What if you’re not quite white?

(With thanks to Minority Militant for prompting me to write this!)

Many of the world’s people understand that ‘race’ as we know it doesn’t actually exist. As the “Race Literacy Quiz” exemplifies, “there are no traits, no characteristics, not even one gene that is present in all members of one so-called race and absent in another.” Rather, race is socially constructed and maintained via societal beliefs, attitudes, and institutions. In the same way that ‘sex’ exists because we insist on defining people by whether or not they are penis privileged, so too does race exist because we insist on believing that skin color, ethnicity, country of origin, etc. are important factors of personhood. In short, race exists because we act as if it exists.

Perhaps the most distinctive racial category is that of the white race. It is distinctive because historically it has been defined as the ‘superior’ race, the ‘deserving’ race, the race that should inherit the earth. Due to this historical championing of whiteness, we have a binary system of white and non-white, or white and black, or white and people of color. While there are myriad other racial designations, the one that carries the most weight and most strongly determines a person’s wealth, life options, treatment etc. is whether or not one is (or can pass) as white. For example, due to generational racism and structural inequality, whites on average have twice as much wealth as non-whites.

Yet, despite what sicko groups like WAR (white Aryan resistance) would have us believe, there is no such thing as racial identity outside of the social construction of race. This is why who counts as white has changed (and continues to change) over time. Irish, Jewish, Italian, and Eastern Europeans with light/white skin have at various historical periods not been considered white. The changing rules and requirements regarding who gets to be in the white club are related to systems of power and privilege. This is why whiteness is defined by exclusion rather than inclusion.

By preventing various ‘Others’ from being construed as white, white privilege translates into better jobs, better treatment, better legal protection, and on and on. Whiteness functions as a system that confers entitlement, power, and privilege on some, and oppression, disenfranchisement, and lack of power on others. Thus, racial oppression is the key reason behind the construct of the white race and, as Judy Helfand writes in her piece “Constructing Whiteness,” this translates into white people benefiting “disproportionally from the race and class hierarchy maintained by whiteness.”

Historically in the US, whiteness has been defined and maintained by a number of key factors. Firstly, immigration and naturalization policies have worked to benefit anyone defined as white. Secondly, laws regarding who could own property and who could vote helped to consolidate white wealth and power. Thirdly, labor laws and practices defined who would get the best jobs and who would own the vast majority of wealth.

In what follows, I will discuss how Irish, Italians, Greeks, Jewish, and Eastern European peoples are “not quite white.”


The book How the Irish Became White documents Irish emigration before and after the potato famine, or from about 1840 to the Civil War . Detailing how Irish Catholics “came to this country as an oppressed race yet quickly learned that to succeed they had to in turn oppress their closest social class competitors, free Northern blacks,” the text reveals that who counts as white changes depending on labor needs and profit motivations.

In the case of Irish immigrants, for a substantial period of time they were defined as a non-white laboring class and performed the same work as blacks. As Art MacDonald notes,

Irish and Africans Americans had lots in common and lots of contact during this period; they lived side by side and shared work spaces. In the early years of immigration the poor Irish and blacks were thrown together, very much part of the same class competing for the same jobs. In the census of 1850, the term mulatto appears for the first time due primarily to inter-marriage between Irish and African Americans. The Irish were often referred to as “Negroes turned inside out and Negroes as smoked Irish.” A famous quip of the time attributed to a black man went something like this: “My master is a great tyrant, he treats me like a common Irishman.” Free blacks and Irish were viewed by the Nativists as related, somehow similar, performing the same tasks in society. It was felt that if amalgamation between the races was to happen, it would happen between Irish and blacks. But, ultimately, the Irish made the decision to embrace whiteness, thus becoming part of the system which dominated and oppressed blacks. Although it contradicted their experience back home, it meant freedom here since blackness meant slavery.

While I think the claim that the Irish chose to embrace whiteness is a bit simplistic, MacDonald’s argument here touches on a key historical factor: that one’s racial categorization is intricately linked to one’s labor. When one is excluded from the category of whiteness, it is often due to economics and labor. In early colonial times, the terms ‘free’ or ‘Christian’ were more often used to designate the so-called elite. However, due to the history of Tobacco farming, bonded labor, and the preponderance of African as well as Irish and other light skinned European bond laborers, the term ‘white’ began to replace the terms ‘free’ and ‘Christian’ in legislation. For example, in 1790, the Federal Government reserved citizen rights to “free white persons.” This decree had wide-ranging implications, the most prominent of which was a battle over who counted as white.

In the 1800s, a wave of Irish Catholic immigration (and the subsequent competition for jobs) led to phrases such as “Irish Niggers.” As with Italian Catholics, religious belief played a large part in who counted as white. In the early years of the US, whiteness was associated with Protestantism due to the fact that the immigrants to the 13 colonies were mainly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Due to this legacy, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims have variously not been considered ‘white’ due to their supposedly ‘non-white’ religious beliefs.

Italians and Greeks

As The Black Commentator documents,

Italian immigrants to this country suffered a long history of discrimination, exclusion and violence. There is also a long history of Italian Americans committed to interracial unity and inclusiveness. But most of the Italian American community left their darker immigrant brethren behind when they gained political clout, economic success and acceptance in white society.

The term “wop,” a once common ethnic slur against Italians, was originally an acronym for the phrase “without papers,” referring to Italians’ supposed immigration status. Many Italians arriving in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when the largest numbers of Italian immigrants came to the U.S.) were not even considered white, but were labeled “dark” or “dark/white.” Condemned as “papists,” Italians – and Irish too – were considered loyal to a foreign power in Rome.

Italian immigrants were susceptible to the same violence, discrimination, exploitation and scapegoating that other immigrants faced. In the Jim Crow South, there were many cases of Italians lynched by mobs or the Klan, including the infamous 1891 lynching of 11 Italians by a mob in a New Orleans jail.

The recent collection of essays Are Italians White?: How Race Is Made in America, edited by Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno, reveals much of this forgotten history of the Italian immigrant experience in the U.S. The essays reveal that in general Italians gained white identity and the accompanying privileges only by assimilating certain white cultural and political beliefs.

In “How White People Became White,” James Barrett and David Roediger document how both Greeks and Italians were characterized as non-white and suffered discrimination, oppression, and violence due to this designation. Italians were referred to as the “Chinese of Europe” while Greeks were called “half niggers.” As Susan Raffo writes,

Italians in the U.S. are the southerners, the dark ones, the ignorant peasants who carry statues of the Virgin Mary through their neighborhoods and faint with religious passion. They are not the Venetians or Florentines, the ancestors of the deMedicis, the Michaelangelos and daVincis. No, those are Europeans. Historical moments eventually led to the creation of democracy. Italians, well, they are something different. They come in large and dirty numbers to Ellis Island. Too many of them really. Not all the way white. Certainly not white enough, rich enough, or intellectual enough to understand Faulkner. This is not about race. This is about class. About culture and history. And then it is about race.

For more on the construction of whiteness in relation to Italians and Greeks, see here.


As Abby L. Ferber notes,”The history of the Jewish experience demonstrates precisely what scholars mean when they say race is a social construction.” In her article, “What White Supremacists Taught a Jewish Scholar About Identity,” Ferber documents the changing designation of Jews as non-white or white, a designation that is still fluctuates today – to many, Jews are considered white, but, to white supremacists, Jews are not white. Ferber discusses how her research into Jewish identity and white supremacy causes her to move “between two worlds: one where I was white, another where I was the non-white seed of Satan.” Asking “Why, in some states does it take just one black ancestor out of 32 to make a person legally black, yet those 31 white ancestors are not enough to make the person white,” Ferber shows that racial designation is unstable and “always tied to power.”

As with Catholics, Jews being defined as not white was largely related to religious belief. This point seems obvious, but its obviousness is refuted when people link race to skin color, as they often do today. For example, my students, when required to give social identity presentations in which they introduce themselves in relation to race, class, gender, etc. often say things such as “well obviously I am white” to define their race. Here, they are mistakenly assuming that their white skin makes them white. However, as I hope the above discussion reveals, white skin does not necessarily mean one will be defined by social institutions and practices as white. Rather, religious belief, economic status, political affiliation, and how far ‘west’ or ‘north’ one is from are more likely to confer whiteness.

For more on the construction of whiteness and Jewishness, see here.

Eastern European

Massive immigration and subsequent competition over jobs accompanied by widespread poverty resulted in many Europeans being defined as “not quite white.” While US history quite clearly excluded Asians, Indigenous Peoples, and African Americans from the white category, Europeans have been excluded, included, or partially included in the white club depending on religious belief, economic climate, labor skills, etc. Historically, this has led to a bifurcated system of only two choices – white and non-white. For those whose skin color has allowed them to ‘assimilate into whiteness’ the choice has often been either remain ‘not-white’ and suffer the consequences, or try to ‘become white’ in order to attain the social and institutional privileges associated with whiteness. This is why the term “people of color” makes sense even though it is sometimes argued that “white is a color too.” What the term POC confers is the fact that historically, white people have been defined over and above those who are defined as not-white, as Other, or as ‘colored.’ (And, no, it should not be replaced with the phrase “professional victims of color”!!!) For whites, being not ‘colored’ has translated into power, wealth, and privilege. This is not to say that all whites have power and wealth, but that whiteness is intricately bound up with who deserves to have power, citizenship, wealth, legal protection, etc. (It is also bound up with sex/gender wherein white women have often been in the ‘not quite white’ category)

The construction of whiteness also links to the long historical practice to “divide and conquer.” Designating certain people as white, even when they do the same work and suffer the same levels of poverty has been deployed as a strategy to quell rebellion, as it was when Tobacco workers were on the brink of revolt in the 1600s. For example, the Beacons Rebellion of 1673 made it apparent that defining laborers as either ‘Black’ or ‘White’ created a divided group of laborers that fought amongst themselves rather than against the system. This divide and conquer tactic is still prevalent today and helps to keep the system of white privilege in place.
Whiteness in Popular Culture and the Media

Popular culture teaches us a great deal about who counts as white. Legacies of the ‘not quite white’ are readily apparent in film and television depictions of Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Irish as criminals. Such depictions are often used to argue against racist representations with claims that white people are negatively stereotyped by the media too. However, if you take a gander at all the shows and films out there, you will notice that the most positive roles often go to those of Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent.

Popular culture also indicates that whiteness is a desirable, beautiful trait that will confer power and wealth. As the recent Feria ad with a whitified Beyonce reveals, popular culture continues to perpetuate the message that lighter is better and that those who are not white will be more beautiful/successful/powerful if they ‘whitify.’

The media also works to ‘naturalize’ race as a category by acting as if one’s racial designation will translate into certain ways of talking, acting, voting etc. This has been particularly apparent in the run up to the election with obsessive focus on Obama’s race. Why is McCain’s race not an issue? Well, because whiteness is the unmarked category, the category of privilege, the position that is, in a sense, outside of race. This is why, if you ask me, it is so imperative that those of us who are socially constructed as white own up to our privilege and refer to ourselves not as “just white,” as “obviously white,” as “Caucasian,” but as persons of white privilege.

It is imperative that those of us who are POWPs acknowledge our privilege so that we can dismantle them. I am thus not a white woman, but a WOWP. As a WOWP, I am dedicated to eradicating white privilege and making it apparent that race is yet another fiction that works to divide our one race, the human race.

35 thoughts on “What if you’re not quite white?”

  1. another great, post professor….

    BTW, please stop shaking the tree….’cos there’s a whole lot of people who don’t wanna come down…


    it’s just as i always thought, the irish, italians, jews, greeks “gained” whiteness when they agreed to accept certain “white” cultural, religious, political and societal mores…and “put their foot on the necks” of african americans….to willingly look at aa as “other” or “less than”….

    …food for thought here…but, i think that asians and latinos (esp. the more euro-identified and euro-appearing ones) are the next groups to “gain” whiteness….your thoughts?

  2. Very good stuff, Doc. Thanks for the shout-out. You know I didn’t mean to prompt you to do all this work for us. But I gotta say you did come through. Good point bringing up the 2008 presidential elections. Considering that Obama is half white, I wonder how the race card would figure in if he had more European features than African features. You know, like lighter skin and a pointier nose from his mother’s side. Just a thought.

  3. so out of this entire post what i enjoyed the most was the mention of wmst101 social identity project! i loved it because i couldnt even count how many of the students in my class identified there race as “white” during there presentations 🙂

  4. This has been particularly apparent in the run up to the election with obsessive focus on Obama’s race. Why is McCain’s race not an issue? Well, because whiteness is the unmarked category, the category of privilege, the position that is, in a sense, outside of race.

    So very well put. I had never thought about why I never once really devoted anytime to thinking about McCains race, this will stay with me for a long time.

  5. DN,
    I agree that in a sense some Asians and Latinos have ‘gained whiteness.’ For example, in an article about Univ enrollment and diversity (I think the article focussed on Berkeley) the author noted that the percentage of ‘minorities’ had gone down and the campus was becoming ‘more white’ — however, Asians were not counted as minorities. The status as “model minority” sometimes translates into being less racially otherized — but this stereotype is still very problematic despite it is more positive than some.

    In regards to Latinos, in a forum I was involved in at my campus on the subject of “passing” someone shared how Latinos who can “pass” sometimes check white on forms, etc rather than Latino. And, we do have several Latinos in high ranking govt positions — all who have lighter skin though as far as I know…

    I think for the most part neither Asians and Latinos have gained whitenes; there is still very widespread racism against Asians and Latinos in the US — for Asians, sometimes the racism is downplayed due the model minority stereotype and the perception of success/wealth etc.

    For the Latinos who can pass and choose (or are forced) to assimilate into whiteness, sometimes all the perks white identity brings are accrued.

    This is very tricky territory though, and I hate to get into the whole “opression Olympics” type of set up regarding who has gained the most whiteness.

    You’re very welcome. Glad you feel I came through. Yeah, it’s interesting to ponder how looks play a role in the ‘racializing’ of Obama. If he looked “more white” there would probably be even more of the “he’s not black enough” or “he’s not a real Af-Am” type of rhetoric.

    Yup, it happens every semester. Another classic one I have also heard a few times is “I don’t have a race. I’m just white.”

    Thanks! Yes, sad how whiteness becomes invisible — as it it’s not really a race… (See above comment to Jesse on this regard)

  6. And the part that I don’t get is President Elect Obama is always defined by his race as “The first African American President…but according to the privledge, wealth, position, etc. that defines whites, why is he not just the President Elect of mixed heritage….(oh I forgot, everyone seems to be mixed with someone!) Or maybe his white parent and grandparents make him white too! White doesn’t always mean supreme, though some would suggest that.

  7. Joyce,
    Well, I think it is precisely BECAUSE of white privilege that races other than white are highlighted as such. According to the ‘one drop rule’ and others like it, white is supposed to be ‘pure’ not mixed. And, according to the visual way we define race (ie whether one can ‘pass’), Obama is not seen as white.

    As for your last line, I would say white NEVER means supreme — no race is supreme. Are we not all human? Does the color of our skin give any indication of the content of our hearts and minds?

  8. I’m still thinking about all of this, and I imagine I will continue to do so. I admit though, I’m just seeing an inconsistency here.

    On the one hand, Italians who call themselves white are cannily and coldly claiming oppressor status by checking “white” on government forms (which I’ve never managed to make myself do; I always just check “other” and write in “Italian”). On the other hand, claiming whiteness by calling ourselves “people of white privilege” isn’t some sort of self-serving exercise, when in a lot of instances, I see it as definitely self-serving, an attempt to claim the whitest thing around: scholarly, white liberal guilt.

    I’m tired of having everyone try to drop us into one or the other category based on whether Malcolm X wants us to admit our blackness with his comment about Hannibal, or some academic wants us to admit our whiteness. We have neither. Truth be told: we’re in the gap between race and color in a country that refuses to admit that such a gap even exists. I’m Italian. I was born Italian, I will always be Italian, and I will die that way — neither black nor white. and the rest of the world will just have to cope with it.

    I think it’s high time we defined ourselves instead of letting everyone else drop us into whichever category is politicalyl convenient for them. Race: white. Color: nonwhite. and if this causes anyone else’s brain fuses to blow, then that’s their problem because that’s what I am. A nonwhite white woman. A wop. Watch how fast the upper-class liberal whites are so quick to condemn US for their own hatreds; they are doing what they’ve always done. Hating as dark as they can get away with. This time, that means us and Jews usually.

    Whiteness has got to be done away with. It means nothing, and the first parts of it to erode will be at its darkest edges. Again, us and Jews. We never really were white, and the world has never failed to make it clear to us.

    1. Janis,
      (With apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment).
      I am intrigued by all that your write. I think your claim that the “whitest thing around” is “scholarly, white liberal guilt” is both interesting and humorous– and true to a certain extent. However, I do think many white scholars are dedicated to eradicating white privilege not due to “guilt” but due to a commitment to social justice. Peggy McIntosh, for one, talks of guilt as a waste of time as it doesn’t do anything for anyone — it doesn’t make anyone’s life better.
      I agree with you that whiteness needs to be done away with (at least as a category of privilege), but I disagree with your claim that it “means nothing.” If only that were true.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. Hm, I still think that ultimately, whiteness is nothing but a politically expedient sandcastle. The minute it becomes necessary or desireable to exclude people, the boundaries will be redrawn. And us and Jews will be the first ones left outside, because we were never really inside it in the first place. Some wops kid themselves otherwise, but they are in for a big, ugly surprise. Most of us know better and just stick to our own business.

    I’ve just seen a few too many times when white liberals, who would never dare to be openly racist against someone “of color” for fear of losing their liberal cred, will turn and savage us as the perfect exemplars of working-class, uneducated racism … and it’s all okay because we’re white enough for them to miss being racist as they point at us and say, “Look at those greasy, swarthy illiterates … ” It never occurs to them that you can’t call yourself a non-racist and still spit on ANYONE for their ethnicity. The boundaries of what constitutes white are as changeable as the clouds. It’s a political shell game.

  10. I would also say that social justice is pretty orthogonal to what I now think is the kernel of what I’m talking about: we need to define ourselves AS ITALIANS. Period. Not letting academics (even Italian ones) tell us we’re white, and not letting anyone else tell us we’re black and just can’t face it. We’re neither — and we need to start opening our mouths and saying what we are ourselves instead of letting everyone else play the shell game with us.

    This country cannot fathom that race and color aren’t one and the same, and we’ve been wedged in that gap that supposedly doesn’t exist for decades. It’s time WE open OUR mouths and say what we are instead of being the rope in other people’s ideological tugs of war.

  11. Interesting comments by Janis. She’s going on the assumption that all Ashkenazi Jews and Italians are swarthy. That assumption is totally incorrect, as many Jews aren’t swarthy and Northern Italians are not swarthy (they are more similar to Austrian, Swiss, Germans). I have a German Jewish parent and a WASP parent. I have straight light brown hair, light green eyes, and fair skin. I’m Christian with an Anglo-Saxon surname, so I will never directly experience racism or hatred. On my WASP side I’m from colonial (Mayflower) “old stock.” Only recently (I’m 17) did I learn that Anglo-Saxons have oppressed almost everyone. When my mom (German Jew) tanned, I swear she could pass for an Italian. It’s true that whites of a swarthy complexion are somewhat looked down upon by the Nordic/Germanic (Germans, English, Dutch) people and others that have fair complexions.

  12. I didn’t mean racism in the prior post, I meant discrimination because I’m white so it wouldn’t technically be racism. Janis you forgot to mention Spaniards, Greeks, Portugese, and some French people.

  13. I’m aware that not all Italians are swarthy; my entire family is southern, and in the United States, the vast majority of Italians who immigrated here were from the south.

    Despite this, my maternal great-grandmother had blue eyes and fair skin. This apparently didn’t make much impression on the immigration official who filled out her paperwork, who designated her as “dark skin” and “hazel eyes.” The concept of a blue-eyed, blond southerner was beyond him.

  14. I’m also wary of mentioning too many people, although I do think that Italians and Jews are often looked at the same way. Plainly, I don’t want to do to other people what I’m complaining about being done to us: being grabbed from the outside and dropped into a category that’s politically convenient for someone else. If there is going ot be any categorizing of Greeks, Turks, Portuguese, Spanish, southern French, or Jews, it should be done by them.

  15. “Wop” doesn’t mean “with out papers”.
    It is derived from the Neapolitan word “guappo” (often pronounced simply as “guap'” in the regional dialect), meaning a person who flaunts an overbearingly cocky and swaggering attitude.

  16. It is interesting to note the number of commentors whose comments “REALLY” reveal that they are stressed learning that their ethnic group was/is not thought of as being “white”. It underscores just how much they understood the “privilege status” of being classified as white even thoough they were not aware until recently that their own group once upon a time and sometimes still was/is not considered “white”. Their anger and frustration comes through in their comments that convey tempormental acting out and self-withdrawal from the black-white-t’ween identity scheme with determination to self designate some other group membership.

    Prior to learning of their own ethnic group exclusion from “whitedom”, how many of these people were among those who were highly critical of African-Americans who determined to be identified more correctly by terms that indicated the land from which their ancestors largely came from rather than skin color. The skin color designation for African-Americans is laughable and demonstrates denial of the truth of our ethnic make-up emblazened on so many of our faces because a great many of us were nowhere near “Black” in color yet, these “white” appearing people are forced to say “I’m Black”. If they balked against that identity, they were looked upon as traitors by the people of their own community. Their reason for eschewing being identified by the term “Black” was suspect. Hence, were they “Black enough”? That was a contradiction in itself because being called “Black” were fighting words in the African-American communities back then. Call a person black was the same ridicule as calling them a “nigger” whether the caller was black or white. To call someone black carried overtones that you possessed some sort of white privilege and ridiculed the other person for being too dark to possess any of this privilege

    Those that criticized the African-American struggle process for correct identity as we aschewed being called “Negro”, spanish for black, “colored”, “Black”, “darkie” and other such terms, identifying instead as “Afro-Americans” at first, then later more correctly (at least in part for some of us) and more specifically as “African-Americans”, those critics were quick to point out the hyphenated identity. Disregarding that every other ethnic group hyphenated and it was accepted. African-Americans were criticized as being disloyal to this country using a hyphenated identity; and critics questioned why we didn’t just identify as “Americans” instead of hyphenating our identity. Boom! What rock had they been living under? Actually, they were counter arguing without sincerety so fast, that they were in denial of the facts. American identity was denied us. Being an American was what we had been striving for even during slavery, post-slavery, the Jim-Crow era and post-overt Jim Crow era.

    We were denied recognition as being Americans, and laws were written to establish that denial. We couldn’t vote; in many places there were covenant laws that prohibited us from owning land. There were laws against educating us and Supreme Court Laws of the Land that said “A Black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect” Roger B. Taney, Supreme Court Justice. How could one be an American under those circumstances. Furthermore, if African-Americans should simply call themselves “Americans”, why weren’t white people simply calling themselves “Americans” instead of “white”? Where education was vaguely permitted, the schools and tools of education were so inferior, blighted and in disrepair as to discourage one from even seeking what little education that could be provided. Economically, for a huge period of time, after some semblance of education of African-Americans was allowed, most could not even afford that slight privilege because employment was denied the parents, so, even children were needed to help eke out some kind of living. No time to waste sitting in some classroom.

    Very insightfully well written article. The comments most interesting and revealing of what white privilege means to people who are or thought they were included; and those who feel they are withing grasp of it.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, indeed it is very interesting to look at the history of who counted as “white” as well as how different groups react to this. When I discuss this topic with students, they often think of “whiteness” as a given, saying things like “well, obviously I am white” or “you can tell by looking at me I am white.” Of course, this taken-for-granted-whiteness is itself a function of white privilege.

  17. Thank you for your response Natalie. Where do you teach? I’ve noticed sometime has passed since others have made comments on this blog. This topic needs to be kept in the public arena. Of course, I must say, in my 66 years, I’m seeing where not only some younger people, teens and young adults, are disregarding the racial lines when it comes to dating and marriage, but, also, some middle age adults as well, particularly once they are past the childbearing age. My last comment brings to mind former Secretary of State Bill Cohen and Janet Langhart who he married finally after carrying on a very long-term affair during Bill’s first marriage and nearly 10 years after he divorced. In political circles their relationship was commonly known. However, for whatever reason, they did not openly acknowledge it even years after he divorced. One tragedy I saw in this relationship was that Janet seemed to have sacrificed her younger years in order to maintain this relationship in the shadows. By the time Bill married her, while he has children from his first married and will experience the blessing of having children in his old age, Janet has none. She sacrificed her entire childbearing years to this somewhat clandestine relationship so that his career would not suffer the backlash of racism. She will never know motherhood or the blessings of children into her old age. I feel she paid too high a price for that relationship but ultimately it was her choice even though there were times thoughout the shadowy years of their relationship when in interviews she was prepared to acknowledge the relationship. She was the first of the two to publically acknowledge the relationship. I recall one interview where the journalist pointedly asked her when she and Bill were going to get married; that their relationship is well known and accepted in Washington, DC. She acknowledge her desire for Bill to ask her to marry him. While I don’t, whatsoever, condone the way their relationship came about during his marriage. It certainly was unfair and a betrayal to his wife and children, I think Janet made too great a sacrifice in order to maintain that relationship. One has to wonder what was going on in Bill Cohen’s head the reason he waited until beyond Janet’s childbearing years before he asked her to marry him. Did he NOT want his white children to have African-American siblings? He wouldn’t be the first white man to hold on to a relationship with an African-American woman while upholding the views of racism and maintaining some racist views of his own. Former president Thomas Jefferson, case in point, no matter how much modern-day white people have tried to discredit and and sully Sally Hemings’ character, truth and image.

    1. I teach at CSUSM.
      I agree this topic needs to be kept in the public arena.
      While many like to act as if we are in a post-racial society, this is, as yours and others comments indicate, decidedly not the case.
      On a personal note, I recently learned of the term “Obama Style” to refer to food that is blackened/burnt. Imagine if this type of wording were used in relation to white identity. But, as we live in a society of white privilege, terms denigrating or mocking whiteness are far rarer.

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  20. This nonsense of black and white races is so much foolishness that we look like idiots when referring to ourselves in that manner. First of all referring to some as a black or white “person” is really referring to their ‘status” in society and not their skin color. In reality no one can tell me they have ever seen a white man (unless they don’t colors). They can say they have seen, black or brown colored people. Believe me only ignorant people refer to themselves as “white” and know perfectly well that they are not. I refuse to refer to myself as “white” because I know I am not. I long for the day when people will start thinking like intelligent beings and not like clowns, idiots and fools. No wonder we are rated so low in education in the world.

    1. To the person above,

      Sex is a social construction like race is. There’s at least seven checkboxes to designate sex, people can and are any combination of those boxes. I can check differing boxes on both sexed designations. Gender identity, on the other hand, is a personal thing and you have neither the knowledge or the capacity to declare that the rest of the world doesn’t have one. Best to just speak for yourself and don’t presume to speak for others.

      1. This is not your postmodern fantasy imaginary world where everybody can imagine everything into being. This is the real world with real bodies that do real biological things. Physical sex is a biological designation. It is for the purpose of multicellular animal reproduction. We are multicellular animals. We reproduce. That’s what our physical sex is for. You need two different cells to reproduce a human baby, a sperm and an ovum. Males make sperm, females make ova. Unless you were born with an atypical body, you make either one or the other. If you have a Y chromosome, you’re male. If you make ova, you’re female. Whether you can actually do anything with those cells or not, owing to your external bits perhaps not being typical for human biology.

        The only reason we have the “intersex” category is doctors have an institutionalized attitude and they think they have to keep doing things the way they did them fifty years ago. So they sex babies by looking at their genitalia. There would actually be very, very few people who actually classify as intersex if they just ran a chromosome map they way they do when they’re checking for Down syndrome. These would be the people with chimerism in their ovaries or testes such that those organs can’t properly produce germ cells. But calling that a third “sex” is like saying it’s normal for some eyeballs not to work.

        Gender is something else entirely. It’s the way society expects us to look and behave based on our physical sex or at least our sex as they perceive it (in the case of intersexed people assigned against their will). The only way you can say this is an identity is to say that there’s any such thing as a female brain or a male brain, and all the good science disagrees with you.

        Identity is not an immutable thing in any case. People are influenced to have an identity and decide to have an identity based on their life experiences. Your life experiences have told you there’s some way to “feel” male or female and that that means anything whatsoever about what your body should be shaped like. It’s like a mirror image of the social conservative prescription that if you are born with certain physical bits you have to act a certain way. And it doesn’t matter which side of that mirror you’re standing on, the entire premise is wrong. There isn’t anything uniquely male or uniquely female except for the germ cells you produce. That’s it. The only thing a male can do that a female can’t do is father children. (With the right tool, females can even pee standing up.) The only thing a female can do that a male can’t do is get pregnant and give birth (males can induce lactation, if they know how). Everything else is societally labeled–you aren’t automatically a man for wanting to be macho, nor a woman for wanting to wear dresses.

        I should not have to explain Reproductive Biology 101 or basic feminist gender theory to you if you’ve gotten enough college education to be that immersed in postmodernism. Maybe you got through college with Ds in your science classes, but you also have access to websites on the subject and can read for yourself. You have time to lecture me, so maybe you should choose how you spend your time more wisely. But that’s really up to you.

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  22. First off, the word Jewish, is a person who practices the religion Judaism identifying themself as a Jew and they can be white or black. They can also be italian, asian, european, Irish, greek, etc. So to place them with these categories is wrong. Please note, Jewish is not a race, again it is a religion. Also being white has nothing to do with your religion since a white person chooses what religion to practice as does a black person. (you are also usually born a certain religion, but that has nothing to do with being white or not)

    Being white IS based off of your skin color and ancestry. It is not based off of economic status, power, personal views, beliefs, political affiliation. However, for some reason Asians are not considered white and they are not considered black. Not sure why this is or if this is an accurate statement. But I do know that they are listed separately on documents when filling out your race for something. White is listed with Caucasian. Black is usually listed with African American, which is wrong because not all blacks are from Africa. Then there is Pacific Islander. I don’t know why all of these are separated from white though.

    Being white is based off of your skin and features. Black people have a different hair texture and tend to have bigger features. Asians are the same way with the fact that their hair tends to be thinner and they tend to have smaller features. Maybe that’s why they aren’t considered white even though they have white skin.

    yes these are stereotypes, sorry if I offended anyone but it was to make a point that the gov. is racist by identifying people separately based on their feature even if their skin is white.

    I guess white just means a mixture of places that tend to have white skin. (europe)

    BTW, I tried really hard not to be racist or stereotypical. Please do not be offended.

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