White (people)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

(Redirected from Whites)
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see White (disambiguation).

White (noun, white or whites; adjective, white people) is a color-defined term used as a form of ethno-racial classification. Though literally implying light-skinned, "white" has been used in different ways at different times and places. See Color metaphors for race for more discussion.

A common element to the various definitions of "white" today, is that the term refers to a person of European descent. Also generally associated to white people is European culture, Christianity (whether as a religion or part of their cultural heritage) and Western Civilization. Outside this scope, the inclusion and/or exclusion of other groups of people may vary from country to country due to differing popularly espoused understandings of the term, definitions based on government guidelines, or factors of socio-racial implication.

Regions and countries that are today predominantly white include Europe, Russia, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.



Today "white" and "black" are less often used as nouns (e.g. "whites"), as they seem slightly impolite; instead the phrases "white person/people" and "black person/people" are used.

In North America, and to a lesser extent other countries, the term Caucasian is used for "white" people (even though Caucasian properly refers to people from the Caucasus region). In the United States, Anglo-Saxon is a less commonly used alternative, which sometimes even includes all white Northern European ancestries, not just English, as the term would seem to suggest.

European American is a recent coinage on the model of African American, Asian American, etc. and has not come into popular use to date.

Historic use of the term

Pre-modern usage of white may not correspond to recent concepts; for example, the first Europeans who traveled to Northeast Asia in the 17th century applied white to the people they encountered [1] [2] [3] - the term having then no other connotations - and indeed, even today the name of the Bai people of Yunnan, China translates as "white". By the 18th century, however, "white" had already begun shifting in meaning and started showing signs of the term's nature as an exclusive label. Benjamin Franklin's essay "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc." defined white to narrowly include only the English (Anglo-Saxons) and North Germans - Anglo-Saxons also originally North Germans, from Angeln and Lower Saxony - even then excluding nationalities such as the French and Swedes. [4]

As European colonization of the Americas and eventually other parts of the world brought Europeans into close contact with other peoples, the term white and other contrasting racial colour terms, such as black, brown, yellow (Far East Asian or Oriental), and red (Amerindian), etc, came into wide use as a quick shorthand to refer to race. Europeans defined the other terms with reference to "white", in other words, a "black" or "brown" person is defined by having darker skin than a "white" person, and any given "color" may apply to unrelated peoples. In the U.S.A, "black" quickly came to denote African ancestry and "brown" was later attributed to non-white Hispanics and South Asians (people of the Indian subcontinent); in Australia, for example, "Black" denotes Aborigines and "Brown" denotes South Asians and Middle Easterners/North Africans.

A common 19th century view categorized most white people as Semitic or Indo-European (sometimes then referred to as Aryan), on the basis of both language family and other cultural and physical traits. 20th century scholars are much more reluctant to assume coincidence between linguistic and genetic descent, since language can be easily passed to genetically unrelated populations.

Although it is most prevalent in casual conversation, the term white is increasingly rare in academic and formal discussions of racial demographics, but it is still often used in discussions of racial attitudes, particularly in the humanities, and in fields such as African American studies (Black studies), critical race theory and whiteness studies.

The scope of the term white has changed over time, and varies from place to place. In the United States, the term usually applies to people of ethnic European descent or anyone that appears European with no other discernable non-European features.

Who is white?

Race in the US Federal Census
The 7th federal census, in 1850, asked for Color:[5]
The 10th federal census, in 1880, asked for Color:[6]
  • white
  • black
  • mulatto
  • Chinese
  • Indian
The 22nd federal census, in 2000, had a "short form"[7] that asked two race/ancestry questions:

1.Is the person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino?

2.What is the person's race?

  • White
  • Black, African American, Negro
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • 10 choices for Asian and Pacific Islander
  • Other

This census acknowledged that "the race categories include both racial and national-origin groups." See also Race (U.S. Census)

Race in the UK_Census
Census 2001 asked for a person's ethnic group:[8]
  • White
    • British
    • Any other White background
  • Mixed
    • White and Black Caribbean
    • White and Black African
    • White and Asian
    • Any other Mixed background
  • Asian or Asian British
    • Indian
    • Pakistani
    • Bangladeshi
    • Any other Asian background
  • Black or Black British
    • Caribbean
    • African
    • Any other Black background
  • Chinese or other ethnic group
    • Chinese
    • Any other

The Americas: Euro-predominant and mixed-race people

Due to the historic one drop rule, in the United States lighter-skinned mulattos (people of mixed European and African descent) of predominantly more European ancestry (such as quadroons or octoroons) have always been considered "black". However, this train of thought has declined in recent decades, especially in the North. In Europe, these same people would be classed as 'mixed race'—a blanket term for all people with any multiple racial heritage. Meanwhile, in places like Cuba and Brazil, they would be considered, and consider themselves, white.

One recent genetic study by Mark Shriver, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University,[9] states that "there is a very small degree of overlap in the population distributions. In America, most of the whites are extremely European and most of the blacks are quite African." Among those white people found in Shriver's study to have black ancestry, they average an admixture of 2.3% black (of 128 grandparents, 3 are black and 125 are white).

White and Hispanic categories in the US

The definition of white in the United States often excludes Hispanics, even if of unmixed European descent, or with distant non-European admixture but with no discernable features other than European ones. In fact, the US Census considers race and Hispanicity to be separate questions; a respondant who checks the Hispanic/Latino box can in the following question also check any of the race categories such as white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American/Alaskan Native. Statistics on Hispanics as a group are kept in order to track discrimination, for affirmative action purposes, etc., in the same way that they are for non-white racial groups, and for women.

Of the countries of Latin America, those that it can be said are composed of an overwhelmingly European population are Argentina and Uruguay. Chile and Costa Rica are also quite "European", and possess mestizo majorities where it is not uncommon for the European element to predominate heavily over the Amerindian one (See also: Castizo); of those, many would simply identify as white. Countries such as Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, on the other hand, possess Amerindian majorities, and although they also harbour large mestizo minorities, on average the Amerindian element predominates over the European one. Furthermore, Guyana and Surinam have significant South Asian populations. Also, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are composed mainly of people of African or mixed African descent.

Despite these vast racial differences, there is a tendency in the US to label all people from South and Central America as Hispanic or Latino, no matter how white or black they might be in appearance. Sometimes the term "non-Hispanic white" is used for clarity to designate members of the dominant culture of the US.

North Africa, Southwest Asia and South Asia

Another contemporary difficulty of the term is the difference between any given popular definition versus the parameters used for the official government definition in the same locale. In the United States for example, many may view Anatolian Turks, Arabs, Berbers, Iranians, Mizrahi Jews, Kurds, etc. as non-white. This is despite the fact that for the purposes of statistics, all the aforementioned are always categorised as white by US government agencies and the U.S. census, and even though some of the people in these groups may look very similar to Southern Europeans. Said governmental categorisation does not always lead to a sense of inclusion, as they are often excluded from the general structural concepts of white-American society, and may even experience hostile rejection- particularly Muslims in recent decades.

By contrast in Europe and Australia those same Middle Easterners and North Africans are never regarded or categorised as white. Instead, they are regarded as racial minorities. This latter understanding of the term in Australia has little to do with White supremacist exclusionism, but rather a traditional, narrower, definition of white which has never encompassed Middle Easterners or North Africans, and which, unlike the definition of "White" in the United States, has not undergone continuous alterations to include an increasing number of people. (See also: Wog).

In the American context, where Middle Easterners and North Africans are grouped as white by government agencies, the popular contention of excluding these Caucasoid groups of North Africa and the Middle East from the white label has sometimes been based on the argument that there is a significant Black sub-Saharan component in their populations [10] - a long-spanning presence throughout the history of that largely contiguous region - but moreso on their disparate cultural, religious, linguistic heritage and ancestral origins. While it is undeniable that many Arabs in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, etc) and the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, etc.) have enough black African ancestry or are dark enough—at times being as dark-complexioned as some African Americans—to be considered black by popular US standards, some may also be lighter-complexioned by comparison, comparable to Southern Europeans. And although some Arabs of the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, etc.) may also be as dark as those found in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, here, many more are lighter-complexioned and comparable to Southern Europeans. A tiny percentage throughout the entire region (North Africa, Arabian Peninsula and the Levant) may even resemble Northern Europeans.

Furthermore, while South Asians are also an anthropologically caucasoid people—and recognized as such by the United States Supreme Court—not only are they also excluded from the popular definition of "white", but US government agencies further categorise them as "Asians", be they Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians or Indian Jews. (See also: Race in the US Census). Even outside the American context, this trend of excluding caucasoid South Asians is almost universal, as is the disregarding of a comparable lighter-complexioned phenotypical presence as discussed for North Africa and Southwest Asia.

For an example of legal contradictions in United States Supreme Court rulings of "white" vs "caucasian", please see United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind.

Whiteness and White nationalism

Main article: White nationalism

The strictest definition held by most white nationalist groups around the world - whether white separatists or white supremacists - is that anyone of total ancient ethnic indigenous European ancestry is 'white.'

White-nationalists in the United States often have a definition of "whiteness" that is much more limited than the official government definition. "Whiteness" in this case requires not only an ancestry that is solely or overwhelmingly European, but also a psychological identification with the European ethnicity and a commitment to advance its interests. Under this definition, many ethnically European peoples are excluded despite being virtually indistinguishable from their respective co-regionals, such as Northern European and Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazim), Iberian Jews (Sephardim) and Balkan Muslims (Albanians, Bosniaks, Macedonian Torbesh, Bulgarian Pomaks, and Serbian Goranis). Despite this "whiteness" method used by white nationalists, as with many other racially-minded groups, the definitions still vary greatly.

Among some more exclusionist white-nationalist groups, a serious ideological point is the bestowing of the "non-White" label upon ethnic European peoples of Southern European and Eastern European (Slavic) descent. Quite a few of these groups in the United States, however, have now accepted Southern Europeans and Eastern European peoples as white, considering that the blonde-hair/blue-eyed type in these areas is proportionally large. This is demonstrated in the written requirements for membership in white-supremacist organizations such as the National Alliance. The requirement for membership is that an individual be of "wholly European, non-Jewish ancestry."

Social vs. physical perceptions of white

The differences between social and physical definitions of white can be explained as identification of white with the dominant community or in-group, as opposed to the Other. In medieval Europe, Christendom was the community, and pagans, heretics, Jews, and Muslims the outsiders, regardless of skin color. When the primacy of religion was eroded by the Protestant Reformation and Renaissance and Enlightenment secularism, and Europeans started to colonize lands outside Europe, the in-group signifiers shifted to concepts like white and civilized, but much of the earlier attitude remained, such as exclusion of the religiously different. In the US, white consciousness was first encouraged to help maintain a caste system and control of labor; then when expansion of the in-group became politically desirable in the early 20th century as a result of mass politics, the definition of white was widened to include Southern and Eastern Europeans. Still later, when inclusion of Asians and some sections of other groups became useful, the term white has been played down as divisive, and emphasis has shifted to other signifiers like educated, professional, and modern.

Criticisms of the term

The broad usage of "white" is sometimes criticized by those who argue that it de-ethnicizes various groups, although the same charge is not leveled at the question of ethnic diversity within blacks. During the era of Jim Crow Laws in the Southern United States, facilities were commonly divided into separate sections for white and "colored" people. These terms were defined by law, with people of northern and western European being labeled white and African-Americans labeled as "colored". The categorization of people of other ethnicities and mixed ancestries varied by state, county, and municipality.

Areas of habitation

Countries with a majority of white ethnic Europeans include all the nations of Europe, as well as some of the countries colonized by them through the 15th century to 19th century, such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Asiatic Russia, and Oceanic Australia and New Zealand. In these nations, the relatively small indigenous populations were overwhelmed by white colonists from one or more European "mother countries". The distribution of Europeans worldwide may be explained by the traditional argument that Europeans thrive best in temperate climates above about 30° latitude in both hemispheres, but do not fare well in the tropics, except at high elevations. Indeed, Europeans have colonized most of those portions of the north and south temperate zones which had low indigenous-population densities when discovered by European explorers, which excluded East Asia but included virtually all other temperate regions.

Whites are also nearly unique in that they exhibit a variety of hair and eye colours. In parts of the world north of 50° North latitude, sunlight is low and weak enough that people (and white coloured polar animals for that matter) with blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin have an advantage over those with darker colouration. Benefits include resistance to rickets, possibly frostbite, and a suggested aesthetic appeal. However, the only major part of the world where such conditions exist is in northern Europe and western Russia. Parts of Alaska and western Canada, and, in the Southern Hemisphere (south of 50° South latitude), a small section of South America including Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands would fit the requirement as well, but they were thinly populated at the time of discovery and are now dominated by the descendants of European settlers.

Significant minorities of Whites live in the various Latin American and Caribbean countries, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia. Many of these nations have experienced considerable political conflict between the white minority (descendants of settlers from the former colonial power) and a mixed or non-European unmixed majority

See also

Further reading

Personal tools
In other languages