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The Property of Whiteness

In “The Property of Whiteness, Cheryl Harris, brings into discussion how the system of expansion and the transatlantic slave trade, was fueled by the overall growing incompetence to control the white labor force. This system created an institution that led to the permanent socioeconomic status of black people within this country as well as the dismantling of the entire Native American land and culture. To be white or the idea of “whiteness”, is to have the wealth and privilege to be able to go somewhere, take land, and people, and call them your property. 

White individuals within this country have stolen lands and people and used them for their own gain and profit and this is what Harris wants us to understand. This country was not based on the principles that everyone has rights but that only certain individuals have certain rights, and they may use those rights in order to subordinate an entire group of people. These “rights” are what has kept white people in a position of power for hundreds of years, because they made sure that the establishment of the law would work in their favor. 

The idea of Whiteness being property is to understand that being white, benefits you financially, socially, and overall in all aspects of life. But, the term of “Blackness” has zero positive connotation to it. To go out in society and seen as white, you have a clean slate, white a world full of opportunity at your feet whether you realize it or not, but to be black it means to constantly be aware of your surroundings, knowing that as soon as you leave your doorstep you will viewed differently and there is nothing you can do about it. To know that you will have to work 10 times as hard as your non poc counterparts but receive not nearly as much credit. 

One thought on “The Property of Whiteness”

  1. Great connections here between Harris’s argument about property and what in the present day we often discuss via the language of privilege. The word “property” does very specific work for Harris that the word “privilege” wouldn’t be able to do – what is that work?


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