The Exclusive Club of Whiteness: Exploring Racial Hierarchies

Franziska Barczyk

What is "race"?  How do we know?  Following the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, scholars, media pundits, and commentators have argued that we live in a color-blind or post-racial society.  Many people now understand that "race" is not biologically determined.  However, at the same time that we say "race" is not real, we continue to act as though it is.  People still believe that Asian Americans are naturally better at math or that African Americans are naturally better dancers, yet they have learned not to voice these opinions in overtly racist ways. Research shows that even white supremacists do not want to be labeled racist!  Under these conditions, how can we even begin to address racism explicitly and honestly?

To understand the complexities of these issues, we must first know how and why "race" was created.  At this read-in, we will trace the step by step process through which "race" was invented, how whiteness was politically constructed, and which groups were allowed into the exclusive club of whiteness.  This history is important to address if we are to understand why racial hierarchies persists today.

Some readings that will enlighten us on the history of the "race" concept and present day reproductions of racial hierarchies are: An Interview with Audrey Smedley (based on her book, "Race in North America: Origins of a Worldview") and Chapter 1 of The Ethnic Project by Vilna Bashi Treitler.




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