Nell Irvin Painter Unpacks Whiteness in the Context of Anti-Black Violence


This past June, like many months, has been filled with both tragic and absurd US news items regarding both ideas of racial identity and the ongoing realities of white supremacy. Responding to the white supremacist terrorist attack on Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the viral story of Rachel Dolezal, an N.A.A.C.P. chapter leader of Spokane, Washington, who for years had presented herself as a black woman despite being white, historian Nell Irvin Painter (author, The History of White People) unpacks what it means to be white in America.

Painter traces the evolution of whiteness from its Anglo-American origins, to eugenicists classifications of “Nordic,” “Alpine,” and “Mediterranean” Europeans, to the operation of whiteness today “on a toggle switch between ‘bland nothingness’ and ‘racist hatred.’ ”

Read her insightful commentary in full via the New York Times.