The Construction of Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Race Formation and the Meaning of a White Identity

Posted in Anthologies, Books, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2016-05-19 01:38Z by Steven

The Construction of Whiteness: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Race Formation and the Meaning of a White Identity

University Press of Mississippi
April 2016
256 pages (approx.)
6 x 9 inches
introduction, 8 b&w illustrations, bibliography, index
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496805553

Edited By:

Stephen Middleton, Professor of History and Director of African American
Mississippi State University

David R. Roediger, Foundation Professor of American Studies and History
University of Kansas

Donald M. Shaffer, Associate Professor of African American Studies and English
Mississippi State University

A critical engagement with the origins, power, and elusiveness of white privilege

Contributions by Sadhana Bery, Erica Cooper, Tim Engles, Matthew W. Hughey, Becky Thompson, Veronica T. Watson, and Robert St. Martin Westley

This volume collects interdisciplinary essays that examine the crucial intersection between whiteness as a privileged racial category and the various material practices (social, cultural, political, and economic) that undergird white ideological influence in America. In truth, the need to examine whiteness as a problem has rarely been grasped outside academic circles. The ubiquity of whiteness–its pervasive quality as an ideal that is at once omnipresent and invisible–makes it the very epitome of the mainstream in America. And yet the undeniable relationship between whiteness and inequality in this country necessitates a thorough interrogation of its formation, its representation, and its reproduction. Essays here seek to do just that work. Editors and contributors interrogate whiteness as a social construct, revealing the underpinnings of narratives that foster white skin as an ideal of beauty, intelligence, and power.

Contributors examine whiteness from several disciplinary perspectives, including history, communication, law, sociology, and literature. Its breadth and depth makes The Construction of Whiteness a refined introduction to the critical study of race for a new generation of scholars, undergraduates, and graduate students. Moreover, the interdisciplinary approach of the collection will appeal to scholars in African and African American studies, ethnic studies, cultural studies, legal studies, and more. This collection delivers an important contribution to the field of whiteness studies in its multifaceted impact on American history and culture.

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One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Posted in Dissertations, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-07 17:36Z by Steven

One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Indiana University
371 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3315914
ISBN: 9780549675372

Erica Faye Cooper

Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

By 1920 virtually every state legislature had adopted “one-drop” laws. These laws were important because they served as the means for determining racial identity in the United States throughout the 20th century. In the past, scholars focus on either the social or legal history of the one-drop rule. Despite the exhaustive social and legal historical accounts, I argue that the “history” of the one-drop rule is incomplete without a rhetorical history. My findings suggest that a rhetorical history of the one-drop rule is vital because it explores how the doctrine emerged in legal and social discourse. In addition, a rhetorical history also uncovers the persuasive strategies used by rhetors to reinforce racist ideology.

In this dissertation, I found that the one-drop rule occupied a significant role in judicial rhetoric through the persuasive strategies of judicial actors—court justices and lawyers. I revealed that their language choices created a pseudo “racial” reality that was characterized by a rigid black-white racial binary. This “false” reality functioned persuasively to obscure the racial diversity that actually existed in the United States during specific moments in time. Using Critical Race Theory from legal studies and McGee’s notion of the “ideograph” from critical rhetorical theory, I examined the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the Court of Appeals’ holding in Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985). My findings show that such terms as “white,” “black,” and the “one-drop rule” were used by lawyers and court justices in disputes involving racial identity and legal rights beginning in 1896. In both cases, the one-drop ideograph dominated discussions regarding who was “black” or “white.” Based on its ideographic relationship with the one-drop rule, “black” was defined to include mixed and unmixed blacks as well as whites. Within this ideographic analysis, I describe how the notion of invisible blackness was rhetorically constructed from the language used by the court. The one-drop rule continues to influence legislation and social attitudes.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1
    • Introduction to Problem
    • Justifying for Research and Statement of Purpose
    • Research Questions, Methods, and Overview
      • Methods: Case Analysis
      • Preview of Chapters
  • Chapter 2
    • Socio-Cultural history
    • Definition of the one-drop rule
      • Rationales for why the one-drop rule emerge
      • The One-Drop Rule Today
      • Summary
    • Legal History
      • Emergence of the Color Line in the law
      • Summary
    • Prior Analyses of the Plessy and Phipps decisions
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3
    • The Coming
      • Social Context: Racial Identity in Post-Bellum Louisiana
      • Legal Context
      • Introduction to Plessy
      • Summary
    • The ideographs
      • Plessy and Ferguson Briefs
      • Supreme Court Response
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 4
    • The Coming
      • Socio-Cultural Context
      • Summary of the Socio-Legal Context
      • Who is Suzy Phipps?
    • The ideographs
      • Phipps Briefs
      • The Judicial Responses
      • Summary
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 5
    • Summary and Findings
    • Implications
    • Conclusions
  • Cases and Legislative Acts
  • References
  • Vitae


In the 1990s, a popular figure, Tiger Woods, attempted to claim an intermediate racial status by embracing his mixed race lineage. Woods, whose mother is Thai and whose father is Native American, African American, Caucasian, and Chinese, publicly refused the label of black. Woods created the term, “Cablinasian” to reflect his Caucasian, Native American, black, and Asian ancestry. Although many supported his attempts to embrace a multi-racial heritage, the doctrine known as the “one-drop-rule” shaped public opinion on the subject of his racial identity. The one-drop rule, also known as the rule of hypo-descent, recognizes a person as “black” if she possesses any trace of African ancestry.

After winning a Master’s Tournament, fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller’s responses to Tiger Woods reflected one-drop reasoning and racist thinking. Zoeller stated, “he hoped that Woods would not request that dinner consist of ‘fried chicken and black-eye peas’.” Zoeller assumes that because Woods’s father is partly “black” Woods must also be black. In this one-drop argument, the presence of other “blood lines” is irrelevant. Zoeller’s statement also supported a stereotype of black people, suggesting that all members of a group behavior the same. The stereotype is also racist because of the image of blacks eating fried chicken and/or watermelon supported white supremacist beliefs.3 Despite Woods’ attempt to embrace his ethnic and racially diverse heritage, some people continued to define him as black. In essence, this example illustrates how the doctrine known as the “one-drop rule” shapes contemporary public thought on matters involving race.

Although the one-drop rule has been studied by scholars in various disciplines, none have focused on how the one-drop rule operates rhetorically. Instead, scholars have traced its history or commented on how it influenced the formation of racial identity in the United States. In this dissertation, I offer a different perspective to understanding the significance of the one-drop rule by analyzing how this doctrine operates rhetorically in legal discourse. Through a rhetorical history of the doctrine I show how the one-drop rule becomes legally sanctioned through rhetorical commitments of court justices. I argue that one-drop reasoning serves as a persuasive strategy, used by court justices, operating as rhetors, in 1896 and 1985, to promote a commitment to racism.

Using, McGee’s theory of the ideograph, from Critical Rhetorical Theory, and Critical Race Theory, from legal studies, I reveal how race (Negro, mixed race, and white) is an integral component of legal discourse. Through this analysis I explore the relationship between racial identity, rhetoric, and power in legal discourse. The manner in which race is rhetorically defined in legal discourse highlights the racist nature of traditional legal theory and contributes to a racial hierarchy that is enforced through the law. Taking a critical rhetorical and legal approach, I believe, provides useful information to the on-going discussion of racial identity and the one-drop rule in rhetorical and legal studies…

Purchase the dissertation here.

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