History of Whiteness

The concept of whiteness was created many centuries ago, and has changed continually throughout American history. It was created in order to create benefits for some people and not for others. It has, at its root, the maxim, "Divide and conquer." If people are pitted against each other, that takes attention away from the people with power.

The history of whiteness reveals how this concept of identity has created suffering for so many people. Studying it helps us to question some of beliefs and assumptions we have been taught and reveals what we can change. Explore these links to better understand how whiteness has been constructed, the consequences of whiteness, and how the labels we use perpetuate unhealthy identities for European Americans.

Questions to reflect upon:

  • When did the concept of whiteness get formed and why?
  • How have European Americans benefitted from this identity?
  • What have European Americans lost by moving to an identity based in whiteness?
  • What are the alternatives to whiteness? What can a healthy identity be connected to that does not privilege one group over another?
  • What can European Americans do, in collaboration with people from other cultures, to change the systems based on whiteness?

Constructing Whiteness, by Judy Helfand

White Lies Matter: The Deep and Often Surprising Roots of British and American Racism, by Sarah Churchwell

What is White Privilege, Really?, by Cory Collins

The Supreme Court Case that Enshrined White Supremacy in Law: How Plessy V. Ferguson Shaped the History of Racial Discrimination in America, by Louis Menand

1619 Project: The Idea of America, by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Breaking the Chain: Healing Racial Trauma in the Body – An Interview with Resmaa Menakem, by Kristin Moe

How Can White Americans Be Free?, by Kartina Richardson