Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

3
White Racial Formation
Into the Twenty-first Century

CHARLES A. GALLAGHER

Whiteness is in a state of change. One only need browse book stands or news racks for examples of how the idea of whiteness is being interpreted, defined, reinterpreted, and contested by popular writers and journalists. Whites perceive themselves, according to one account, as being part of a distinctly different, color- blind, sympathetic generation that has learned to look beyond "the color of the skin" to "the beauty within." 1

Whereas some whites see a common humanity with their nonwhite counter- parts, others see whiteness as a liability. A white sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office announced creation of the Association of White Male Peace Officers, with the goal of defending the rights of white officers who are "distinctly averse to the proposal that, as a class, we be punished or penalized for any real or purported transgressions of our forbears." 2 This "class" of white men seeks the same types of legal protection afforded to other groups organized around their race or gender. Samuel Francis, an editorial writer for the Washington Times and advisor to Patrick Buchanan's presidential campaign, declared that "whites must reassert our identity and our solidarity . . . in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of racial consciousness as whites." 3 Francis believes whites have ignored or disregarded their racial identity and must (re)unite as whites to stop the influx of non-white immigrants. It is no wonder many whites feel confused and overwhelmed about who they are racially and how they fit into American race relations.

The meaning of whiteness is not to be found in any single one of the preceding descriptions of how whites imagine themselves or come to understand their racial identity. The contemporary meaning is an amalgamation of these white narratives. Whites can be defined as naïve because they attach little meaning to their race, humane in their desire to reach out to nonwhites, defensive as self-defined victims, and reactionary in their calls for a return to white solidarity.

It is not surprising, then, that my respondents would generate similar disparate (and at times schizophrenic) renderings when asked what meaning they attach to their race. As in the anecdotes above, the extent to which whiteness was a salient form of identity for my respondents varied greatly, ranging from

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