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White Women, Race Matters

White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness

Ruth Frankenberg
Copyright Date: 1993
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    White Women, Race Matters
    Book Description:

    Beginning with the premise that race shapes white women’s lives just as much as gender shapes men’s lives or sexuality shapes heterosexual lives, Ruth Frankenberg examines, through thirty life-history interviews, just how this “whiteness” is constructed. White Women, Race Matters does not, however, aim to point its finger at a monolithic “whiteness” as the sole cause of racism and sexism. Rather, it intelligently examines and documents the unique experiences of white women and their coming to racial consciousness. Frankenberg suggests that commonly held perceptions of “whiteness” as a hollow concept, and race and racial consciousness as the province of non-white people, are false. “Whiteness” is not an empty signifier, but rather a multifaceted daily experience of racial structuring and through ethnographic descriptions of the thirty women’s lives, Frankenberg provides evidence that “whiteness” is specific set of cultural practices. The only difference, she says, is that unlike other cultural practices, it is as yet both unmarked and unnamed.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8509-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Introduction: Points of Origin, Points of Departure
    (pp. 1-22)

    My argument in this book is that race shapes white women’s lives. In the same way that both men’s and women’s lives are shaped by their gender, and that both heterosexual and lesbian women’s experiences in the world are marked by their sexuality, white peopleandpeople of color live racially structured lives. In other words, any system of differentiation shapes those on whom it bestows privilege as well as those it oppresses. White people are “raced,” just as men are “gendered.” And in a social context where white people have too often viewed themselves as nonracial or racially neutral,...

  5. 2 White on White: The Interviewees and the Method
    (pp. 23-42)

    Conducting the interviews for this book was, in different ways, terrifying, frustrating, challenging, and joyous (not necessarily in that order, either temporally or quantitatively!). The terror came in large part from the fact that interviewing required of me a confrontation with my own personality and cultural training. For interviewing requires one to go out and ask personal questions of strangers and, even before that, to approach unknown people, either in person or by telephone, and ask them for an enormous favor—to give time, and to share personal history, for the most part taking entirely on trust that their time...

  6. 3 Growing Up White: The Social Geography of Race
    (pp. 43-70)

    This book begins with childhood, looking in detail at five white women’s descriptions of the places in which they grew up and analyzing them in terms of what I will refer to as the “social geography” of race.Geographyrefers here to the physical landscape—the home, the street, the neighborhood, the school, parts of town visited or driven through rarely or regularly, places visited on vacation. My interest was in how physical space was divided and who inhabited it, and, for my purposes, “who” referred to racially and ethnically identified beings.

    The notion of asocialgeography suggests that...

  7. 4 Race, Sex, and Intimacy I: Mapping a Discourse
    (pp. 71-101)

    Interracial sexual relationships have been and remain a controversial terrain in the United States. This chapter and the next focus on interracial primary relationships as idea and as material reality. Examining the discourse on interracial relationships or, as one might more accurately state it,againstinterracial relationships (since it seems to me that there is at this time no popular discourse specificallyforthem) brings into sharp relief a range of issues key to comprehending the impact of racism both on white women’s experience and worldview and on social organization more broadly. Theracialnessof constructions of masculinity and femininity...

  8. 5 Race, Sex, and Intimacy II: Interracial Couples and Interracial Parenting
    (pp. 102-136)

    In this chapter I reexamine the terrain of race, sex, and intimacy from the point of view of white women in primary relationships with partners or children of color. Their stories provide a different perspective on the discourse, both underscoring its impact on white women’s experience and further revealing the complexity of white women’s relationships to it, but also foregrounding elements less visible from the “outsider” perspective. These narratives also bring into sharp relief the context of racism in which interracial relationships take place.

    In chapter 4, I argued that hostility toward interracial relationships hinged on constructions of racial and...

  9. 6 Thinking Through Race
    (pp. 137-190)

    What does it mean to suggest that white women “think through race”? Given that in a sense this entire book is about how white women think through race, delimiting the scope of this chapter is a difficult task. In earlier chapters on childhood and on interracial relationships, I have explored the mutual constitution of material environments and conceptual frameworks, arguing that while they are in constant interplay, they are analytically distinguishable from one another.

    The relationship between people and discourses that emerges from these narratives is complex and multifaceted. I have shown, for example, that white women’s childhood experiences of...

  10. 7 Questions of Culture and Belonging
    (pp. 191-235)

    In this chapter I focus on white women’s descriptions of their cultural identities and in this context critically analyze dominant conceptions of culture. In the first section I explore the intersecting meanings of whiteness and Americanness as cultural constructs, analyzing their simultaneous conceptualization in many of the women’s narratives as cultural norm and cultural residue. In the second section I ask how else white women name themselves in terms of cultural belonging within or alongside whiteness. In the third section, I look in detail at Ashkenazi Jewish women’s narratives, for it was in these that a sense of cultural belonging...

  11. Epilogue: Racism, Antiracism, and the Meaning of Whiteness
    (pp. 236-244)

    It should by now be abundantly clear that race shapes white women’s lives. The majority of the women I interviewed for this study did not consider themselves particularly interested in the racial order, or especially implicated in racism. All of them, however, said a great deal that was relevant to both. Successive chapters of this book have traveled the terrain of whiteness as material, cultural, and subjective location, exploring childhood, interracial relationships, discursive repertoires on race, and constructions of culture and identity. This process has, I hope, rendered more explicit and complex the meaning—or better, meanings—of whiteness in...

  12. Appendix: The Women Who Were Interviewed
    (pp. 245-264)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 265-276)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-290)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-291)