|Books by Tim Wise|
The history of "whiteness" in the United States is much different from what many white people, including yours truly, probably perceive. American Whites, it seems, understand that they are products of European heritage. But they might not realize that European heritage was highly fractured and fragmented, to the point that there was no concept of a "white race" until about the mid-1600s in Europe. According to Tim Wise, one of the country's most prominent anti-racist writers and educators, the process that produced a "white race" had as much to do with class and fear as it did with race.
Wise presented perhaps the best, and most concise, explanation of American "whiteness" and its history, during a 2017 presentation, which was captured on video, at San Jose City College in California.That's from a post today at DonaldWatkins.com, where the longtime Alabama attorney, civil-rights advocate, and criminal-defense expert writes under the headline "The History of 'Whiteness' in America."
Let's consider these words from a Black man, who has been a leading voice in the struggle for justice and equal rights in Alabama and beyond. Writes Watkins:
When the U.S. Department of Justice “fixed” First Son Hunter Biden’s felony criminal case on June 20, 2023, this brazen act of "white privilege” forced the nation to focus on the history of "whiteness" in America.
This is one of the times when "white privilege" was conferred on a person whom many Americans view as "white trash".
Tim Wise, a well-known anti-racist activist, essayist, and author of seven books on racism, inequality, and "white privilege," explains the history of "whiteness" in America in this three-minute video. It's the best explanation I have heard.
How does Wise frame the history of American "whiteness" in a video that barely reaches three minutes? Here are some of the highlights:
The whole history of America is rich white men telling not rich white people that their enemies are black and brown. It starts in the colonies of what would become the United States. Let's remember during the colonial period, in the mid 1600s, there was no such thing as white people. I know some people who are called white find that shocking because they think whiteness is real. But whiteness was created.
Europeans didn't call themselves white. Have you studied the history of Europe? We weren't members of one big happy family. The history of Europe was about killing each other. That's what we did before we figured out there were other people to kill. That was the history of Europe. The English hated the Irish. northern Italians didn't think southern Italians were Italians. Germans hated everybody, and everybody hated them right back. There was no team or race called "white."In the middle of the 1600s, all of a sudden, it was necessary to create a white race. Why? Rich people can count. The ones who owned all the land, the colonial elite, looked around, and realized they were heavily outnumbered by black enslaved folks, white indentured servants, and other European who were peasants, didn't have any money or land.The rich people could count, they could do the math, and they realized, "We've got to split these folks apart or they will rise up and take our stuff. They are going to figure out they are getting played by rich people. The easiest thing was to get poor Europeans on their team. At least they look like you and share a little bit of your culture and customs.Rich people created this thing called whiteness, and told poor whites you're part of club. We will let you own a little bit of land (if you're man), enter into contracts (if you're a man), let you vote (if you're a man), And they put white men and on slave patrol to keep black people in line. They would give them a gun, a horse, and a badge, make them feel big and powerful. But they were still poor because they didn't pay the slave patrol well. They exploited them, used them, as as a buffer between the elites and poor folks. Pretty soon, the rebellions that occasionally happened when black ad white got together to over the elite.
The divide-and-conquer strategy had begun to work -- rich white men telling not rich white people that their enemies are black and brown.