Props to CNN’s D.J. Judd, who pointed out a historical irony:
But on reflection, some of our sense of irony on this issue is misplaced, because observers assume that British aristocracy is a bastion of “whiteness.” (This remark is not aimed at Mr. Judd, who is obviously sophisticated about these issues).
I’m just saying that whiteness itself as a term of racial and class privilege and exclusion has been constructed and has a storied history. Its meaning has changed radically over time.
I pointed out in response to a silly Ann Coulter tweet:
Benjamin Franklin was extremely worried about whites being overwhelmed. He said in “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.” (1751):
Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.
So get this. Some of the eighteenth century founding fathers only thought English and Danish people were white. Even Swedes and Germans were “swarthy.” French certainly were. So Franklin would not have considered me white, since my family is French and German. We’re swarthy. We do have some Scottish, but if the Swedish are swarthy I suspect he thought the Scottish were, too. Since Coulter is in part Irish and German, Ben Franklin wouldn’t have accepted her as white, either, and was worried about the German part of her family acting like barbarians and interfering in elections. You can only imagine what he would have thought of German grifters like Donald Trump’s grandfather.
That identification of Englishness with whiteness in the American racial imaginary is nowhere more evident than racialist imaginings of the British royal family. Though note that they substantially German, of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, so Ben Franklin would have looked down on them. And there was a long tradition in medieval Britain of yeomen looking down on the royal family, whom they saw as Norman invaders, complaining about the Norman Yoke, a trope that fed into the American Revolution, as historian Christopher Hill argued.