Race and ethnicity has been one very important factor that is used in defining a person regardless of where they are in the world. It is not an issue that needs to be ignored because it is central in all kinds of human interaction. Whiteness in the United States of America is the boundary that was set by the people themselves in the quest to separate White Americans from the other races or ethnic groups. Races are defined by so many factors including the color of the skin so therefore one was considered white depending on the color of the skin. This ethnic construction had been used over the years and it originated from the slave era in order to put a clear cut distinction between the slaves and slave owners (Painter xi). Whiteness is therefore a racial term that had been around for very many years and Americans cannot distance themselves from it regardless of the constitutional effort of regarding all people as equal no matter the skin color or place of origin. But whiteness in the current context is the
Whiteness renders people privileges especially in the North American context not only now but throughout history. These people end up being very sensitive and utterly careful with whatever they say and do to other people who are around them. They also try as hard to profess how much color blind they are and that they are racially tolerant where as the opposite could be true. But in the long run, these people end up trying so much that they end up hurting themselves and turn out to be awkward and embarrassed themselves. This is so because of the history that this issue has travelled through especially in regard to historical oppression and injustices that were meted on particular groups in the past. No matter how hard they try, history keeps tormenting them by reminding them where they have come from.
Whiteness as a position of privilege is also dogged with the deep rooted fact that the white race is associated with some social and historical injustices that are seen through the eyes of history. That vacuum of the moral authority that led to this seems to be a haunting ground for anyone who seeks to be white through naturalization or those born as such. Whites therefore have to fight this sense of guilt day in day out in as much as it does not seem to be let go. Historical racism has had very bad memories on some groups of people and these people seem to be overly sensitive on how the issue of whiteness is handled in everything they do and everywhere they go.
Issues of stereotyping dog the whiteness of very many Americans regardless of their backgrounds. People from different ethnic groups are normally associated with some characteristics that at times even cut across the board. It is a common perception that Caucasians or Hispanics act and behave in a certain way that people from other ethnic groups do not. When whiteness as a position of privilege is stereotyped, it is evident that seeds of discord are easily sown simply because there exist feelings of biasness among the people involved. Stereotyping has got its positive and negative implications but many a times, the negatives override the positives thereby bringing about discord of any nature. This has in the long run led to people wanting to be over protective and oversensitive about what others think or say about them.
In as much as laws have been passed in order to eliminate the row of whiteness and other racial or ethnic groups, the privilege and power associated to whiteness still stands tall. People had already been cultured to believe that the white race is superior to the other and demystifying this fact has proven to be a hard nut to crack. This kind of labeling has deep rooted kind of dislike for a people regarded as superior to another. It is something that is not going to die soon because humanity has a way of wanting to make the other person they held resentment for as the cause of their problems. The whites therefore have got to deal with this kind of prejudice in as much as it is well understood that these hard feelings should have died and buried long time ago. It is therefore a problem to them that the other people have not yet gotten out of their ideals which have been passed down to them by their forefathers in this issue.
Taking the example of the Irish people, for a very long time they were referred to as savages and were not considered as white enough. In the book, “How the Irish became White” by Noel Ignatiev clearly paints the picture of the struggles that the people of Irish background had to undergo (43). At first they were the ones who challenged the issue of whiteness because they were clearly not Anglo- Saxon or Protestant but Catholic. This made them be classified as non white. In order to become white, they had to sacrifice their beliefs as Roman Catholics and embrace Protestantism and accept to be subscribed to the ideals of the Anglo- Saxons. This therefore means that they had to forego their beliefs therefore losing their ethnicity in the name of conforming to whiteness. It did not only happen to the Irish but to other ethnic groups such as Italians, Greeks and even Poles. This is a clear indication that in order to become an American one has to lose his or her sense of ethnicity.
Becoming an American in so many ways changes how a person acts, thinks and behaves. This is seen through the way one may want to fit into the new community by taking up what is widely acceptable by the society therein. This in most cases is done willingly either consciously or unconsciously. Recent immigrants into America have often found themselves in this situation by aligning themselves to what their predecessors from the regions of the world that they come from do. In so doing, they become slowly Americanized and hence embrace whiteness. Their ideals start disappearing slowly and in no time, they will have become totally different in way of speech, mannerisms and many other ways that are used in defining a person. This translates into one losing his or her ethnicity as they seek to identify with something new.
In some cases, after whiteness has gained roots in a person or group of people, they seek to retain their beliefs and therefore never embrace the American popular culture that comes with whiteness. It is normally a struggle that many loose. This is so because the norm and culture at times does no t allow them do as they please or as their culture expect of them. But one thing is for sure, some ethnic communities have succeeded more so the Jewish community which has retained some of its practices that they practice especially in regard to religion. It therefore does not mean that it is everyone who loses their ethnicity. Some stand the test of time and others are overtaken by the popular American culture. It is therefore evident that in as much as many lose their ethnicity in the name of conforming to whiteness, others have stood strong and retained it.
Ethnicity is very hard to kill and is show cased in manners that suggest that it is rife. The people who lived a very long time ago and who fought for the equality of all races in America will be a disappointed lot if they were to come back and see the rout the whole issue of ethnicity has taken in the wake of whiteness (Rothenberg 179). It is possible to encounter a person in the street who claims to be of a given decency by way of speaking, acting and even dressing. Some citizens of the United States of America regardless of their whiteness walk proudly in the streets proclaiming to be so and so and not really white. Some say they are Irish, others Jews, depending on their places origin therefore ignoring the fact that they are just white and not their ethnic groupings. This is a clear example that ethnicity is hard to die and how a person considered white can have ethnicity.
It is never the same though when immigrants who were born elsewhere but migrated to the United States. There are plenty of them who claim their ancestry to other places in the world like a Russian being born in Russia but moving to America. They can be forgiven because they calm to have relatives on the other part of the continent. But what they forget is the fact that no one will afford to ask them whether they were born in America or not. What matters is the fact that they ignore all together the effort and sacrifice put by their predecessors who fought for the whiteness of their people long before they were born. Such people often act as a bad influence and propagate issues of ethnicity where they are not welcome. When such arguments are picked up by people from the other side of ancestry, this will definitely be termed as ethnicity without minding to ask how Russian or Jew one is.
Whiteness is a body of knowledge and understanding of how social constructions can shape the future of not only Americans but other people of the world. This is so because with its knowledge, people will change their perspectives on how they view race and ethnicity in regard to physical outlook and internal embodiment of ideals. People will then operate differently to the conformity of whiteness and its ideals. It does not come easy though because there are a lot more to it than meets the eye for instance, individual participation and social institutions. In the current setting,, whiteness seeks to elaborately explain the hierarchy that existed there before while asking such questions as to whether this exists in present day.
Whiteness studies have brought to the limelight the underlying factors that over time have influenced and continue to influence how people of different ethnic backgrounds think about themselves and others. This point to the advantages and disadvantages associated with it in regard to what one achieves from where and at whose expense. This sense of white identity has therefore impacted the formation of the United States of America as a nation. Identity is one major aspect of life that cannot be ignored and it shapes the life of not only an individual but also the nation. Identifying oneself as belonging to a certain race does not build but destroy a democracy that has been developed for a very long time. Identifying with whiteness therefore creates a picture of not wanting to revisit the injustices experienced in the past but rather forging forward to a more white society where everyone counts regardless of their ancestry or background.
Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge. 2012
Painter, Nell, Irvin. The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010
Rothenberg, Paula S. Race, Class and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (7thed.). New York: Worth Publishers. 2007