In the early colonial period in North America, European colonists initially distinguished themselves from Africans and Native Americans not on the basis of color distinctions but rather through asserting religious and cultural differences. However, since cultures could adapt and people could convert, it soon became clear that society needed to be organized around differences that were both more visible and permanent if Europeans were to build and maintain their own power, authority, and dominance. Color filled the need for a means of conferring status that was immutable and readily apparent, and color thus gradually became the foundation through which difference was constructed and maintained. Over time, Americans no longer considered themselves Anglo-Christians, distinguished from the heathens in their mix, but as “white.” An inchoate and amorphous category, whiteness was defined not so much by what it was as by what it was not—Native American or African. More important, though, in the developing nation leading up to and after independence, “white” was a category with increasingly tangible rewards, including the rights and privileges of citizenship.
Stein, Melissa N.. Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830–1934 (Kindle Locations 158-167). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.