ARE WHITES A RACE OR A CONSTRUCT?

A new book, “The History of White People,” by black historian, Nell Irvin Painter, argues is that “race” is a fluid construct and the idea of people being “white” is a fairly recent idea. She does not believe there is any scientific evidence to support a thesis that people with light colored skin are any different than those with blacker colored skin. In her view Barack Obama is “white,” not because of his skin color, but due to his educational background, his income, his power and his status in American society. The Painter concept argues that in England, a well-connected black skinned person can become “white” with all its attendant power, while a white skinned English worker could become a “black man” who does the dirty work of society. The Painter thesis is embedded in the concept of power because those with power live a vastly different life than those who lack it, regardless of whether the person is black, white or tanned skin.

Historically, darker skinned people ruled vast areas of the world, and white skinned people were more often the disadvantaged, if not, the slaves of darker skin people. It is only during the past four hundred years that a shift occurred based on conquest and gaining wealth that white skinned people suddenly had the power to rule over vast areas of the world. There are many people today with black colored skins who were pressured to adopt the trappings of those with power, and, in most cases, those were people with power. Some resisted, and retained their original cultural perspective. The same is true of a white skinned working man or woman who refuses to accept ideas of liberals and clings to anger originating in poverty of a world in which there is “us” and “them.”

Many years ago, at a college faculty meeting, an African American professor referred to me as a “white man.” I responded. ” I am an American, I am a Jew, I come from the working class and am a Socialist, and I am a New Yorker, a white, I am not.” I recited a story about my father, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who never went to school. One day, he asked me: “Freddy, why do they call me a white honkey, I am not white, I am Jewish.” My father, even though lacking education, knew that certain people had power, and in America they all too often were men with white skins, but he never identified with them because they were Christians and he would never identify with anyone or anything that was Christian.

The future will soon take care of this issue. By 2050 about one fourth of Americans will be of mixed heritage, black/white, white/Asian, black/Asian and so on. Just remember, on current Census reports, about half of Hispanics check off the “white” not the “black” racial identification place.