The Property of “Whiteness”

This set of prose was especially interesting to me as I had never read an article where the idea of privilege and institutionalism was directly related to the property of citizens, also known as “whiteness”. The author, Cheryl I. Harris, goes into detail about how whiteness is property based on the laws of America and having that particular amount of property, gives you the advantage above most people who don’t have it. The author defines whiteness as “the characteristic, the attribute, the property of free human beings…” (279). It is so important to begin with the definition of the advantaged within our country before we understand why that is.

Property and the advantage during this time is described as wealth and privileges. The idea that the government is there to protect your property at any cost during this time is not only biased but just blatantly racist. In this article we can understand that even poor white people had more of an advantage than free African or Native Americans. This means that the whites would have had more support and rights than anyone else even though they might own less property. For example, whiteness was seen as “-the right to white identity as embraced by the law-is property if by ‘property’ one means all of the person’s legal rights” (280). Overall, the property of their “whiteness” gives them the leverage needed to create a great life and social status.

Even according to Harris, although “blackness” is organically property, it is not looked at the same way that “whiteness” is. The advantage is that the whites, since the beginning, have dominated other races, even buying them as property. Therefore, “It is contended that property rights and interests are not “natural” but “creation[s] of law” (280-281). To explain, the only reason other races have been put down and are considered disadvantaged, was all based on the laws of our country. For example, slavery, sharecropping, etc. were all legal ways of life, supporting the white idea of gaining social status by owning and the repression of other races.

One thought on “The Property of “Whiteness””

  1. A good explication of some of Harris’s key claims, with a strong sense of why those claims are so important to her. I wonder how you suss out the relationship between property, as Harris uses the concept, and “privilege,” which is a little broader and less closely tethered to the law.

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