More Thoughts On the Exclusivity of Whiteness

A few posts back I wrote on the barrier presented to immigrant Muslims (all non-whites for that matter) – the barrier to whiteness. Here are some interesting words by one of our founding fathers, Mr. Benjamin Franklin:

In 1751, Ben Franklin wanted to know why Pennsylvania, “founded by English, (should) become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs anymore than they can aquire our complexion? The number of purley white people in the world is proportionably very small,” he lamented in this essay on human population.

Franklin continued stating,

“All Africa is black or tawny; Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the newcomers (that is, the English) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased.” [Frye 40].

Some of you may indeed be surprised to see Franklin’s expulsion of almost every other group of Europeans from the fold of “Whiteness”. So with this as a proto-concept of the Whiteamerican, how could this shape or influence the debate on the racialization of immigrants into the greater American society? Personally, I found it easy for myself to substitute German for Muslim or even Mexican in his statement above. Food for thought. And God knows best.

Source: Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color : European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.

4 Replies to “More Thoughts On the Exclusivity of Whiteness”

  1. Swedes are swarthy? That’s a new one…

    I’m interested to know how do you define racialization of immigrants from an academic perspective? Is that a sociology or poli sci term?

  2. I agree that it is funny in today’s context to think of Swedes as “swarthy”. But perhaps Swedes were more tanned back in Franklin’s day! Who knows…

    Racialization is an academic term used by sociologists, especially when talking of immigrants that come to the United States. It is the process by which groups of people who had previously “no race” or perhaps only notions of ethnicity, upon arriving in America, are forced to check boxes by the government, as to which one fits them (i.e., black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc]. For for example, having a conversation with a Mexican friend of mine, he was saying, “I’m not Hispanic. I’m not Latino. I’m a Mexican and I don’t want to have to check some box that the U.S. government is telling me I have to adhere to”. His gist is that Mexicans are different from Guatamalans, from Puerto Ricans, from Colombians. And yet, in America, they are forced to either check Hispanic, white, or black, which in their native cultural context, may have no meaning [and perhaps offensive!]. It also involves how the dominant culture [i.e., white] influences governmental policies that oversee this process of racialization. History has shown us that for instance, whiteness has, up until late, been a fairly amorphous enterprise. But give both the large wave of Spanish-speaking immigrants as well as the post 9/11 phenomenon, that amorphous shape has now become more solidified and policed as well. Hope that is helpful.

  3. Interesting…
    From what I understand it seems like in a way it all comes down to our need to label people who we see as different than us. The same thing happens in many societies from the people in “that city” are such a way to the people in “that country” are like this. My friend who is from the Dominican will make statements about how Guatemalan girls are like this, or Columbians are like that. A Saudi girl I knew would differentiate between people from Riyadh and people from Jeddah like it was a fact written in stone never to be altered. I always found it so silly and so strange…but I can see why some would take offense to being lumped together under one category when they arrive here in the West. I wonder what that does to their socialization process – now that is an interesting research question.
    Now it’s not as systemic or laden with racism as what goes on here in the West for sure but I find it all stems from the same basis – White people just used it to subjugate and retain power – they made it work for them. They decide who is White enough and who isn’t, with the darkest or most “different” (translate Muslim) being at the bottom of the list.
    I wonder what box people of mixed heritage tick off?

  4. Iris, thanks for your feedback. One thing that I noticed from what you said:

    “From what I understand it seems like in a way it all comes down to our need to label people who we see as different than us…”

    I saw it not simply as being different but as a system of superiority. So white wasn’t just different than black. It was better, or at the very least, preferable, as in Franklin’s argument.

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