Whites is a broad term used to describe people of ethnic European descent, especially those with fair skin. The term Caucasian is sometimes used with much the same meaning in the USA although people elsewhere would more likely understand the use of the word Caucasian to refer to people from the Caucasus. It is often used in contrast with other racial color terms, such as black or, rarely, yellow or brown. Although the most prevalent term in casual conversation, the term white is increasingly rare in academic and formal discussions of racial demographics, however it is still often used in discussions of racial attitudes, particularly in the humanities, and in fields such as Black studies, Critical race theory , and Whiteness studies.
The scope of the term white has been confused over time, and the confusion varies from place to place. For example, in the USA and Canada, Ashkenazi Jews and Slavs were often considered separate from the white race for many years, and have generally been considered "white" since World War II. Similarly, in Haiti, Cuba, and Brazil light-skinned people of mixed (African and European) descent are considered "white"; in the United States or Canada, those same people would be considered "black".
Additionally, the popular definition of white in the United States and Canada often excludes all Hispanic and Latino peoples, even though "Hispanic" and "Latino" can include peoples of European Spanish descent. However, relatively few Hispanics in the U.S. are of primarily Spanish descent; the majority of U.S. Hispanics are mestizo (mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry). Turks, Iranians, and Arabs are viewed by most North Americans as non-white as well, while some Europeans generally consider them to be white.
This usage is sometimes criticized by those who argue that it de-ethnicizes various groups. During the era of Jim Crow Laws in the US South, facilities were commonly divided into separate sections for "White" and "Colored" people. These terms were defined by law, with people of exclusively northern and western European descent being labeled "White" and African-Americans labeled as "Colored". The categorization of people of other ethnicities and mixed ancestries varied from state to state and in different municipalities.
Countries with an important percent of whites include most the of the nations of Europe as well as countries colonized by Europeans in the 15th century-19th century such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the Asiatic territories of Russia, Australia, and New Zealand. In these nations, the relatively small indigenous populations were overwhelmed by white colonists from one or more European "mother countries".
Significant minorities of whites live in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and in the various Latin American and Caribbean countries. Many of these nations have experienced considerable political conflict between the white minority (descended from settlers from the former colonial power) and a non-European majority, heightening the sense of white racial identity.
Whites is also the common name for the Pieris genus of butterflies.
Last updated: 02-04-2005 11:47:38