Invariably, around February of each year, coinciding with Black History Month, you’ll hear people asking, “Why isn’t there a White history month?”
Do these people mean we should condense all the American history centering around White people to just one month and devote the other 11 to people of color?
Of course not. It’s readily accepted that White history is taught, year-round, to the exclusion of minority histories. But the literal history of Whiteness — how and when and why what it means to be White was formulated — is always neglected. The construction of the White identity is a brilliant piece of social engineering. Its origins and heritage should be examined in order to add a critical layer of complexity to a national conversation sorely lacking in nuance. I’m guessing that’s not what they mean, either. In conversations about race, I’ve frequently tried and failed to express the idea that Whiteness is a social construct. So, here, in plain fact, is what I mean:
The very notion of Whiteness is relatively recent in our human history, linked to the rise of European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade in the 17th century as a way to distinguish the master from the slave. From its inception, “White” was not simply a separate race, but the superior race. “White people,” in opposition to non-whites or “colored” people, have constituted a meaningful social category for only a few hundred years, and the conception of who is included in that category has changed repeatedly. Continue reading “White history month”