Was Columbus White?

On another side of this holiday, we find another lesson: a lesson about whiteness.

Columbus Day is often treated, on both sides, as the day that so-called white people discovered/conquered (see my previous post) non-whites.

This is mistaken: in 1492 “white people” hadn’t been invented yet. The invention of Whiteness didn’t happen for several hundred years later.

In the British colonies and Whiggish United States, Columbus — and all of Spanish and Italian culture — would never qualify as white. They were all Catholics. Papists.

Whiteness has run along religious line, too.

This means that when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan debate, we’ll be witnessing the new age of whiteness: when Catholics get to be white — or at least act like it.  And Mormons too. And bi-racial presidents. One of my greatest personal fears is the day when Latinos become white. (In recent history — coming to a head at the 1954 Hernandez vs. Texas case — it has been an issue of some debate.)

If this question interests you, there are two books you might want to take a look at, one specific, one general:  Are Italians White?: How Race is Made in America and The History of White People.

Or, if you want to get some YouTube insight, you can see this video by Tim Wise and/or my 2011 talk, “White History Month,” below:

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