The Visibility of Whiteness and Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1880-1930

Robert Julio Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)


One of whiteness studies’ key theoretical concepts is that whiteness itself is unnamed, empty, or invisible, at least to white people, and that white identities are constructed via racial othering. By revisiting the definitions of whiteness in relation to immigration categories, this paper argues that whiteness in North America was far from unmarked in the period of 1880 to 1930. Its very nature and characteristics were constantly addressed, analysed and problematised in academic and political publications during this time. Social scientists conferred full whiteness to people of North-western European origin and argued for the restriction of immigration on racial grounds. In these discussions, American citizens of European origin were encouraged to identify as Anglo-Saxon and white—and to engage in political organisations to preserve a presumed Anglo-Saxon superiority. By analysing a range of historical sources, this article highlights one of the blind spots in the application of whiteness studies to North American history: the existent visibility of whiteness in certain periods and its significance for the wider theoretical framework of critical race studies. By applying a Foucauldian framework, we see that assumed crises of hegemonic positions do not repress discourse about their characteristics but foster discussions about their central features and meanings to eventually re-inscribe their hegemony. It is argued that in this particular period, discourses on the crisis of whiteness incited subjects to address their own and others’ racial identity and eventually led to the normalisation of Anglo-Saxonness as the ‘full’ white identity in North America.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Race and Whiteness Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Whiteness Studies
  • Foucault
  • Governmentality
  • Immigration to the United States
  • Immigration History

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