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Currently reading this article "Whiteness and the Historians'...

Currently reading this article:

Arnesen, Eric. “Whiteness and the Historians” Imagination.” International Labor and Working-Class History, no. 60 (October 1, 2001): 3–32.

And I”m already in love with it, lol.

Within American its promises. The most influential historical studies of whiteness notably by David Roediger, Noel Ignatiev, Matthew Frye Jacobson, Neil Foley, and Karen on arbitrary and inconsistent definitions of their core concepts Brodkin rely while they emphasize select elite constructions of race to the virtual exclusion of all other racial discourses. Offering little concrete evidence to support many of their arguments, these works often take creative liberties with the evidence they do have; they also put words into their subjects” mouths to compensate for the absence of first-hand perspectives by the historical actors themselves. Too much of the historical scholarship on whiteness has disregarded scholarly standards, generated new buzzwords and jargon, and, at times, produced an erroneous history. (5)

This is literally how I feel about this. And I”m glad I”m not the only one (although, I saw suggestions earlier in the article that I won”t entirely agree with this person).

How useful is the “public and psychological wage” as an explanation for white workers” refusal to make common cause with African Americans in the workplace and embraces blacks as an integral part of the working class and labor movement? Only if one accepts, as do many historians of whiteness, the “theory of laboring class unity” or, Bruce Nelson”s words, the “logic of solidarity,” does the failure of white workers to recognize their commons interest with blacks, their creation of a labor movement that excludes people of color, and their own embrace of white racial privileges require explanation. (11)


Ignatiev concurs: It was “not so obvious in the United States” when the Irish began “coming over here in large number in the 1830s and 40”s, that they would in fact be admitted to all the rights of whites and granted all the privileges of citizenship.” That they were, in fact, granted all those rights and privileges upon naturalization…does not give Ignatiev pause. (14)

Note: Ignatiev is the writer of the how the irish became white so his view here is pretty interesting. Like. Look at that cognitive dissonance “it was sure that the Irish would be treated like white ppl when coming to settle in the US” meanwhile, in actual history, this is exactly what happened.

Upon close inspection, whiteness scholars” assertions of Irish non-whiteness rest largely upon their conflation of racialization and the category of whitenesss. For Ignatiev and Roediger, the increased popularity of the “racialization of the Irish” – the tendency to see the Irish as a distinct and inferior race – is equated with their exclusion from “whiteness” itself. The two, however, are by no means equivalent. (15-16)

Omgggg. This really is the article I”ve been waiting all my life to read.

Such grammatical constructions also permit them to avoid crucial questions like: If it was by no means clear that new immigrants were white, to whom was this not clear? If it was not obvious on which side of the color line they fell, to whom was this not obvious? Italian or Polish immigrants and their children may not have been the social or economic equals of the old Protestant Anglo-Saxon elite, but who, precisely, portrayed or “constructed” them as not-quite-white? It was not politicians courting their votes, government and military officials attempting to mobilize them, academic anthropologists and social scientists studying them, journalists writing about them, or industrial unionists seeking to organize them. Only if whiteness is merely a metaphor for class and social power are these men and women not white. But if is merely a metaphor, then its descriptive and explanatory power is weak and its repitition in so many different contexts contributes only to confusion. (20)

Ah. This is clarifying why, perhaps, they really think that not-white whites weren”t white. Because of class. And I”m like. REALLY?

To return to the initial query of “how the Irish became white,” the short answer is a simple one: by manipulating definitions and putting words into historical subjects” mouths, the Irish became white because historians, not their contemporaries, first made them “nonwhite” before making them “white.” (20-21)

Holy shit. Br0 isn”t taking any prisoners here.

Roediger”s reluctance to link systematically his largely cutlural analyses to chronological change or anchor them in historical institutions makes racism out to be “one again like some innate quality of human behavior” (22)

I”VE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR DAYS/MONTHS/YEARS. This view that racism can be any and ever thing makes it into this static feature of human relationships, when it is historically bounded.

The imperative of racial reductionism – finding whiteness and color at the heart of every example – suggest a critical weakness in much whiteness scholarship. It is lagely driven by its theoretical assumptions and evinces a disregard for evidence and primary research. The consequences is a cultural history that is always provocative but, at root, untrustworthy. (24)


Nothing in the previous pages should suggest that issues of race, racial identity in general, and white racial identity in particular are not tremendously important subjects deserveing fo the attention they ahve received and ought to receive in the future. Rather, what this essay has argued is that how one studies race and racial identity matters considerably and that many of the assumptions, interpretive styles and techniques, and methodologies pursued by cultural historians of whiteness are highly problematic. (25)

I”m pleasantly surprised, I was expecting some shitty thing to be said but it never happens. This article is basically my view of a lot of current critical race theory (not limited to whiteness studies).

As Arnesen says, “Racial identity is too important a subject to receive nothing less than the most rigorous treatment at historians” hands” (26).