White Women, Race Matters

The Social Construction of Whiteness


Ruth Frankenberg

White Women, Race Matters explores the contemporary experience of whiteness among American women. Here is whiteness as something assumed and learned and naturalized, even among anti-racists. A book well worth reading.

Virginia Dominguez, Professor of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz and author of White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana


American Sociological Association’s Jessie Bernard Book Award winner

Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights’s Outstanding Book Award winner

Ruth Frankenberg is associate professor at American Studies at the University of California at Davis.

White Women, Race Matters explores the contemporary experience of whiteness among American women. Here is whiteness as something assumed and learned and naturalized, even among anti-racists. A book well worth reading.

Virginia Dominguez, Professor of Anthropology, UC Santa Cruz and author of White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana

Ruth Frankenberg explores new terrain in her examination of the manner in which white women experience, reproduce, and/or challenge the racial order in which they live. She not only gives us a glimpse of racial ‘thinking’ among the women in her sample, but she helps us to theorize about their experiences and perceptions. Drawing on feminist, race relations, and cultural studies theories, Frankenberg analyzes the multiple and often-contradictory meanings and identifications which her respondents attach to the concept of ‘whiteness.’ White Women, Race Matters is truly a unique and insightful book.

Michael Omi UC-Berkeley

Ruth Frankenberg's White Women, Race Matters brilliantly shows how race shapes the lives, not only of people of color, but of whites as well. This book challenges white women to address the racial issues which continue to hamper the full development of feminism. Most important, it offers us all-women and men, whites and nonwhites-new political and cultural tools with which to confront both racism and sexism in our everday lives.

Howard Winant, Temple University

Frankenberg’s impressive study of the social geography of whiteness inaugurates a whole new, exciting, and necessary direction in feminist studies: the exploration of the categories of racialized gender, and of genderized race in the construction of white identity. She rejects the abject script of guilt and presumed ignorance/innocence claimed by many white women in relation to racial formation in feminist struggles, to produce a careful and incisive text which demonstrates the constitutive racialization of white women’s identities in the contemporary U.S. An essential pedagogical and analytic text for ‘the third Wave’ of U.S. feminism.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Hamilton College

This book begins the innovative and necessary analysis of how whiteness-as a racial category, a ‘standpoint’ for thinking about race, a terrain of ‘unmarked’ cultural practices which include material and discursive dimensions, and a collective and individual identity-was socially constructed. Frankenberg’s thesis is that race shapes white women’s lives through a system of racial privilege, and analyzes racism and challenges to it in white women’s experiences. Her analysis is smart, insightful, and convincing. This book is compelling, engagingly written, and should prove very useful in the classroom, as well as a model for further qualitative research for those interested in social stratification, multiculturalism, American society, or social change.

Contemporary Sociology

Ruth Frankenberg’s study of white women makes a major contribution to our understanding of the complex intertwining of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Drawing on recent writing which views ‘race’ as a fluid social, political, and historical construct, Frankenberg explores white women’s lived experience of ‘race,’ and specifically ‘whiteness.’ White Women, Race Matters is an engaging, well-written text which should be invaluable for advanced undergraduate courses or graduate courses in race, women’s studies, or qualitative methodology. Should be read by everyone interested in contemporary racial politics.

Race, Sex, and Class

Through documenting the life histories of 30 white women, Frankenberg compellingly outlines the interplay of perception and reality in shaping the structures of racism. Rather than understanding whiteness as neutral and void of race, Frankenberg straightforwardly argues that whiteness and its accompanying privilege is crucial in structuring race relations. She proposes that the women she interviewed struggled to understand and to situate themselves within, or outside of, existing race relations and racial consciousness. For example, several subjects reported that as children, they never thought about race, while others, though raised in segregated and racist environments, found ways to challenge the status quo. Frankenberg explores our experiences and perceptions of race, sex, and intimacy; she considers, for example, how white girls are taught to fear black men. This book is a valuable contribution to the study of the relationship of whiteness to race, and is a must for anyone concerned with issues of feminism and racism.

Publishers Weekly

How does race affect white women's lives? This crucial question focuses readers' attention on how people perceive, think about, and act on presumed racial differences. Frankenberg examines how whiteness, gender, and social class converge, through interviews with 30 white women. She looks at segregated communities, worldviews, and intimate associations.


Although other scholars and journalists have lately focused on ‘whiteness,’ Frankenberg’s project is unique because she sees white women’s lives ‘as the sites both for the reproduction of racism and for challenges to it.’ White Woman, Race Matters provides a webbed explanation of the position of white women in American culture, rooted in the failings and blindness of the feminist movement around race.


Frankenberg seeks a way out of the dilemma of seeing whites and non-whites as ‘different’ or as ‘similar’ under the skin, an approach that ignores the history of racism. Frankenberg’s project is to reveal White constructions of race. She analyzes life history interviews with thirty White, California women to discern how each one’s ‘articulation of whiteness’ results in seeing White beliefs and behavior as normative and ‘American.’ With few recommendations about how to change contemporary racial discourse, Frankenberg nevertheless enlarges our understanding of its persistent perniciousness.

American Studies International

A valuable contribution to understanding the effect of race and racism in white women’s lives.

Race Traitor

She wants to understand how racial identity is socially constructed for white Americans, and how their understanding of that identity is both a given and changeable. This reflects her desire to help construct a feminism that will be effectively antiracist. Through her interviews with and analysis of white woman who are widely diverse in age, class, family situation, sexual orientation, political values and experiences, Frankenberg’s study forms a complex treatment of a subject neglected by social scientists, and only recently addressed by white novelists, poets, and cultural critics. The epilogue, ‘Racism, Antiracism, and the Meaning of Whiteness’, is the most compressed, intense, and useful discussion of race that I have seen written by a white woman.

Canadian Review of American Studies

This book makes an important contribution to the process of understanding how societially-established patterns of dominance and subordination function, and how the failure of members of subordinate groups to recognize their mutual self-interest and join together to confront the negative impact of dominance allows it to persist.

The Diversity Factor

Frankenberg’s books offers its readers not only definitions of whiteness, but unceasingly intelligent and thought-provoking analyses of how those definitions are derived, maintained and articulated.

Minnesota Review