Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

In This Article Whiteness

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Legal Treatments
  • Artistic Treatments
  • Literary Treatments
  • Europeans and Native Americans
  • Europeans and Africans
  • British Atlantic
  • French Atlantic
  • Irish Atlantic
  • Portuguese Atlantic
  • Spanish Atlantic

Atlantic History Whiteness
by
Tim Engles

Introduction

Compared to studies of the concept of race, most of those directly focused on racial whiteness are relatively recent. Although nonwhite people have been “studying” whiteness for centuries by necessity, scholarly work concerned with this matter, in a field now called “critical whiteness studies,” first arose in the United States in the mid-1990s. The primary origins of the conscious, inherently dominant racial status of “white” lie in European contact with other, darker peoples and in subsequent efforts to distinguish Europeans as fundamentally different from, and in most respects superior to, members of other groups. The concept of “whiteness” as a favored and privileged status thus arose relationally, along with erroneous European conceptions of other peoples as essentially different from and inferior to Europeans themselves. The drive for colonial conquest and trade, and accompanying exploitation of indigenous peoples and enslavement of those of African descent, also shaped conceptions of “white” people among those of European descent, as did religious, scientific, and cultural beliefs. Who counted as white, and in what terms, varied greatly in terms of time and location; a trip across the Atlantic could turn a “black” person “white,” or vice versa, and groups with European roots excluded from whiteness by those who claimed that status for themselves often gained gradual recognition as white. While whiteness emerged as a widespread and explicitly conscious identity late in the Atlantic era, scholars emphasize that conceptions of what amount to racial difference arose prior to the idea of racial whiteness, and conceptions of seemingly inherent superiority among those with lighter skin emerged even earlier. And yet, who qualified as “white” has continually changed ever since the term’s conception as a racial marker, expanding and contracting in various places and eras to include and exclude various groups.

General Overviews

It is useful to divide overviews of this topic into Historical considerations, which discuss the development of the idea of whiteness over time and within certain historical settings, and Theoretical considerations, which define and examine both conceptions of whiteness itself and how it has operated in various settings.

LAST MODIFIED: 12/19/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0167

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article

Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.

If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email onlinemarketing@oup.com to express your interest.

Article

Up

Down