How White People Became White

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How White People Became White
Paula S. Rothenberg
William Paterson University of New Jersey

Biologically speaking, it’s just as possible for a given white person in Florida to have genetics similar to his neighbor down the street as it would be for the same white person to have genetics similar to a black person in Nigeria. We could just as easily disregard skin color and pay attention to hair and/or eye color. Sociologists make this claim because they argue that the definition of what constitutes a race is something that is arbitrarily decided by society. Additionally, what it means to classify yourself or someone else as a particular race carries social meaning. Sociologist claims that race as a biological concept does not exist. However, the consequences of classifying someone as a certain race as certainly real enough. It needs to be said, though, that not every discipline agrees that race is merely a social construct. Forensic psychology absolutely identifies at least three racial categories. Some geneticists and epidemiologists also recognize race as a legitimate biological category. Race can be biological and socially constructed at the same time. The big difference is sociologists emphasize social definitions and meanings, rather than the biological aspects of race.

By the eastern European immigration the labor force has been cleft horizontally into two great divisions. The upper stratum includes what is known in mill parlance as the English-speaking men; the lower contains the “Hunkies” or “Ginnies.” Or, if you prefer, the former are the “white men,” the latter the “foreigners” (Barrett & Roediger, 1995). Skin color (whiteness, blackness, yellowness, etc.) remains a concern in the late 20th century, not because it advances the mission of multiculturalism, helps us to understand different people, or allows us, as individuals to congratulate ourselves on our “color blindness,” but because skin color has been used to rank...
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