Prompted by the observations of a European scholar in African-American studies living in South-East Asia, this article addresses the ideological value of whiteness with a view to understanding its apparently global aesthetic fascination and societal power. To this purpose, the article traces the European, American and Asian conceptualization and employment of the signs of whiteness. The first section investigates the correlated philosophical and scientific construction of whiteness as a racial signifier in Europe. The second section focuses on social and cultural practices of white vs. black identification and the critique thereof in the United States. The third section highlights the appeal of whiteness as a status signifier in Asia. Whiteness is commonly employed as a sign of superiority, assumed by the self or assigned to the other (within): the article suggests that such power derives from a common mystical symbolism, upheld by philosophy, sanctioned by science, implemented by social policy and marketed by corporations.
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