Speaker Asks: ‘What is Whiteness?’

by Stephen Beale on March 16, 2010

File this one under the category of questions that could be answered simply by looking in the mirror. Last week, Brown hosted an American historian who spoke on—what else?—but race. The speaker, Nell Painter, tackled such burning issues as ‘what is whiteness?’ and, in an especially revealing moment of interdisciplinary failure, the professor wondered if ‘white people’ would continue to be ‘white’ with the further depletion of the ozone layer. There’s just one problem—assuming this is even a remotely meaningful question—the ozone layer is starting to recover. She then traced how whiteness has evolved over time—it was news to us that the Irish weren’t ‘white’ until the late nineteenth century or that it was that great social commentator Malcolm X who figured out that there was a ‘single white race.’ All of which built up to her ground-breaking thesis that,“Racial identity is less important than it was in, say, the 1930s.” Well, except of course at Brown University.

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Brown Speaker Explains ‘Whiteness’ In a New Light « Rhode Island Association of Scholars
March 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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