What It Means to be “White” in a Rapidly Changing Nation

By Mark Naison (November 25, 2015)

Being “white” was once a central feature of being American. Those who were able to become “white” had the fullest range of political rights and economic opportunities the rapidly expanding nation had to offer. Those who were not were subject, at various times, to enslavement, caste segregation, racial pogroms,ghettoization,and extreme forms of discrimination. As a result, new immigrants to the country worked mightily to “become” white, with the Irish achieving this goal after the Civil War, and Southern and Eastern Europeans achieving this after World War II. Many mixed race African Americans also participated in this process by “passing,”- moving to another part of the country away from friends and relatives and re-identifying as white. The numbers of people who did that ran into the hundeds of thousands; quite possibly in the millions

Another portion of dynamic were the extreme measures the society took to assure the preservation and growth of the “white” population. Untile the Loving v Virgina decision in 1967, nearly half the states had laws banning intermarriage between whites and non whites. These laws were basically designed to assure white women had white children. And extra legal measures, including murder, were used to assure the preservation of the “white race.” From the late 19th Century right up to the 1950’s, Black men were routinely murdered and mutilated for having consensual relationships with white women. Such relationships were defined as “rape” under lynch law, a sign of profound fears of intermarriage, “race mixing” and the erosion of a “white” majority, whose perpetuation was seen as an essential condition of the nation’s successful growth and development

Now, all these strategies of “race preservation” are starting to erode. More and more whites are marrying and having children with non whites. It is only a matter of time before the US has a majority of people who are non-European or mixed race.

In the face of these demographic changes, along with the growing political power exerted by “people of color,” however you define them, many whites are feeling embattled and displaced. They see what was once defined as a powerful communal goal, preserving the “whiteness” of one’s biological family and social circles, be redefined as an anachronism rather than an essential feature of national identity.

These “homogenous whites,” as I call them, are a now a minority in the country, but a very angry and powerful political force, Some commit acts of violence toward Blacks and Latinos though thankfully such actions are still the exception rather than the rule. Their deep sense of alienation, their feeling they are losing THEIR country, is a major theme in talk radio as well as on some TV outlets.

And they are right. The US is no longer THEIR country. It belongs to everyone. There is no great advantage in preserving “whiteness” in one’s family or social relations.

And while to some, that development seems like liberation, to others it seems like delivery into hell.

They cannot imagine living in a world without white supremacy and a white racial majority..

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