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Whiteness in Historical Research - Essay Example

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Although the term 'whiteness studies' is often perceived negatively as promoting white identity and being an element of a racist discrediting of political correctness and increasingly popular tendency of multiculturalism in all spheres of life, such perception is not fully correct…
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Whiteness in Historical Research
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Whiteness in Historical Research

and 2000; Roediger, 1993; Allen, 1994). These studies are normally addressed as 'whiteness studies'.

Although the term 'whiteness studies' is often perceived negatively as promoting white identity and being an element of a racist discrediting of political correctness and increasingly popular tendency of multiculturalism in all spheres of life, such perception is not fully correct. On the contrary, virtually all the whiteness studies tend to confront white privilege, which is the cornerstone of modern racism, while their authors "...see a close link between their scholarly efforts and the goal of creating a more humane social order" (Kolchin, 2002). There are many approaches in whiteness studies (e.g. white identity construction, public policies, economics, education, etc), but the primary goal of whiteness theory is make white cultural and political assumptions and privileges visible so that those with white skin do not assume that their own position is neutral or normal (Jensen, 2005).

However, the whiteness theory should in no way be considered a synonym for multicultural theory: these two are distinct perspectives though their goals may be similar. Multicultural theory usually seeks to promote an appreciation of minor cultures within the contexts of dominant cultures and may also involve criticism of some assumptions fostered within the dominant culture. Yet, since the multicultural perspective is predominantly concerned with fostering authentic understanding of minor cultures, they usually do not focus on the issue of how the dominant white culture in such countries as the U.K., U.S. promotes and maintains the established patterns of the whiteness typically associated with the so-called 'white privilege'. By contrast, whiteness theory highlights the problem of whiteness as a sum of political, social, and cultural status and identity which, to a large extent, are gained at the expense of non-white group (Hague et al., 2005).
Although the issue of whiteness - in some or other form - has been with the Western countries for ages, the recent explosion of whiteness related publications relies upon a solid body of research literature written largely by writers of non-white descent over the last fifty years (Roediger, 1999). These works predominantly explore the concept and definitions of race and the social construction of white and non-white identities within the numerous contexts of slavery, citizenship, colonial settlement, growth of cities and industrial labour, etc. (Bonnett, 2000).
Modern authors lean toward the opinion that the concept of whiteness was first identified with racial issues by Europeans whom made it into essence of their community. From this perspective, European discourse of whiteness differs from, for example, Asian discourse which has never been 'racialised' (Dyer, 1997). Although there is ongoing debate on the first use of racial whiteness, Jordan (1977) traces the evolution of the legally defined line between 'blacks' and 'whites' to British colonial government efforts to prevent cross-racial revolts among unpaid labourers in the early 1600's.
Allen (1994) believes that racialisation of whiteness occurred in the 18th century U.S. when the country's business and political elites attempted to ... Read More
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