White nationalism — the belief that national identity should be built around white ethnicity, and that white people should therefore maintain both a demographic majority and dominance of the nation’s culture and public life.

The three largest European racial groups in the US are German, Irish, and English. As countries in North-western Europe, most of their inhabitants and descendants are naturally more pale than those in other European countries further south. For the first part of the U.S.’ history, many prominent Americans abhorred the idea of even letting in people from outside of the British Isles, fearing it would taint the racial purity of the infantile United States;

“The Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted.”
— Benjamin Franklin.

As European migration from outside the British Isles changed the racial makeup of the US, the idea of what made a person white gradually became more inclusive as the US grew more diverse. Today, the U.S. Census includes Middle Easterners and North Africans as white, showing how much the official definition of white has changed over time, as well as the acceptance of those with complexions of a swarthy variety. However, from a social perspective, it is only Americans of European descent that are generally considered white.

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The idea of whiteness in the US largely originated from two things; the Christian borders of Europe, and the visual contrast between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans brought over as slaves. Europe’s borders are defined by Christianity; to argue that a Greek is more ethnically similar to a Swede than a Turk is ridiculous, but because both Greece and Sweden are Christian countries and Turkey is not, only the first two are unilaterally considered European, and therefore white. The clear visual contrast between Europeans and sub-Saharan west African slaves further ingrained the concept of whiteness in the US, placing the diverse peoples of Europe into one category, and the entire west coast of Africa’s people into another.

Today, the U.S. is no longer a black and white nation. There is another major ethnic group (Mexican-Americans), while smaller groups of people from around the world exist in significant numbers across the country. Together with an increasing number of interracial children, the idea of whiteness is under attack simply because it can no longer be defined properly. Are Spanish immigrants from Madrid considered white or Hispanic? Does a Chinese great-grandfather affect one’s whiteness to such an extent that they are no longer white? While African Americans include anyone from light-skinned Steph Curry to dark-skinned LeBron James, the culturally-ingrained one-drop rule prevents whiteness from including anyone who deviates from a centuries-old conception of racial purity.

White identity in the U.S. evolved over time, until it ultimately became used to group all European Americans into a neat little package and culture, separate from African Americans. Today in America, there exists every ethnicity and color in between, and together with interracial offspring, it has further blurred the borders of white and black identity. There can no longer be a white nation, because there is no longer any clear definition as to what white is. White nationalism is an outdated concept; its proponents and detractors just don’t know it yet.🔷

(Cover: Flickr / Robert Thivierge.)