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Who was white? The disappearance of non-European white identities and the formation of European racial whiteness

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Alastair Bonnett


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This article provides a critical history of the conflation of European and white identities. It commences with an overview of pre-modern white identities in China and the Middle East. The production of a racialized European white identity is then examined. The obsessional, exclusionary character of European racial whiteness is related to the gradual marginalization of non-European white identities. Drawing primarily on late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century commentaries, it is also argued that the excessive idealization of whiteness characteristic of its modern European form engenders an unstable and contradictory identity: in societies structured upon class, ethnic and gender hierarchies the 'burden of whiteness' cannot be equally apportioned. The article concludes with some observations on the challenge historical geographical studies of white identities present to contemporary anti-racists.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bonnett A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Ethnic and Racial Studies

Year: 1998

Volume: 21

Issue: 6

Pages: 1029-1055

Print publication date: 01/11/1998

ISSN (print): 0141-9870

ISSN (electronic): 1466-4356


DOI: 10.1080/01419879808565651


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