Tag Archives: whiteness

The possessive investment of whiteness

I’m reading George Lipsitz’s book The possessive investment of whiteness right now.  Basically, institutionalized public policy and individual prejudices create a system or societal norm that privileges whites in the U.S. Here’s a quote:

The belief among young whites that racist things happened in the distant past and that it is unfair to hold contemporary whites accountable for them illuminates broader currents in our culture. These young people associate black grievances solely with slavery, and they express irritation at what they perceive as efforts to make them feel guilty or unduly privileged because of things that they did not do personally. They feel innocent individually and cannot conceive of a collective responsibility for collective wrongs. The claim that one’s own family did not own any slaves is intended to end the discussion. It is almost never followed by proposals to find the white families whose ancestors did own slaves, to track them down and make them pay reparations. The disavowal of responsibility for slavery never acknowledges how the existence of slavery and the exploitation of black labor after emancipation created opportunities which penalized blacks and benefited whites who did not own slaves. Rather, it seems to hold that, because not all white people owned slaves, no white people can be held accountable or inconvenienced by the legacy of slavery. This argument does not address the long histories and contemporary realities of segregation, racialized social policies, urban renewal, or the revived racism of contemporary neoconservatism. On the contrary, as Christopher Fisher recognized in his remarks, articulation of one’s own imagined discomfort with being “picked on” and “blamed” for slavery is the real injury, one that in his mind gave him good reason to bomb homes, deface synagogues, and plot to kill black people.

Unfortunately for our society, these young whites accurately reflect the logic of the language of liberal individualism and its ideological predispositions in discussions of race. In their apparent ignorance of the disciplined, systemic, and collective group activity that has structured white identities in U.S. history, they reflect the dominant views in their society… (21)

Group interests are not monolithic, and aggregate figures can obscure serious differences within racial groups. All whites do not benefit from the possessive investment in whiteness in precisely the same ways; the experiences of members of minority groups are not interchangeable. But the possessive investment in whiteness always affects individual and collective life chances and opportunities. Even in cases where minority groups secure political and economic power through collective mobilization, the terms and conditions of their collectivity and the logic of group solidarity are always influenced and intensified by the absolute value of whiteness in U.S. politics, economics, and culture. (22)

I have to think about this more.