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Whiteness

  • By: Euan Hague
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Associated with archaic terms such as Aryan, Teutonic, Anglo-Saxon, and Caucasian and often assumed to be an inherited biological reality, whiteness is in fact a socially, historically, and geographically constructed understanding of racial identity. Usually constructed against a perceived nonwhite other, there are multiple lived experiences of whiteness, varying across time and space and differing by scale. Understandings of whiteness shape both sparsely populated rural areas and multiracial urban locations, albeit in different ways, and there is no singular, essential white identity.

Whiteness is most commonly associated with pale, pinkish-colored skin and people of Northern European descent. European colonial and U.S. expansionist practices were central to the construction of modern racial whiteness. In the 19th century, U.S. national identities such as Irish and Italian were often ...

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