I have a really simply, totally stupid question here: what does the term ‘Euro-American’ mean? It surfaced recently in the comments on this blog and I have seen it elsewhere, but I honestly have no idea. Can someone tell me when/where this concept was first used, and what exactly it is supposed to do analytically and describe ethnographically?
I ask because my Ph.D. fieldwork was on gold mining in Papua New Guinea, and in particular about negotiations with Papua New Guinean land owners and Australian mine employees. The mine employees were mostly former colonial officers who have shifted from being ‘liasons’ between Australia’s imperial administration to mouthpieces for global capital. The topic, in other words, was highly ‘raced’ — although what it meant to be ‘white’ and ‘black’ varied depending on when and who you asked, white and black were still/thus the central terms I found in my fieldsite. I continue to use them, unapologetically, in my work even though/because they are part of a global discourse with deep roots in colonialism. (For more on race in PNG I cannot recommend Ira Bashkow’s superb “The Meaning of Whitemen” strongly enough).
I am always a bit suspicious of the new terms since they often refer to more or less the same thing that the old term referred to, but obscure its genealogy. The distinction between The North and The South, for instance, has always driven me nuts because PNG is north of Australia and in OZ/PNG English when expats leave Australia they ‘go south’. So in my field work The South is to the north of The North, which is really a pain.
This leads me to the term ‘Euro-American’ — is this just code for ‘white’? Because if so then it simultaneously denies and reinscribes the racial basis of the distinction it is making. Are white Australians and South Africans ‘Euro-American’? I ask because this term seems to obscure the global nature of white settler colonialism in favor of an emphasis on Europe and the New World. Are African-Americans ‘Euro-Americans’ because they are ‘American’ even if they are not ‘Euro’? How does the term compare with ‘Western’ or ‘WASP’?
Again, I ask because this term is not, as far as I know, one that is very widely used in the PNG/Australia context that I work on.