I've been watching some netflix documentaries (specifically, Gates' "African American Lives 2") and, while watching the many descriptions of experiences, thought, exactly what is "white"?  Not the first time I've thought it.  But in a world where inequality is so often defined as "white" vs. "black" or "white" vs "latin" or "white" vs. "asian" or any other category, what is "white". Is Italian white? Is Greek white? How about Irish (see book, "How the Irish Became White").  I understand race is a 'construct' and does not have significant biological meaning.  But race (or ethnicity - maybe a better term) continues to influence human fates, how people interact, and how people think about each other.


In the Gates series, Chris Rock commented that black people he knew talked a lot about being black. Maybe that's mostly the people he knows?  Looking at my own family, I don't ever remember relatives talk about being white.  I suppose it was like thinking fish would talk about water - it's their world, but they didn't know it's there, didn't know anything else.  They were rural midwestern. Some DID talk, a lot, about being German (this was my father's relatives, and how much smarter they thought Germans were than nonGermans, how much more practical, and frugal, and just 'better', and also how they were 'persecuted' (this was after WW II).  On my mother's side, they were dirt farmers (literally, the house my mother was born in had a dirt floor.  She went to school in a one-room school house) and, growing up in a town where "town" meant one church and one general store with a gas pump in front, they never saw anyone who wasn't white.  Interesting to think this was probably less than 50 miles from "New Philadelphia", a mixed-race town founded by a black former slave.  But there, then, 50 miles might as well have been 1,000 miles.


So, growing up, I never knew, really, what "white" meant to other people or even to me.  As an adult, I do understand concepts of priviledge, and stereotypes, and I do understand that history lives, sometimes when we don't even remember it.


Probably rambling too much.  Some links:


Wikipedia "Stereotypes of White People"


Wikipedia "WASP"  (I find this kind of odd - I've heard people characterized even though they were not Anglo-Saxon or Protestant)


Wikipedia "White People" this is an interesting history of "white" - although most not related to what people mean whtn they say "white".


StuffWhitePeopleLike.com  tongue-in-cheek.  I had to page through multiple postings, finally found that white people like to pick their own fruit - I do like that.


TheRealStuffWhitePeopleLike Strange, I had to look through the entire poster to find something I liked - I found grilling and "The Hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy".  That's it.  This is apparently a compliation from OK-Cupid profiles.  According to that post, "We selected 526,000 OkCupid users at random and divided them into groups by their (self-stated) race. We then took all these people's profile essays (280 million words in total!) and isolated the words and phrases that made each racial group's essays statistically distinct from the others'. "  This is clearly a biased, nonscientific analysis, based on a population of people who are on the ok-cupid site. Interesting to look at their findings, anyway.


OK, FINALLY - I am white! I like mayo. Is it OK if I add some horse-radish?

So, what IS "white"?

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Replies to This Discussion

Are you "White" enough?
What I hate is having to put down "Caucasian", though "White" is bad enough.
Having to classify myself as "White" on documents and IDs makes me think I am living in a fascist state, though I understand that it is useful for statistics I am not a fan of statistics, especially when they are used to make distinctions based solely on the color of one's skin.
Such distinctions are becoming increasingly irrelevant and rightfully so as people groups are no longer isolated due to geography. My son for example is Eurasian, my wife is Chinese. But Eurasian can be half British and half Indian.
Discrimination and prejudice is surely better now than at any time in our history, but we still have a long way to go.
I often have to check my own prejudice, though it is usually against "whites". I also have to check my prejudice against Christians, though they are often justified.
I don't like white chocolate, I prefer dark chocolate.

I agree about the chocolate.

Eurasian is an ineresting term.  For some reason I thought it applied to post-Soviet Russia.  Always learning.


Put down "other."  We all are, anyway.  Personally, I like chocolate no matter what color it is, as long as it's got some sugar mixed in there.  (Eat a chunk of baker's chocolate sometime.)


I think I've hit on a metaphor . . . .

Joseph, it's a very interesting question and it illustrates the difficulty of defining race and ethnicity.  If you need a category, I would say bicultural, which avoids race completely.  I am no expert, so you can take that with a grain of salt.


There have been interesting situations where blond blue-eyed white skinned people from Rhodesia (ie, Zimbabwe) or South Africa or Mozambique moved to the US and attempted for various reasons to get "classified" as "African-American".  Such as this story.  However, the designation African American came from self-definition of the ethnic group in the US who has had severe discrminiation and racial inequity, those who were descended from African slaves who were brought to the US, were mixed with other Africans and with white Americans, historically denied opportunity and denied access to the same rights and priviliges of other Americans, and have somewhat of a shared cultural experience within the US.  As such, even Mr. Obama doesn't quite "fit" but as a man whose parents were African and white American, and who mostly grew up in the US, I think he has more of that identity than he could have of any other.


Using another category as an example, most people seem to think of "Asian" as someone with black hair, almond eyes, and olive complexion.  So what does a Chinese person have in common with a Sri Lankan, or what does a Thai person have in common with someone in Tajikistan?  The designation "Asian" is useless as well.


Personally, I don't think race has any use as a designation for what we expect from a person socially, in their skills, their attitudes, their habits....  but even so there is a real thing we call "racism" and people are dehumanized by it.  How something that doesn't exist is still so real to so many, and results in so many shared experiences by so many, is a conundrum.  It's hard to even have a common language to talk about it, but I think we need to try.

I have to agree with you there. One thing that burns my hide is the phrase "he/she is so white". Okay, how are they white? Because they speak proper english? Or maybe because they like mayo(I freaking love mayo but I'm weird).

Here is a question though: if every "white" person in the world had their dna and family tree mapped, would they still be considered white after the various ethnicities were listed? I had that discussion in high school with a student because I said I was "mixed" ethnicity. My parents were black(well, kinda..long story) but my family as a whole had literally slept with every ethnicity out there so the skin chart would go from a pale peachy color(my grandmother) to a dark chocolate color(my uncle Marvin). That being said, I told him "you might do well to know your family tree. There might be a bit of black in there." And he was very upset screaming "I'm white!". I calmed him down and asked him "What would be the problem if there was a black person in your family tree? You are aware of the fact that if your family owned slaves that the slave owner would sleep with the slaves right?"

I don't know if he ever spoke to me again....

But I do agree. Race really doesn't have a use except to make folks comfortable about putting others in boxes. Heck,it even makes someone feel better about themselves at times. I don't know how, as that the color of their skin was not something they created. It was literally genetics and chance.
I fucking hate mayo.

I agree that there is not a text book definination of white, but if you are black you know who and what is considered white in the majority of america.

It is a complex mixture of culture , perceived "class",skin color and physiognomy.

the easiest way to see the pop definiation of white is to view the popular media.

almost everything you see is a definition of white, even some of the folks with darker skin color.

most of the immigrant folks asian, hispanics, arab here who are not obviously african black learn real quick what the winnning combination is and adapt a lot of the white stuff.

the big reason of course is that white skin folks (males especially) at this time are powerfull so it is understandable. (note beautiful asian girls dating and marrying really 3 tier white guys!!

yes, you have the essence of the idea, whata you may not know is that skin color confers subtle and not so subtle advantages vis a vis Black  folks especially.

these advantages are usually in the realm of personnal interactions  negotations.

and , depending on the circumstances perceived status.

the difficulty in explicating this to white guys especially is that they generally do not recognize it.

good example  is my work buddy; a great guy,  but still does not understand the significance of the history of ethenic  wealth difference. he says " i am not responsible, i never owned any slaves nor did my parents"

To be white, at least in some parts of America, is to think, speak and act a certain way. I have been fortunate enough to raise my children in a pretty decent environment. My 13 yr old daughter was telling me how her mom's friend was trying to put her down by saying she acts so "white" and she could never survive in the ghetto. Even my daughter say the absurdity of her argument. She is glad that she has the ability to speak proper English and doesn't conform to social norms.

However until we are able to educate more people, many will continue to advance their ignorance of what having a good education, speech pattern dress actually mean.

I would like to point out to you that what you refer to as "proper english"  is a bit narrow minded.

the english that some  Americans speak is  , american english, the english spoken in other countries is different and the dialects we have here in america are recogonized as such. the misnomer of bad english is pejorative and incorrect.

If you visit the old shipping ports of England you will hear  dialect very similar to the black dialect here. why? because of the atlantic slave trade, english sailors were the first english speakers the kidnaped africans heard.

The criticism of your daughter may be unfair / untrue  but the core of that criticism has a historical truth; that is some black folks get it in their heads that mimicking the white population,  including hating black folks, is the way to advance and respectability in the white world

this may have been a wake up call so perhaps you might take a look at how your child understands the world



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