White history month
If you went back to even just the beginning of the last century, you’d witness a completely different racial configuration of Whites and non-Whites. The original White Americans — those from England, certain areas of Western Europe, and the Nordic States — excluded other European immigrants from that category to deny them jobs, social standing, and legal privileges. It’s not widely known in the U.S. that several ethnic groups, such as Germans, Italians, Russians and the Irish, were excluded from Whiteness and considered non-White as recently as the early 20th century.
Members of these groups sometimes sued the state in order to be legally recognized as White, so they could access a variety of rights available only to Whites — specifically American citizenship, which was then limited, by the U.S. Naturalization Law of 1790, to “free White persons” of “good character.” Attorney John Tehranian writes in the Yale Law Journal that petitioners could present a case based not on skin color, but on “religious practices, culture, education, intermarriage and [their] community’s role,” to try to secure their admission to this elite social group and its accompanying advantages.
More than color, it was class that defined race. For Whiteness to maintain its superiority, membership had to be strictly controlled. The “gift” of Whiteness was bestowed on those who could afford it, or when it was politically expedient. In his book “How the Irish Became White,” Noel Ignatiev argues that Irish immigrants were incorporated into Whiteness in order to suppress the economic competitiveness of free Black workers and undermine efforts to unite low-wage Black and Irish Americans into an economic bloc bent on unionizing labor. The aspiration to Whiteness was exploited to politically and socially divide groups that had more similarities than differences. It was an apple dangled in front of working-class immigrant groups, often as a reward for subjugating other groups.