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Inventing Whiteness (Sergio Lussana)

This seminar explores the concept of ‘whiteness’ as an element of racial stereotyping in nineteenth and early twentieth century America. It pays particular attention to the construction of ‘whiteness’ in the context of European immigration to the United States, and explores whether it is a useful historical concept.


  1. Is there such a thing as ‘whiteness’ and what, if anything, does it mean?

  2. Does ‘whiteness’ only exist in order to confirm ‘blackness’ and other forms of difference?

  3. How, and for what reason did immigrant groups such as the Irish become ‘white’ in America?

  4. What do you make of Roediger, Jacobson and Ignatiev’s arguments?

  5. As advocated by the editors of Race Traitor (Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey), should the white race be abolished?


Required Readings

  • Peter Kolchin, ‘Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America’, The Journal of American History, 89:1 (June 2002), pp. 154-173.

  • Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), chapters 1-3 [Available as ebook through library].

  • David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991), chapter 3 [Available as ebook through library].

  • Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995).

  • Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, ‘Abolish the White Race by Any Means Necessary’


Additional Reading

  • Allen, Theodore. The Invention of the White Race. New York: Verso, 1994.

  • Brander Rasmussen, Birgit. The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.
  • Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.

  • Fine, Michelle. Off White: Readings on Power, Privilege, and Resistance. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2004.

  • Guglielmo, Thomas A. White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  • Haney-López, Ian. White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. Rev. and updated, 10th anniversary ed. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

  • MacMullan, Terrance. Habits of Whiteness: A Pragmatist Reconstruction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

  • Roediger, David R. Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

  • Roediger, David R., Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs. New York: Basic, 2006.