The Boston Marathon Bombing Shows Us How White Privilege Hurts White People...Again
Race is a social construction. There is only one race, the human race. But, race has historically been something negotiated by the courts, has legal standing, and has impacted people's life chances across the color line.
As Cheryl Harris and Ian Haney Lopez have detailed, to be "white" is to have a type of property in America. Because "Whiteness" is property it can be inherited, passed down from one person to another as an inheritance, and has value--both symbolic and monetary--under the law, and in the broader society.
European immigrants understood (and continue to understand in the present) the value of Whiteness. In the most stark example, they knew to distance themselves from black folks as a way of become fully "white" and a "real American."
In addition, the United States government helped to create race and reinforce the value of Whiteness when it passed immigration laws that privileged "desirable" races from Europe over those "less desirable" from Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world.
And of course, the racist implementation of the G.I. Bill and FHA Housing Programs after World War 2 helped to create Whiteness again by creating a segregated place called "suburbia," and creating a stark divide in the racial wealth and income gap that is still with us today.
Race works through a type of "common sense" that is based on individual experiences, cultural norms, (misunderstandings of) history, the law, politics, as well as psychological motivations and decision-making that operate on both a conscious and subconscious level. In total, the race business is a type of magic and pseudo-science. This makes it no less real or important.
Whiteness is synonymous with "American" for those who have socialized into what sociologists such as Joe Feagin have termed "the white racial frame." Here, common sense dictates that "those people" look "American" and those "other people" do not.
The United States Supreme Court summed up this logic in the Thind case (1932) where a South Asian man, a former U.S. Army soldier, was denied citizenship because he was not judged to be "white" by the "common sense" standards of the average white person.
Recent experiments in social psychology have demonstrated how test takers identified an image of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is white, as being "American," and an image of Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and a black man, as being a "foreigner."
For the white racial frame Whiteness and "white" people are understood be "normal"; those "other people" are "raced" and are somehow "different."
Because citizenship is about the creation of an "imagined community" some groups and types of people are considered "outsiders."
The color line has racialized this process in the United States: to be white is to be considered de facto part of the country's political community.
History is inconvenient on these matters.
The first great waves of immigrants to the United States were from Africa and not Europe. First Nations peoples were already present in what would later become the United States, when the first white settlers arrived from Europe. The Southwest was already populated when it was claimed under Manifest Destiny after the Mexican American war.
Yet, European immigrants, the majority of who came long after those first arrivals can somehow claim to be more "American?" For race, Whiteness, and white supremacy to cohere with one another necessarily involves those great leaps of faith.
The two suspects in the Boston Bombing (and then manhunt) are white Chechens. While many in the mass public--white conservatives and racial reactionaries especially--will try to suggest they are not really "white" because they are Muslim, Chechens are considered white under the law in the United States, and through the pseudo scientific common sense norms of race.