proceed to take various guesses – and then seem disappointed when they found out I have a strictly European ethnicity (“Ohh, but you look so exotic!”). I didn’t identify as a POC, but I didn’t really identify as white either since I considered “white” to refer to WASPs, not me. I was most comfortable identifying with my ethnicity above all.

    It wasn’t until I went away to university and simultaneously started reading a lot about race that I was really forced to consider and acknowledge my own white privilege. Now I live in a huge and relatively way more racially diverse city than the small town I grew up in, and I’m much more conscientious of my “whiteness” to the point of almost hyper-awareness. I’m still questioned about what I am; often people assume I’m Latina. Generally, however, I think I’m perceived to be either white, Italian, or both.

    Anyway, this is super exciting, and I’m looking forward to it a lot.

  44. Miss S
    Miss S December 2, 2010 at 1:00 am |

    (Rather than comment directly on Athenia’s comment, I’ll share a personal observation as a woman of color in the U.S to add to the discussion).

    I’m a woman of color with a diverse background. Sadly, my dad isn’t a part of my life so I don’t know as much about my ethnicity and heritage as I should. I’m working with half the story. My mom is mixed, black, Irish, and Native American. Very light skin, light eyes, auburn-brown hair. My dad is black and Native American, but I don’t know how much. As such, I have a light (some people call it yellow, I call it golden) complexion, dark hair and dark eyes. This means that I’m coded as anything from Black and Asian, South American, half white, Puerto Rican, East Indian, etc. What that means for me is that while I don’t ever have racial privilege (no one will ever mistake me for being white) I do end up being treated differently based on what community I am in, and what they perceive me to be.

    Identifying as ‘black’ gives me “privilege” in some of the black communities I’ve lived in, while being perceived as mixed did not. Being identified as Hispanic gave me “privilege” in some of the Hispanic circles that a white girl wouldn’t get. That’s because it means I’m not a threat if I’m just like you but I might be if I’m not. It’s not privilege, it’s… acceptance. And it’s a tricky thing to navigate, especially when different people perceive you differently. Sorry for writing a book Chally, hopefully this helps. I think this is a great topic to tackle. Feel free to delete if it’s a derail, I just wanted to explain from the perspective of someone in a marginalized community in the U.S.

  45. Miss S
    Miss S December 2, 2010 at 1:01 am |

    Very interesting point brought up in the comments about Germans. I didn’t realize it, but if someone typed that they were German, I would assume ‘white.’

    Jessica- I’m in Maryland and I absolutely believe it about your dad. My uncle (mixed, looks Hispanic) got his car towed one morning on I-95. The cops didn’t believe the brand new car was his. It was 4 in the morning, and he was on his way to work in Philly. He even called and asked his wife to bring more documentation as proof. The cops stood there and waited 40 minutes and when his wife showed up they glanced at it and said “not good enough.” And towed his car. Also? I think you handled the woman in Disney World perfectly.

    Also, I would like to know more about hueism in Australia, if anyone wants to share.

  46. banisteriopsis
    banisteriopsis December 2, 2010 at 1:36 am |

    This is terribly interesting to me. I had an easy time acclimating to HI culture because, being from OR, my cultural identity was focused more on “being local” than an identification with some national identity of Caucasianness, although I will slip and say “us” when referring to actions of the USA. Please and Thank You getting past “but I’m caucasian and not racist!/don’t see race” arguments.

  47. miwome
    miwome December 2, 2010 at 3:51 am |

    Just one little anecdote here. I’m white, but often mistaken for something else, whatever it may be (varies a lot). I spent a summer in Damascus, and it was a particularly surreal experience hearing what people thought my nationality or ethnic background was–Korean, Japanese, Persian, German, Native American, a few flavors of Arab.

    The most interesting incident, I thought, was walking down a street in Damascus and having a little girl on a bike ride up to me, stop, and ask (in Arabic), “Are you German or Japanese?”

    To me, that’s a completely bizarre question, since my construction of German-ness and my construction of Japanese-ness are miles apart. But to this girl, these were both plausible guesses. I can’t really begin to unpack why that was so, because I have no idea what her constructions of those ethnicities look like.

  48. miwome
    miwome December 2, 2010 at 4:04 am |

    Or of course, there’s the instance when my dad had a black acquaintance who grew up in a middle-class suburban household. All of the people who met this black aquaintance asked for stories of what he was like growing up in the ghetto. At first he would set the record straight, but eventually he made up an elaborate story to match people’s image of what his childhood was like. He got a big laugh out of that.  

    Interesting. I have a close friend (known her from the 7th grade on) who is black, and who grew up similarly in an upper-middle-class household in the suburbs. Her experience was sort of the opposite, though. We went to a mostly-white private school which placed very strong emphasis on anti-racism, and somewhere along the line the result was that she was basically “read” as white. There were other black students there, as well as a very, very few Latin@ and Asian students, but she was experienced and grouped as different from them. I still cringe at some of the memories–a mutual friend once tried to helpfully explain to her that the reason for this was that she didn’t “act black,” etc. As far as I can tell, she’s struggled with those experiences ever since.

    I wonder if some of the difference has to do with time frame; after all, I’m talking about someone who graduated college in 2010, and I assume the experiences described above took place earlier (since it’s a friend of the commenter’s dad).

  49. miwome
    miwome December 2, 2010 at 4:11 am |

    Sorry if I’m spamming here, I just keep thinking of new stuff!

    An acquaintance of mine in college was writing his thesis on the Chinese population in South Africa (which was there for decades before the end of apartheid) and how they were constructed within the binary black vs. white apartheid system. Since we were in a thesis seminar together, I got to hear a little bit about it. (This is not my research, just remembering what I can of my acquaintance’s work; but I trust him and his judgment. He’s a really smart guy who isn’t stupid about race, gender, etc. in my experience.)

    Basically, the Chinese population was originally classified as “colored.” Then SA started doing a lot of business with Japan, so they wanted to class Japanese people as “white.” The Chinese minority, seeing this, lobbied successfully to be classified as “white” also, since they looked similar to the Japanese. Later, when apartheid was ended and a lot of social programs were initiated to assist the deeply oppressed black population, the Chinese minority lobbied again to be classified as “black,” apparently to take advantage of government assistance, since their classification as “white” had hardly granted them all the accompanying privileges.

    He told us a story of a South African-Chinese kid trying to buy postage stamps at a segregated office and not being able to because both windows kept sending him back to the other line; he basically did not exist in the system. It’s such a perfect image of such a completely inflexible system.

  50. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 2, 2010 at 7:13 am |

    The cops didn’t believe the brand new car was his. It was 4 in the morning, and he was on his way to work in Philly. He even called and asked his wife to bring more documentation as proof. The cops stood there and waited 40 minutes and when his wife showed up they glanced at it and said “not good enough.”

    Assholes. I didn’t get my vehicle towed, but on a routine stop (I didn’t have my license plate sticker on—I bought a new vehicle last year, but the Secretary of State screwed up the plates twice; by the time I received the third, correct set, I forgot I put the sticker in the glove box for safekeeping!)….I was investigated for possibly driving a stolen vehicle. New vehicles don’t have the metal plate VIN on the dash like they used to; they have a bar-code sticker. The cop made a big deal out of the fact that it wasn’t a metal plate, and checked the VINs on the inside of the driver’s door and in the glove box too (I also got a lecture about how easily the stickers on the door and glove box peeled off if you pulled at the edges; further proof the truck was probably stolen!). Luckily, I had my proof of purchase with me, and it was a large local dealership I bought it from. It still took about a half-hour, and made me late for work (while my daughter was sitting in the back seat—I was taking her to summer day camp—asking, “mama? are you going to get arrested? and what’s going to happen to me?”).

    I think what all these stories are demostrating is how fluid the concept of race is, and how a part of whiteness is….defending the boundaries of whiteness. Who gets let into the “club”; making sure no nonwhite people slip in by mistake. There’s a reason the word “passing” was coined. The degree and direction this takes varies by location—who the POC are, who the white people are.

    Where I live, “white” is an ethnicity. It refers to people who….I always use the term “WASP”, but hesitate to use it here, as I’ve been told (on the ‘Internets’) “WASP” has distinct class connotations….but, basically people of a certain physical appearance who also come from a strong English and/or Protestant background, or who have fully assimilated (both physically and culturally) into that image. White people who don’t fit that template are referred to by their ethnic origin (sometimes by ethnic slurs), and are….grudgingly conceded white status—but it’s still considered necessary to uphold that distinction.

    (in really weird ways, too. for example: the trope that “all white babies are born with blue eyes”. That is obviously untrue if “white” refers to people of European descent, but it’s a shorthand way to distinguish people of southern or eastern European descent…..the old “a-HAH!….you’re not “really” white!” It’s a gradation of “blood”….how “pure” the whiteness. That’s what I mean by defending the boundaries. There’s a reason white people feel the need to remind me how mixed Sicilians are.)

    At the same time, I do benefit from white privilege, despite the times I don’t. Like I said…it’s a liminal space I occupy. If I recall correctly from reading Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, when white supremacists were coming up with “scientific” arguments to back up their pre-existing racism (and justify colonial expansion, imperialism and genocide), history was literally re-written. In order to claim the achievements of ancient civilizations as “white”…the people of those civilizations were re-written as white…..even though their modern-day descendants had anything from a tenuous-to-none relationship to whiteness. (time frame for this: roughly, mid-1800s). That legacy continues.

  51. groggette
    groggette December 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm |

    It’s only been relatively recently with the arrival of migrant workers, primarily from Mexico, that the South has had a Latino population of any size.

    That’s only true if you define the south very narrowly. I’ve used this quote before but I’ll paraphrase it here again because it definitely applies, especially for Texas: A lot of people didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them.

    Florida is another southern state that’s had a large non white and non black population for a long time (not sure if Cuban and the other island countries are classified as “latino/a”)

  52. Shoshie
    Shoshie December 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm |

    La Lubu-

    I totally get what you’re saying. I code as white. But I’ve been told that I look “exotic,” whatever the hell that means. Especially with an unusual first name (Shoshanna) people really enjoy playing the “Where are you from?” game.

    I know that I benefit from white privilege, but, being strongly ethnically and religiously Jewish (and looking the part), I frequently feel the vibes of “You don’t belong.” Being Jewish is kind of in a weird place, when you think about race. It’s an ethnicity and a religion that used to be considered a race, and still is by many people. There are Jews that code as white, Jewish POCs, and Jews who identify as white but have very dark skin and hair. A lot of my male Jewish friends get harassed in airports, especially if they grow beards. And then, there’s also a lot of racism in various Jewish communities.

    Anyways, that was the long way of saying that I’m very interested in where these discussions are going to go and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently from MY limited perspective, but I’m really eager to hear from other people about THEIR experiences and opinions.

  53. Usually Lurking
    Usually Lurking December 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm |

    It might be helpful if you set the ground rules, for what you personally consider to be off the table. It would also save a bit of moderating.

    There are some people who believe in a more malleable framing of “whiteness,” which is also more inclusive. Those folks tend to assign more power differentials to the whiteness variable.

    There are other people who believe in a less malleable framing of ‘whiteness,” which is less inclusive, assigning more power differentials to factors other than “whiteness.”

    Is this discussion designed to address those two framings? Or is this discussion designed to look at the specific selections of people in a particular category?

  54. Iany
    Iany December 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm |

    I always refer to myself as anglo-Australian, when someone asks what my background is because the whiteness/Australianess thing bothers me a great deal. I’ve even noticed that most Australian friends of mine from non-anglo/european backgrounds refer to themselves by their ethnic background first, while those from anglo/european backgrounds call themselves and other white australians as Australian only (indigenous Australians are kind of silenced). Even if they’re people like my dad, who are in fact migrants.

    For this reason, I really look forward to your post on “Australianess and whiteness”. It’s something that is a big issue in Australia and it’s not really talked about. I don’t think I’ve ever had a discussion about it with my friends.

  55. Shoshie
    Shoshie December 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm |

    It’s happened within the past couple generations, for sure. And it may also be dependent on observance level. I’m in the middle-ish sect of Judaism (Conservative), so I do wacky things like wear pants and tank tops. But I often wonder if I read as “less white” while in “uniform” (long sleeves, long skirt, high neckline, covered hair) or if people just assume that I’m a religious white person. In the summer, I don’t wear long sleeves and long skirts together, but I frequently do in the winter. And I always cover my head, often with a scarf. I think the scarf tends to make a pretty big difference in how people perceive me, because I could just be wearing a hat or a bandana because I like them. Whereas, in the states, headscarves are less common. So, yeah, I’m very interested in how minority ethnicities, religions, and races are interpreted similarly or differently.

  56. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. December 2, 2010 at 4:34 pm |

    Chally: I was really surprised to find that there are so many ethnically Jewish people of European descent who ID as white in the US. I don’t think that’s terribly common in other parts of the world! Chally

    I have a hypothesis that this has a lot to do with the hyperfocus on physiological characteristics and (historically) national origin and how discrimination drove some Jews to practice in secret.

    All of this is based on conversations with my grandparents and great grandparents about their ID, but I’ve never discussed it with anyone so I’m possibly completely misunderstanding what they said…I was just a kid…and since they aren’t here any more I can’t ask. In any event it probably belongs in the conversation on how whiteness is constructed…so I’ll give it some more critical thought and maybe share it then. But I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on how this came about.

  57. Ouyang Dan
    Ouyang Dan December 3, 2010 at 12:12 am |

    Great post, Chally!

    Touching on the OP, I think that in some ways, some (not all, and I am certainly not saying anyone here has done this, just that it happens to me quite often) people assume that the dynamics among mixed-race/ethnicity U.S. Indigenous people , are completely dissimilar from those described here.

    I grew up when it wasn’t even a little respectable to be “Indian”. Even though I present white to many people everyone know where I was from and who my family was, so I knew I was treated differently. But it went both ways too. Other folks from my tribe have always treated me differently because I am lighter, because my blood quantum must obviously be less than theirs (even though I have an uncle whose quantum is higher than mine and is lighter than me, so there it is…). It is so much more than skin color… Chally summed it up best with this sentence, describing how race is characterized, “a combination of ancestry, community acceptance and self-identification” in Indigenous Australian communities. I believe that the same is true in NA Indigenous communities, but that they have also absorbed the bigotry that is the hueism US-ians seem to feel epitomizes race. I am told constantly that I am ‘not native enough’ or that I ‘don’t look native enough’.

    I like this discussion, because I really feel like most discussions on race on social justice blogs (that are not devoted exclusively to race) become a discussion on the U.S. dichotomy ideal of race.

  58. Ouyang Dan
    Ouyang Dan December 3, 2010 at 12:14 am |

    I meant to add in that last comment that this is why I consider blood quantums to be racist — they turn tribes inwardly against themselves.

  59. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 3, 2010 at 8:19 am |

    I meant to add in that last comment that this is why I consider blood quantums to be racist — they turn tribes inwardly against themselves.

    Yes, by design. The concept of blood quantum came from outside the indigenous communities; it was imposed upon them by white colonizers. Dilute the blood quantum, and people lose legal (by the white man’s laws) standing as indigenous. They then lose legal standing towards their ancestral lands.

    (I know *you* know this, Ouyang Dan! I mention it because a lot of white people don’t know this, based on many years of movie westerns that made it seem that blood quantum was an indigenous idea.)

  60. Gentleman Cambrioleur
    Gentleman Cambrioleur December 3, 2010 at 10:46 am |

    I am white but with Eastern European (Jewish) heritage, and have a lot of stereotypical traits like “slanted” eyes (with very visible epicanthic folds), high cheekbones, a strong beaky nose, very dark and bushy hair, etc. I grew up in a small town that was, during my childhood, 90% WASP and it is very interesting for me to note the changes between the way I was treated then and the way I am treated now, as more people of colour immigrate in the area.

    I got the “Where are you from – no, where are you REALLY from” treatment a lot as a child, as well as some pretty explicit prejudice. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have any white privilege as a child – I did, and the way I was treated was enormously friendlier than the complete contempt in which the WASP crowd held the local Ojibway community, or the huge amounts of exoticism that surrounded the one black family. But it was pretty othering; I never felt at home and I had a huge ethnic and cultural inferiority complex concerning English (not my native language) and Anglo culture. Nowadays however the white anglo people in the area seem to consider me as one of their own and sometimes share their discomfort with immigration with me in the obvious expectation that I will share it, and French and Jewish isn’t considered weird or foreign or exotic anymore. In a way, shoot me, but I miss the old times, because it makes me realize that I’m one of THOSE people now. (I was all along, really, but I was sheltered from the realization before.)

    One of the most dangerous aspects of whiteness is probably this, by the way – this tendency to accept into its folds people who have long been excluded in order to use them as footsoldiers in the fight against the great racial Other, using the threat of reverting them back to the hated “non-white” status if they rebel. Whiteness would be a dying minority in North America if the Irish, the Italians, the Greeks, the Eastern Europeans, the French Canadians and the Ashkenazi Jews weren’t considered “white.” But now these groups are as invested in preserving whiteness as the WASPs. (The huge fights over cultural diversity in Quebec – when white Quebeckers have themselves fought for so long for recognition – is a terribly depressing case in point.)

    Thanks Chally – I don’t comment often, but you are one of the bravest bloggers on the Internet when it comes to tackling these kind of controversial issues and I admire you a lot for it. Take care of yourself.

  61. Jim
    Jim December 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

    “Kaz: I’ve never thought of the Roma as white.”

    Chally, this is a great example of how the phyiscal definition of race is bogus. During the Holocaust the Roma fit every (bogus) criterion of what constituted “Aryan” under Nazi race theory, at the very same time as they were being rounded up for extermination as non-Aryan. And the final irony is that they were the only actual Aryans – speakers of an Indo-Aryan language – in Europe at the time.

    la Lubu – on Italians and whiteness – here’s soemthing form california. In California there were tow completely different flows of migration from Italy – one from the Piemonte and other northern areas in the 1860-80s, and then a later a flow from Sicily. The northern flow went into gold mining and later bought land for orchards and whatnot, and was integrated although not assimilated by the depression. The Sicilians went to SF and were fishermen. They stayed quite separate. The northerners didn’t consider then Italian, or white. Same as in Italy, come to think of it.

  62. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow December 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm |

    And some of the classification has to do with how you’re raised and who you’re exposed to. I grew up in a former sundown town. We had one black family and one Native American family. Most of the town was of German, Irish or English stock.

    I grew up knowing there was black, like the D. boys; Asian, like Mr. Sulu on TV; and Native American, like the one girl in my class.

    The Italian girl in my class, the Hispanic nurse, and my Pakistani doctors, all registered as “white” with me. Still do. So do Roma, ethnic Jews and most Middle Easterners.

    Is that erasure? Probably.
    Color-blindness-? Most likely
    Or is it just that early teaching makes me have to stop and think that most Hispanics don’t think of themselves as white?

    It throws me to hear someone who is not much darker than I am, and certainly lighter than my step-sisters (Greek, Lebanese and German), refer to themself as “A person of color.”

    I was going somewhere with this and got lost…
    Whiteness is constructed. And it swallows a lot of people whole. Watch. In 25-50 years, Latin@s will be considered white.

  63. Athenia
    Athenia December 3, 2010 at 11:34 pm |

    Chally: Athenia, being a white person in the United States absolutely gives you privilege over Latino populations.  

    No, I mean, privilege within the Latino community; I don’t mean within the broader cultural USA context.

  64. Mechelle
    Mechelle December 4, 2010 at 1:24 am |

    Angelia Sparrow: Watch. In 25-50 years, Latin@s will be considered white.  

    Not all will. Latinos/Hispanics can be of different races. I am of African/European descent but my features and skin color mirror my African descent more prominently. I doubt I will be considered white in 25-50 years.

  65. piratequeen
    piratequeen December 6, 2010 at 6:09 am |

    Chally: I was really surprised to find that there are so many ethnically Jewish people of European descent who ID as white in the US. I don’t think that’s terribly common in other parts of the world!  

    Data collection done by the US government (e.g. census data, public health data) is framed in an extremely limiting way. See details at So if one is Jewish and light-skinned, the only apparent option is to identify as White or “Some Other Race”.

    I’m loving this conversation, and it makes sense to me that so many multiethnic and multiracial people are speaking to this question. Whiteness in the US is the negative space that goes unacknowledged. Also people who cross these borders know the most about the immigration procedures, so to speak.

    I’ve been finding it helpful to say “skin privilege” instead of “white privilege”, because that helps me pay attention to when I *mean* skin privilege and when I mean class privilege and when I mean religious/regional accent/educational privilege etc.

    “Whiteness”, for a lot of USians, conflates skin color and class and religion and a bunch of other things (cf “WASP”). That tends to lead to some light-skinned European-descended people who don’t fit that conflated picture to say, when told that they have “white privilege”, that the term doesn’t apply to them because they differ in X Y or Z way from the white gestalt in their heads. Insta-derail, woo!

    Anyway, in trying to unpack my own whiteness and my various privilege and target statuses, forcing myself to do the mental work of “what am I REALLY talking about here?” has been useful.

  66. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow December 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm |

    @Mechelle, no, you’ll still be black, regardless of the hispanic heritage. Most people I know see African features and dark skin and say “black” no matter how the person may identify.

  67. ethnically challenged
    ethnically challenged December 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm |

    im half mexican, 25% white and 25% american Indian but phisicaly i look kinda white(because of my light skin and freckles) andi also look kinda mexican(because of my black hair and strong Latin featuers). to me, i think bi-racial people have quite a bit of advantages over “mono-racial” people(along with dis advantages) like sence i have light skin i can get advantages as a white person and looking mexican but not “too” mexican, i look exotic so my face is memorable…but being multi-racial, i have a really hard time finding a place to belong…i have two seperate types of friends, my “white” friends and my “latin” friends, because of the diffrences of my races the two groups are very diffrent and dont even know the other exists. two my latin friends im white and to my white friends i am mexican, never “half mexican” and its like that with my family too! i think that most if not all bi-racial people have an identity crises at least once in there lives when they realize there diffrences from other full races. we have two choices when we go threw this crises, 1) is two choose a race and stick with it(which is the easier choice) or 2) and to pick neather and live your life on the border of your races, at the risk of loseing a couple of friends and missing out on otherthings( which is the harder choice) me personaly i chose to be just one race and makeing sure to correct people that i am not just mexican or just white, that i am half mexican….

  68. ethnically challenged
    ethnically challenged December 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm |

    sorry for all the spelling errors i forgot to spell check….oops ^.^’

  69. links for 2010-12-08 | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    […] Cultural Constructions, Part 1 — Feministe "Race is constructed radically differently across cultural contexts, and it’s often quite a shock to see how much. For example, we were having a conversation a couple of weeks ago about the case of Tarran Betterridge, an Aboriginal Australian woman who was denied a job because her skin tone was considered too light for her to be a proper Aboriginal representative. I realised that I would really have to go to some lengths to explain to you, a primarily US audience, how Indigenous Australian identities are constructed: a combination of ancestry, community acceptance and self-identification. From what I’ve gauged, in the United States, skin colour seems to figure a lot more dominantly in how race is constructed. And I’ve been thinking about how vital the particular history and cultural forms of a context are for constructing racial identity. " (tags: race ethnicity nationality) […]

  70. Clara
    Clara December 8, 2010 at 11:24 pm |

    “I was kind of surprised upon talking to him that during our conversation he distinctly differentiated between the Metis as a group and the First Nations people as another group.”

    While many status Metis do have a degree of white privilege if they are read as white, defined by our culture, not our racial characteristics. We have our own languages, music, and traditional ways of life that are distinct both from white culture and other First Nations cultures.

    I’ll also add that Scottish men who married First Nations Women are also our ancestors.

    “It surprised me, because I kind of always put them in kind of the same group, which was my own ignorance at work.”

    Yes, that is indeed your own ignorance.

    “But looking now, the Metis group come from a higher place of privilege because of their built-in ‘whiteness’ – probably half or more Metis people could pass as ‘white’, especially when factoring predominantly french names.”

    I would never deny that many Metis people are given white privilege, but historically, we’ve had an extremely difficult time even getting ourselves recognized as a people. Our leaders were branded as criminals and hanged. Our land claims went completely unrecognized.

    I’ll also add that most “French” Metis surnames are easily recognizable as Metis names, to the point of stereotypes.

  71. Elsewhere I’ve been « Zero at the Bone

    […] Cultural Constructions, Part 1 Race, ethnicity, culture and identity are made and mixed in some really complex ways, differing across cultures, among communities, and in individual experiences. […]

  72. Mechelle
    Mechelle December 9, 2010 at 3:59 pm |

    Angelia Sparrow: @Mechelle, no, you’ll still be black, regardless of the hispanic heritage. Most people I know see African features and dark skin and say “black” no matter how the person may identify.  

    I know. That was my whole point. I think when you say “Hispanics” as a group you need to realize we are all different. Not the same. Hispanic can mean anything. Think about that before making a comment on the group.

  73. Mechelle
    Mechelle December 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm |

    Angelia Sparrow:
    Whiteness is constructed. And it swallows a lot of people whole. Watch. In 25-50 years, Latin@s will be considered white.  

    I also find this comment similar to those who think of the default American (or in this case Australian) as a white person. It is very ignorant and ignores whole groups of people.

  74. Morning Report for 12/14/2010 « leftistfeed

    […] Cultural Constructions by Feministe Part 1   Part 2- Whiteness in Australia […]

  75. Donald
    Donald December 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    While I expect there are some Roma who pass as white the majority are brown skinned. Except for cultural clues they appear as Desi. One of the complications is that some white groups such as Irish travellers are routinely confused with them by outsiders.

    I don’t think Nazi definitions of race add anything to discussions about the current world. Even by the standards of their day they were an aberation heavily influenced by nationalism and political expediency. They might be the source of the anglo-white racial catagory which seems to be so important in the US but just confuses me as a European.

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