A paler shade: defining ‘whiteness’

The World

What does it mean to be categorized as “white” in this day and age? The census arrives in the mail this week and if you’ve gotten yours, you’ve seen these boxes to check off, indicating race: White, Black, Hispanic-White, Samoan, Filipino. But these categories are not static, and have changed over time as our cultural views of race have changed.

Back in the 1830s and 1840s, for example, your choices on the census form were White, Black, Indian and different types of what people then called “Mulattos,” i.e. various types of mixed race people. These days, White is just one category among many.

But, what does it mean to be white? Nell Irvin Painter says whiteness is a distinct historical concept that has changed a lot over generations. She’s the author of the new book, ?The History of White People.?

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