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Everyone in the world, it seems, is watching “Making a Murderer,” the Netflix original documentary series about crime, punishment, guilt and innocence.The 10-hour series, which follows the legal drama of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man jailed 18 years for a rape he didn’t commit only to face new charges in a local murder soon after his release, has grabbed viewers with shocking twists and turns, infuriating examples of shoddy police work, and the emotionally wrenching question at its heart: Was an innocent man railroaded twice? Hollywood has opinions about the case (People magazine quoted tweets from Rainn Wilson, Ricky Gervais and Emmy Rossum, among others).

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Following the phenomenal success of the podcast “Serial,” it’s pretty clear that “Making a Murderer” comes at a time when we are newly attracted to true crime narratives.

More than just a popular entertainment option, “Making a Murderer,” created by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, is a bona fide cultural event.

It’s also one of the whitest things to appear on television lately. Whiter than all the episodes of “Friends” that didn’t costar Aisha Tylor.

Whiter than the snow that flurries around Avery, his family and the lawyers in all those scenes set in a brutal Wisconsin winter.

So what does “Making a Murderer” have to do with race? As historian Nell Irvin Painter wrote in her 2010 book, “A History of White People,” while much of our nation’s historical interest in race has centered on black and white, there has always been a debate about the terms of whiteness itself.

“Rather than a single, enduring definition of whiteness,” Painter writes, “we find multiple enlargements occurring against a backdrop of black/white dichotomy.” These “enlargements” include the gradual, often contested, inclusion of Irish, Italian and other non-Anglo Saxon Europeans into the fold of white America.

A century had passed since so-called race scientists had argued that people of different races actually belonged to distinct species.

But as the late 19 century began, the categorizing of human beings was anything but fading – with the burgeoning of the eugenics movement, scientific racism moved from theory to practice.

No longer satisfied with simply studying the differences among people – using calipers to measure head size and shape, assigning labels to skin color and hair texture – now the race scientists turned toward identifying families marred by “defective heredity” and preventing their ranks from reproducing through coerced or forced sterilization.

Among the social scientists who created the modern eugenics movement were Richard L.

Dugdale, whose study of prisons led him to create a mythical family, the Jukes, whose members form an archetype of the “degenerate white.” As Dugdale wrote, “…fornication, either consanguineous or not, is the backborn of their habits, flanked on one side by pauperism, on the other by crime.” Undereducated, lazy, illegitimate and often afflicted with syphilis, the Jukes represented the weakest branch on the white family tree. Goddard, a researcher who worked at the Vineland Training School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys in New Jersey, invented the second great mythical family of eugenics, the Kallikaks, based on a young woman he had studied at Vineland.

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