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Whiteness as Property

William Stover

I found this to be a really interesting take on an issue that has been discussed quite often recently: the idea of white privilege and white institutionalism. This in- depth description of whiteness and “the others” stands out from other pieces that I have read because of the concept of property. The writer makes a point that I never really considered when reading or referring to the constitution: whiteness is seen as property so that it can exclude and remain to itself. It is something that was sought after due to its implications of wealth, class, and a variety of other characteristics deemed to be pleasant. Certainly, her ideas force me to look at the Constitution in a bit of a different light. It makes me think more deeply about some of the concepts introduced by our founding fathers.

Here, the writer speaks a great deal about the founding of the United States. She speaks of the importance of “natural law” that usually has a rather nonmalignant connotation. However, Harris writes that this idea of natural law was something made up so that whites could be separate from and more powerful than other races, and have the law to back that behavior up. She mentions that whites tend to see natural law as positive and important without understanding that these purposefully implemented laws were used to kick out natives and to put down blacks, all by giving undeserved power to the white race. Harris uses many gruesome examples of colonial theory such as the utilization and exploitation of black women to sort of breed slaves, among other ideas.

Property is associated with ownership, with wealth, with class, and with privilege. It is something that cannot be tampered with or taken because it is inherently “yours”. The law tells us that. From Harris’s work, I take it that she is bothered by the idea that one could be born into a private, privileged group simply because of their complexion and family roots. She points out that because of the protection of whiteness as a form of property, it forces others to be intruders or at least put into a separate, less than realm.

There is a ton of history, some dark, written about in this piece. Given that, it was a lot for me to digest. However, I feel like the ideas presented are fair ones and should be discussed. There is something about the work as a whole that is off-putting for me, and I kind of feel like the writer does a lot of grouping. I am not going to say that she is wrong about anything she discusses (I think she has great ideas), and I absolutely feel more educated about the topics presented, but it was a bit difficult for me to get through at times. Overall, I think the ideas brought forth were interesting, complex, and begging to be discussed.

One thought on “Whiteness as Property”

  1. Nice job articulating some initial reflections on a challenging essay in advance of our discussion. I am especially pleased that you were able and *willing* to acknowledge that parts of Harris’s article prompted some discomfort for you. I will be interested in hearing you think through what bothered you and why in a bit more detail as you think more about what she’s saying. Taking stock of where the writer was coming from and what discourses she was pushing back *against* might be one way of examining what might have produced some “off-putting” effects. Debates over affirmative action were raging in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so that’s the immediate (performative, if you will!) context for much of what she’s saying about groups. Looking forward to our discussion today!

    Liked by 1 person

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