The story of how white people became white in the United States goes as far back as the 15th and 16th century. People born white in this country were born with great privilege. It was an honor to be classified as a white man, or woman because white people had the pleasure of enjoying the many benefits that other cultures could not. If a person was classified as anything other than white, they were called minorities. Being a minority meant that one had no rights. People of all cultures set out to prove that that they belonged to the white heritage, and that’s how the story of How White people Became White began. Whiteness does not stand alone. It draws part of its meaning from what it means to be nonwhite”. (Phillip C. Wanderer, 2009). “
The roots of racial classification emerge from the naturalistic science of the 18th and 19th centuries”. (Phillip C. Wanderer, 2009, p. 30) “During this time, scientific studies extended the classifications of humankind developed by zoologists and physical anthropologists by systematically measuring and describing differences in hair texture, skin color, average height, and cranial capacity in various races”. (Phillip C. Wanderer, 2009, p. 0) Racial classification was a way of being able to separate the whites from the nonwhites. For European immigrants, racial identity was not always clear. “The process of becoming white and becoming “American” involved a whole range of evidence, laws, court cases, formal racial ideology, social conventions, and popular culture in the form of slang, songs, films, cartoons, ethnic jokes, and popular theater suggested that the native born and older immigrants often placed the new immigrants not only above African, and Asian Americans, but also below white people”. (Roediger, 2009, p. 36).
Because of this immigrant workers wound up in between races. The literal in between’s of new immigrants suggests what popular speech affirms: The state of whiteness was approached gradually and controversially. (Roediger, 2009) Some of the changes set in motion during the war on fascism, lead to a more inclusive version of whiteness. Anti-Semitism and anti-European racism lost respectability. Instead of dirty and dangerous races who would destroy U. S. democracy, immigrants became ethnic groups whose children had successfully assimilated into the mainstream, and had risen to the middle class (Brodkin, 2009).
Although changing views on who was white made it easier for Euro ethnics to become middle class, it was also the case that economic prosperity played a very powerful role in the whitening process. (Brodkin, 2009) In 1980, the U. S. Bureau of the census created two new ethnic categories of Whites: “Hispanic, and “non-Hispanic”. The Hispanic category an ethnic rather than racial label compromised Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Panamanians, and other ethnic groups of Latin America descent. (Foley, 2009, p. 5) Creating a separate ethnic category within the racial category of White seemed to solve the problem of how to count Hispanics without racializing them as nonwhites. (Foley, 2009, p. 55).
Mexican Americans began insisting on their status as Whites in order to overcome the worst features of Jim Crow’s segregation, restrictive housing covenants, employment discrimination, and the social stigma of being “Mexican”, a label that in the eyes of Anglos designated race rather than one’s citizenship status. (Foley, 2009, p. 56). Mexican Americans supported strict segregation of Whites, and Blacks in the school and public facilities. Foley, 2009) The basis for their claim for social equality was that they were also white. (Foley, 2009). A group of Mexican Americans founded their own organization in 1929 called the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). LULAC members sought to set the racial record straight. Mexican Americans did not want to be associated with blacks because being associated with Blacks or other colored race was considered an insult. (Foley, 2009, p. 56). Mexican Americans first challenged school segregation in 1930 the same year they achieved segregated status in the census.
Mexican American plaintiffs of Del Rio, Texas sought to prove that the actions taken by school officials were designed to accomplish the complete segregation of the school children of Mexican, and Spanish decent from the school children of all other white races in the same grade. This clever wording recognized that Mexicans were not white in the sense that Anglos were, but that they belonged to a parallel universe of whiteness. (Foley, 2009)Mexican Americans then learned that the courts ended officially sanctioned segregations of Mexicans only when they insisted on their status as Whites. Foley, 2009) Growing numbers of middle class Mexican Americans made Faustian bargains that offered them inclusion within whiteness provided they subsumed their ethnic identities under their newly acquired White racial identity and its core value of White supremacy. (Foley, 2009) In the war on who was white, and who wasn’t, it’s safe to say that most people of white heritage were born into their whiteness. Those who were not born into it had to fight for their whiteness, and their rights as American Citizens. Not every culture became white or was recognized as white in the same ways. Some had to fight harder than others…
Brodkin, K. (2009). How Jews Became White Folks. In P. S. Rothenberg, White Privilege. Worth Publishers. Foley, N. (2009). Becoming Hispanic: Mexican Americans and Whiteness. In P. S. Rothenberg, White Privilege. Worth Publishers. Phillip C. Wanderer, J. N. (2009). The Roots of Racial Classification. Worth Publishers. Roediger, J. E. (2009). White Privilege Third Edition. In P. S. Rothenberg, White Privilege. New York: Worth Publishers. Rothenberg, P. S. (2009). White Privilege. New York: Worth Publishers.