by Lee Bebout

About Lee Bebout

Lee Bebout is a professor of English and affiliate faculty with the School of Transborder Studies, the School of Social Transformation, and the Program in American Studies at the University of Arizona. His articles have appeared in Aztlán,MELUS, Latino Studies, and other scholarly journals. He is the author of Mythohistorical Interventions: The Chicano Movement and Its Legacies and Whiteness on the Border: Mapping the US Racial Imagination in Brown and White.


In everyday speech, the word “whiteness” often names an identity, one marking people of European descent and their shared cultural attributes. Whiteness, then, functions as demographic descriptor: a category to mark on government forms, a means of identifying common ground with others of European ancestry. Used in these ways, whiteness is often naturalized and treated as transhistorical. This familiar usage evades the actual history of the term, both as an identity category and as a keyword. Within and beyond the United States, whiteness has meant different things at different times since it has been fabricated through the erasure of specific European ethnic heritages and the negation of racialized others (Baldwin 1985; Ignatiev 1995). At least since current understandings of race and ethnicity were established in the 1920s, when a person has claimed whiteness in the United States, it has meant that they need not say that they are not Italian, Irish, or English, but that they could trace such a lineage. And to say one is white is to say that one is in no way black, Asian, or mestiza/o. In this way, whiteness both signals and silences a double negation.