Turner’s examination of the meaning of “whiteness,” its historical repercussions and the political and social traditions and laws which are influenced by the white race’s self-conception and identity is both thorough and thoroughly conclusive. Turner’s main points seem to be that not only have whites evolved an exalted sense of place and purpose in relation to other races, the concept of “whiteness” has become a measuring stick by which even whites are compared. It is interesting to read this article for purposes of pure historical reference and fact, but it is also interesting to read the article for its psychological inferences.
Turner points out that by 1790, the American Congress had enacted legislation which provided for “all free white persons who have, or shall, migrate to the United States, and who shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for at least one full year, shall be entitled to the rights of citizenship” and this historical document shows, clearly, a good number of the connotations of white racial self-reference.
First of all, the language of the legislation demonstrates Turner’s point that “whiteness” is considered an exalted state and that it is defines not merely by race but by bearing and “moral” character. The ability to “give satisfactory proof” no doubt entails the presentation of legal or official documents to prove one’s lineage and social status. The very first conditions of the legislation: that one must be free and white assert what whiteness had become to mean for the Americans lawmakers of the 18th century.
I finds myself fascinated by the historical processes recounted in Tuner’s article which illustrate how the existence of naked and overt racism evolved over many decades and centuries into the vision of “whiteness,” which is capable of lingering even in a society which has dismissed overt racism. The very conceptions of whiteness that allow the white race to feel superior to other races are basic human abilities and traits which are dispersed throughout all races, By restricting the acknowledgment of these traits and capacities to only “white” people, the whites are able to create the illusion that their racial traits and tendencies (if there truly be any which are different from other races) are superior.
Turner shows how religion, issues of national defense, and issues of moral integrity are shaped by whites in order to project a more white-centered vision of entitlement and reality. Turner’s appraisal of Christianity’s influence on racism and white- dominance were both captivating and cynical; however, it is obvious that the Christian religion as it was appropriated by whites became also subservient to the idea of whiteness.
The most complex 9for me) assertion of the article was the idea that governments and styles of government like Republicanism can evolve out of a set of racially biased and exclusionary principles. Even though a government is called a democracy, this does not ensure the universal rights of its citizens and in fact the democracy, if set up to protect a privileged class based on race, can be as fully oppressive as a monarchy or autocracy.
I found these assertions a little bit hard to follow due to Turner’s exhaustive knowledge of history and his complex series of associations. The canvas Turner paints on is the entire scope of Western history and this sweeping scale made it difficult for me to readily grasp what I think one of his most important points in the article: that governmental bodies are created as out-growths of racial prejudice and racially defined self-image. Although portions of the article seemed overly cynical, Turner provides ample historical evidence for his assertions and claims.