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White Women, Race Matters

The Social Construction of Whiteness

Ruth Frankenberg

Publication Year: 1993

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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been in the making for some time. As a result, family members, teachers, colleagues, readers, students, and friends in several parts of the world have been critical to its completion. I would like to thank Alison Frankenberg, Ronald Frankenberg, and Rose-Anna Frankenberg—those who have known me the longest—for their, love, encouragement, and support. ...

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1. Introduction: Points of Origin, Points of Departure

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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 people and people of color live racially structured lives. ...

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2. White on White: The Interviewees and the Method

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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. ...

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3. Growing Up White: The Social Geography of Race

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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. Geography refers here to the physical landscape— the home, the street, the neighborhood, the school, parts of town visited or driven through rarely or regularly, ...

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4. Race, Sex, and Intimacy I: Mapping a Discourse

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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, against interracial relationships ...

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5. Race, Sex, and Intimacy II: Interracial Couples and Interracial Parenting

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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, ...

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6. Thinking Through Race

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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, ...

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7. Questions of Culture and Belonging

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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. ...

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Epilogue: Racism, Antiracism, and the Meaning of Whiteness

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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. ...

Appendix: The Women Who Were Interviewed

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pp. 245-264


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pp. 265-276


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pp. 277-282


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pp. 283-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780816685097
E-ISBN-10: 0816685096
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816622580

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 1993

Edition: First edition

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women, White -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Women, White -- United States -- Interviews.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Interracial marriage -- United States.
  • Racism -- United States.
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