Thoughts about “12 Angry Men”

In the film 12 Angry Men, you follow 12 jurors as they decide the fate of an 18-year-old accused of murdering his father. What starts as a showing of raucous support for the boy’s obvious guilt ultimately leads to a unanimous vote for his possible innocence at the end of the film. This decision was brought about due to the inclusion of doubt. One juror expressed his doubt with some of the evidence brought forward during the multi-day trial. He did not express any ideas against the possibility of this evidence being correct only that it was possible it could be incorrect. This was a perspective that was not immediately shared by his peers at the start of the film. They had disregarded the importance of doubt in the trial process.

The jurors brought with them into that room outside views, feelings, prejudices and obligations that were influencing their thinking process. There was no room for doubt in their minds. Doubt requires the juror to think through what they observed, heard and felt during the trial. Doubt is needed to make the trial process fair. It allows one side to carry its weight against the other and it allows decisions to be validated due to the burden of proof not being reached. In Death and the Maiden there was no room for doubt. In another, albeit unorthodox, life or death trial, Paulina has already made up her mind as to what she is going to do to Roberto. She allows no room to doubt the possibility of her being wrong. Due mainly to her own “testimony” and eyewitness account as the victim in the trial. All the doubt seems to be in the mind of Gerardo, however he possesses no real power to affect the fate of Roberto. This is different from 12 Angry Men. The jury gives time to each juror to work through the baggage they brought in with them until they ultimately find facts/evidence they can possibly refute.

This outside baggage that is brought in with the jury varies. One juror wanted to make it on-time to a baseball game. Another juror wanted to end the decision quickly based mainly on his views regarding the boy’s race. This raises the question as to whether a jury has nothing to gain or lose from the verdict in a trial. In the Furies, the jury may have to face the wrath of godly forces/ a higher authority. In Death and the Maiden, Paulina, who acts as the judge, jury and executioner, faces the possibility of never receiving closure on an event that affected her and many from her country. The results of a trial could have personal stakes for the jury regardless of the ethical nature of that claim. It could also have wide-ranging effects for many outside parties as well. One of the jurors in 12 Angry Men seemed to have personal claim regarding the decision as the film went on. He was adamant that the boy was guilty regardless of the evidence brought up for his possible innocence, some even proven by his own actions. The reason he felt strongly about this decision regarding the boy stemmed from his own personal problems. We learned early on how this juror had a falling out with his son. It came across in the film as though he was trying to find some form of catharsis by punishing this boy in the place of the son that he felt had spurned him. This juror carried a goal with him that could jeopardized someone’s life. This situation could happen all the time in trials and we simply don’t know or don’t consider/care if they do. To a degree this even happens in Death and the Maiden. Paulina, despite how valid her anger and pain is, may have decided to end the life of an innocent man. Her motive for punishing Roberto, not his guilt is the aspect of importance here. She wanted revenge against the man who raped her. She seemingly willing to come to a conclusion about Roberto before the ploy with the testimony. This can even be seen to an extent in the Furies. The Furies seek to not have their godly position belittled and womanhood be besmirched.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The questions it raised regarding the spectacle nature of a trial and the responsibility of the jury are fascinating to consider. It also left me with a sense of emptiness/uneasiness over the idea of never really knowing the truth in a trial. Doubt is always present regardless of the decision that is made. It has left me with a new perspective on trials and the jury process altogether.

Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird

The 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird movie directed by Robert Mulligan is the tragic story of an innocent African American man, Tom Robinson, who is found guilty of rape charges all because of the jury’s prejudice. While the film version does differ from the original novel, written by Harper Lee, it carries the same heavy shadow of injustice that the legal system is plagued with. This film, heavily weighed down with racism, illuminates the flaws that occur in a space that is praised to be the most far of them all. During Tom’s trial, Atticus Finch, Tom’s attorney, delivers many convincing arguments as to how Tom did not rape Mayella. He exposes the consensual relationship the two had, Mayella’s pleads for Tom to visit and assist her, and how Mayella’s bruises do not line up with a purely right-handed man. However, the jury did not use an unbiased eye. They used Tom’s race against him to decide that even in light of all of the evidence that proved him to be innocent, he was guilty. Racism is a major injustice that is woven throughout the flawed legal system in Maycomb, Alabama.    

In the To Kill a Mockingbird film, the injustice of racism does not simply begin in the courts of Maycomb, but it is instilled in the minds of its citizens. This becomes evident throughout the film when Atticus is approached with racist and disgusting comments. Atticus becomes the target of indirect racism himself because he is defending the innocence of an African American man. This movie illuminates the generational racism towards African Americans which leads to the deep injustice found in the legal system. The film shows that a guilty verdict does not necessarily mean a guilty man. Tom Robinson proves that in Maycomb, skin color determines guilt.

Death and the Maiden, written by Ariel Dorfman, also directly works with the same theme of disbelief as the To Kill a Mockingbird film does. Both works highlight the inconsistencies and the injustices of the legal system. While To Kill a Mockingbird shows injustice to be bound in racism, Death and the Maiden finds it through gender. Paulina, as was Tom, suffers through the unescapable pain of not being believed. The difference is that while Tom was not believed by the town of Maycomb, Paulina was not believed by her own husband. This novel illustrates the deep injustice that women experience when their story is not believed.  

Upon Roberto’s arrival, Paulina knows that the man in her own home is her past attacker. She informs her husband, Gerardo, an attorney, of her instinct.  He questions her and her gut feeling, but never turns his back on the strange man, his wife’s alleged attacker. Even after Paulina pleads for her husband to understand and believe her, she instead takes everything into her own hands. In these moments, she is not seen as getting her own version of justice, she is seen as crazy. Paulina knows that she cannot go forth and beg the law for justice for herself. Her own husband refuses to listen and believe her; therefore, she knows that she would have little luck trying to convince a court. There is such a severe injustice for women throughout the legal system that they feel as though they have to step out and do things for themselves.

The most telling lines throughout the entirety of Death and the Maiden is when Paulina and Gerardo are talking through the potential of there being a court where they right the wrongs that happened under the dictatorship. Gerardo has the opportunity to be the attorney for it.  She is less than satisfied when she hears that even after all the evidence is presented, that the criminals still may get away due to a flawed legal system. It is all up to the judges in the end, “The judges? The same judges who never intervened to save one life in seventeen years of dictatorship…Judge Peralta who told that poor woman who had come to ask for her missing husband that the man had probably grown tired of her and run off with some other woman? That judge? What did you call him? A judge? A Judge? (Dorfman 10). This quote severely illuminates that women and victims are more often than not given unfair and unjust treatment in courts of law. One’s pain and abuse is either believed or not due to the decision of one man. Overall, both race and gender show the gaps in the To Kill a Mockingbird film and Death and the Maiden’s legal systems.  

11 Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men is a film about twelve men sitting at a table. They are on jury duty in a murder case, in which an eighteen year old boy allegedly killed his father. After hearing the trial, the jury is moved into a small room to discuss their verdict. The fan in the corner does not turn on so the room is hot, and when they open the windows, one man mentions that it is supposed to be the hottest day of the year. Some of the men have tickets for a baseball game starting later that night and are anxious to get voting over with. My favorite part of the movie is that through the whole film, no names are given until the very last scene. It enhances the movie because it reflects a real jury. With a name comes an association and in a jury, it is important that the jurors keep that emotional distance. The jury’s decision has to be unanimous either guilty or not guilty in order to move through with the prosecution or not. The result of the first vote they take is 11-1 guilty. This sends everyone into a fury. When the rest of the men asked the single man why he voted not guilty, he said he just wasn’t sure. He brings up that the only piece of evidence is the murder weapon that is a “rare” pocket knife that had no finger prints. The boy on trial admitted to owning the knife but did not use it to kill his father. The man talking pulls out the same knife placing it next to the murder weapon saying he bought it at a pawn shop near the boys house. He suggests the boy’s knife might have gotten lost and someone used a similar one to kill his father. While others deny it, he claims that it is possible. One of the men says “It may be possible but it’s not probable.” The man believes that they can’t send this boy to the death sentence if there is probable doubt. Before they know it the vote is 8-4 guilty. 

The men in favor of ‘not guilty’ run through each piece of suspicion and disprove it. There are two witnesses on the case, a lady who saw the murder from across the street, and a man who lived downstairs. The witness who lived downstairs said it took him 15 seconds from hearing the thud of the dead victim, to opening his door and seeing the boy run down the stairs. However, the oldest man on the jury relates to the old man and points out that he is an old man with a limp. He says it would have taken him more than 15 seconds to get to the door so the jury is able to disprove the fact that he saw the boy and claim that he assumed he heard the boy coming down the stairs. During the next vote, it’s 6-6. Then it becomes 9-3 not guilty. 

The woman across the street said that when she rolled over in her bed in the middle of the night, she saw the murder through a passing train. The jurors point out that she wears glasses and it’s unlikely that she put her glasses on in that moment. Therefore, her eyesight is questionable. She may have witnessed a murder but it is likely that it was a blur and she did not identify the boy. The men who want to prosecute the boy say that because she is a witness, her statement has to be true. From the beginning of the film, the same men claim that they can’t believe the suspect’s story because he’s “one of them.” The one man who has been fighting for the boy all along asks, “Why do you believe her story but not his? She’s one of them too isn’t she?” This is when it clicked for me what “them” meant. They don’t explicitly say this in the movie, but based on the fact that it was produced in 1957, we can confidently assume that the suspect is a man of color and when they refer to “them” in the movie they are talking about people of color. This is the implicit reason behind many of the men’s original vote to convict the boy. This reveals they actually dont care about the witness they just want to prosecute him. The first man who keeps pushing for “not guilty,” calls the others out, saying “Prejudice always skews the truth.” He reminds me a lot of Atticus in the way that he is fighting for this man that everyone else looks down on by logically disproving the evidence and simply having sympathy. And similar to To Kill A Mockingbird, no matter what facts were disproved, some men still found him guilty because of his skin color. 

The next vote 11-1 not guilty. Throughout the film there is a man who is strongly committed to his guilty vote. When the rest of the men asked him why he still voted guilty, he said he didn’t know and started crying. Then he changes his vote “not guilty.” As he continues to sob, everyone else leaves. The first man who voted “not guilty” stays behind and grabs the crying man’s jacket for him (a very Atticus move). Then the movie is over. Probably the most exciting part of the movie is in the last scene when the first two men to vote ‘not guilty’ introduce themselves. Their names are Davis and Mccardle.

Just Mercy shares shocking similarities to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in that both are based in the town of Monroeville, Alabama and show a black man wrongfully convicted of a violent crime by an angry white community. However, the Mockingbird Trial took place in the 1930s and Walter McMillian’s case happened in the 1980s. The original trial shocked the Monroeville community after Atticus was able to prove Tom Robinson’s innocence and he was still convicted as guilty and sent to jail. While in jail awaiting execution for his wrongful conviction the guards shot him 17 times in the back stating he attempted to escape.

Nearly 50 years later an almost identical case transpires where Walter McMillian is wrongfully convicted of murder and is waiting on death row for his date. What has changed in those 50 years follows in the wake of To Kill a Mockingbird, there are people who testify against previous false testimonies, there is a DA who eventually agrees all charges need to be dropped, and there is a new generation who sees men like Walter as a person. Progress is slow and takes generations to grow into full blow change, but Walters story shows that very change taking place. The community of Monroeville remember how horrid it was that a man was wrongfully convicted and want things right. There is a young guard in the prison who sees Walter as a human and lets him have pictures of his family when he is in solitary confinement. There’s a young new District Attorney who struggles to protect himself from the “old guard” police force and serve justice to a man he knows was wrongfully convicted of murder. There’s a community of family and friends who 50 years ago would have been lynched if they testified coming out still in fear to testify against this unjust case. All of these are the ripples of change that the original Mockingbird case set forth for this small town and for the nation as a whole.

There is a new generation of lawyers, guards, family, and friends who grew up on the equality and justice Atticus Finch tried to grant to Tom Robinson, and not the hate and prejudice that leads to his death. These few are the ones who worked their way into the corrupt Monroeville justice system and are helping make sure it doesn’t repeat itself again and again. These points play off my earlier post about how the coming of age story is imparted onto us as we read To Kill a Mockingbird early on in middle and high-school. The work this book did, the seed it planted, is growing and has grown with everyone who knows of it. Much like Scout, the people in this movie are new to a case like this but not completely foreign to it – and they know from one very smart girl and her brave father just how to handle it.

Crenshaw’s Blending of Race and Gender

I am beginning to find that I reason with pieces such as this more now than I did before or at the start of the semester. The issue brought about in this piece is a conjunction of race and gender (or other identities) that cause one to be even more succeptable to discrimination, or any other misfortune, than any classification would alone. This intersectionality is one that Crenshaw argues has never never been effectively negotiated or understood, even by members of one of the groups.

Crenshaw writes about the ways by which black woman are affected politically, socially, and economically. The idea of a country built and structured around patriarchal ideals coincides here, and bonds with modern racism. Each, of course, are difficult to overcome and require resistance and fight. However, when non-white and womanhood are linked, a new, less identifiable struggle comes to the forefront.

When it comes to the law and how to go about addressing issues such as this one, Crenshaw writes about the importance of establishing group politics, rather than merely identity politics. It seems that she believes that the first step to understanding one’s particular position is to understand and put together each aspect of the individual that yields intersectionality.

Absolutely, this piece speaks to the issues that are represented in TKAM. The idea of intersectionality is important to the law in general due to a justice system that relies heavily upon prejudice to obtain ‘justice’. Crenshaw’s piece was an in-depth description of the way that Tom was treated, and an indicator of the some of the issues that the US still faces currently.

This piece is interesting but is certainly not what I am the best at reading and thoroughly understanding. I do think that Crenshaw makes some excellent points that I never necessarily thought about putting together. For that, I enjoyed the piece and look forward to learning more.

Tradd Stover

This Coming of Age Imparted Onto Us

No matter how we read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird the story always at its core is a coming of age story for Scout and Jem. This trial was a grueling development in the children’s life and as such has shaped them by the end. Scout’s development is what interests me most as it revolves around her self discovery in a sense. She discovers who she is in the scale of race, class, and even as a woman. This trial has taught Scout of the distinctions and separations in all of these areas. She finally can see she is not only a white person, but a comparatively wealthy, white, female. This comes as a fulfilling ending to the novel as we have seen it grow through her actions with Boo and the gifts he brings, the contrast she finds between herself and Mayella, and the distinction between her family and that of the Ewells. All of these are major points that guide Scout into realizing who she is in this world.

I find it to be no coincidence that this novel has become a common middle and high school required reading. I can remember vividly reading this in my 7th grade ENGL classes! What this books does well is impart this coming of age onto us the reader. Reading this novel was a defining event for me and many others as we grew up. The awkward silences when vulgarities were used, the sideways glances between students when hearing of Dill’s tragic family life, or the shadow that engulfs a middle school classroom hearing that Tom Robinson was shot 17 times in his back…

These are emotional events that Scout had to face and we, the reader, must face with her. This novel forces young readers to grow with it as they read it. It allows readers to follow Scout’s path and come to the conclusion of who they are. It can highlight the class, race, and gender privilege at an early age and allow us to begin understanding these concepts so that we can know ourselves. Once we know ourselves we can begin growing and fixing our prejudices, using our privilege for fairness and equality, and reconciling our innocent past with the gritty future after what we learn from reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman: a different side of the same coin

I recently finished this reread of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman for the first time. After reading both texts consecutively, I understand the comments about the latter novel being something of a departure from the original story. However, I thought that the two fit together naturally, and paired wonderfully as complements. In fact, I loved Go Set a Watchman even more than I do To Kill a Mockingbird, and reading it made me appreciate Harper Lee’s skills as an author more than I did before. 

WARNING: spoilers below for Go Set a Watchman!

Perhaps because I can personally relate to Scout’s plight in Go Set a Watchman, or perhaps simply because I knew to expect it, I was not at all surprised by the opinions that Atticus expresses in this second novel. I do not think that they change the significance of his character’s actions in To Kill a Mockingbird. Certainly, Atticus is taken off of a pedestal for the reader–just like he is for Scout–but I do not think that Lee contradicts herself at all. Instead of playing around again in Maycomb, she enters the real world, along with Scout, and the reader. The first novel had terrible things occur–but seen from Scout’s eyes, everything ended up with a rosy veneer. In this novel, Scout instead faces the true difficulties and ugly realities of a society so plagued by its nasty history.

Calpurnia might have loved Scout and Jem, and I believe she did, but there were lots of issues to address with those relationships once an adult narrator was available. The scene in her bedroom was heartbreaking for Scout, but it was critical for Lee to include. With Atticus, I see it the same; it isn’t easy to read, but he cannot be perfect. His devotion to the law led him to defend Tom Robinson and crusade for the cause of equal treatment. But still, his devotion to the law led him to stand against potential violators, even those protesting for equal rights and better treatment. 

To be honest, Atticus, despite becoming much more complicated and harder to like, remains my favorite character. I still want to believe that he believes in equality under the law–my interpretation of his remarks, which could be wrong, were that he is angry and even scared concerning the “lawlessness” of the Civil Rights Movement happening at the time, and the pressure on the South to change its ways immediately. I would argue that Atticus would not despise a world where blacks and whites live in true equality; simply that he would want such a world to come about naturally, slowly, and with regards to the laws and traditions of the South. Obviously, this is an empty and gross placation; if anyone had waited for that to happen, we would probably still be living like they do in the novels right here in South Carolina (not that we either have reached our peak of racial equality, we definitely have not). So I am fully on Scout’s side when she argues with him and calls out his beliefs, but I can see that for a man of his age in his time, this is nearly the best that Lee can do in giving the readers an accurate, “unproblematic” lead male adult character. He doesn’t hate black people, but he doesn’t want them to be judges. Of course. Atticus is brought down to Earth, for his daughter and the reader; now I can recognize him as human, someone I’ve seen before, and so can Scout.

Inconsistencies in Harris’ “Whiteness as Property”

I understand that these blog posts are meant to be relatively short, but the more I looked at the essay given to us, the more it seemed deeply flawed to me in ways we did not have time to go over in class. I realized I had a great deal to say about it and this seemed the place to put it.

Harris makes the argument that “whiteness”, the racial identity of a person as ‘white’ is a form of property in America. To this end she presents several statements that explain exactly what she means. I think these statements are key to understanding the deep logical and ethical problems with her essay and her arguments. She claims,

“Whiteness — the right to white identity as embraced by the law — is property if by “property one means all of a person’s legal rights” (pg. 280)

“Property is nothing but the basis of expectation…consist[ing] in an established expectation, in the persuasion of being able to draw such and such a benefit from the thing possessed.” (pg. 280)

“…those expectations in tangible or intangible things which are valued and protected by the law are property.” (pg. 280)

She further makes a claim that I think is the beginning of the flaws of the essay.

“Although the existence of certain property rights may seem self-evident, and the protection of certain expectations may seem essential for social stability, property is a legal construct by which selected private interests are protected and upheld.” (pg 280)

“It is contended that property rights and interests are not “natural” but “creation[s] of law”.” (pg 280-281)

Harris has essentially done away with ideas of natural law here. Her fundamental ideological claim is that there is no natural law behind things and all of our conceptions of race, identity, and rights are in fact social constructs created by and protected by an arbitrarily constructed human system of laws meant to protect a single groups interests. If we take her statements “whiteness is property of by property one means all of a persons legal rights” and “property is a legal construct” side by side, this becomes painfully apparent.

She doubles down on this point in statements made later in the paper. She vehemently attacks the ideas of natural law and paints them as hypocritical and destructive when she references their usage. She says

“The laws did not mandate that blacks be accorded equality under the law because nature—not man, not power, not violence — had determined their degraded status” (pg. 286)

However, Harris quickly contradicts her initial ideology, stumbling into logical inconsistency. Her entire argument is based on the idea that the treatment of blacks was unethical and transgressed their rights. However, the idea that rights and racial identity are arbitrary social constructs, not the product of natural law, CANNOT be held logically at the same time as the idea that the laws are transgressing the rights of any person or group. It just doesn’t work. If rights are created by the law, then the law cannot possibly fail to recognize someone’s rights because they have no rights unless the law says they do. 

You cannot say that the law is failing to recognize rights unless you admit that there is a source of rights which is not the laws of men, and which supersedes the laws of men in a fundamental way. Unless you admit the existence of natural law. But Harris does just that. As we have seen, she has denied the existence of natural law and has attributed the existence of rights to the arbitrary laws of men. There are no “rights”, there is only the interests which the law either protects or does not protect. But in her own essay, Harris laments what she sees as an unjust state of affairs in the modern world and says,

The existing state of affairs is considered neutral and fair, however unjust and unequal it is in substance” (pg. 287)

You cannot attack the idea of fairness, of natural law, and then expect to be able to use fairness in your own defense. 

Furthermore, Harris seems to have no qualms whatsoever in appropriating the racial categories she so denounces to make her own points and advance her own ends. She spends some of page 283 and most of page 284 criticizing the way that the American judicial system created the racial distinctions of “White” and “Black” or “Native American”. She finishes the section by saying

In the realm of social relations, racial recognition in the United States is thus an act of race subordination. In the realm of legal relations, judicial definition of racial identity based of white supremacy reproduced that race subordination at the institutional level. In transforming white to whiteness, the law masked the ideological content of racial definition and the exercise of power required to maintain it: “It convert[ed] and abstract concept into [an] entity (pg. 284)

On the very next page, Harris quotes Du Bois, saying 

[whites] were given public deference…because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people, to public functions, to public parks…The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with…leniency…Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon their economic situation, it had great effect on their personal treatment…White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspiculously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita and the colored schools. (pg. 285)

She repeatedly uses statements just like this to pain a picture of her supposed current and past white privilege. And lest it be said that she is simply describing the unfortunate state of things, not advocating it’s continued existence, It bears mentioning that there is perhaps no system in law today that more codifies the existence of and differing social status of the racial groups that she so disdains than affirmative action.

She goes on to continue her criticism of white privilege in modern society, which also keeps maintaining the existence and veracity of the racial boxes she criticizes the existence of. She says 

Nevertheless, whiteness retains it’s value as a “consolation prize”: it does not mean that all whites will win, but simply that they will not lose, of losing is defined as being on the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy—the position to which blacks have been consigned (pg. 286)

To begin with, this statement seems just utterly untrue. Being white or black makes no difference whatsoever in the life of a homeless alcoholic drug addict who is sleeping in a gutter and eating trash. To claim that white people cannot fall to the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy seems to be either inexpressibly naive, or more likely deliberately misleading. 

Secondly, she has again rushed to the use of these exact same categories of whiteness and blackness to make her point. She paints the modern world as existing in this way. Far from arguing for the dissolution of these categories, her every statement validates their existence, making ready use of them. One can’t help but see it as disingenuous at best. 

Perhaps the most puzzling of all, Harris claims on page 286 

White workers often identify themselves primarily as white rather than as workers because it is through their whiteness that they are afforded access to a host of public, private, and psychological benefits.

This statement seems so impossibly ludicrous to me that I scarcely know how to interface with it in a logically coherent manner. But, here goes. Racial identification in the workplace is something that is asked and/or required only in light of affirmative action these days. It isn’t white supremacists who made it a requirement for job applications to have those “voluntary” self identification forms on them. Furthermore, I invite anyone who has worked many working class jobs, as I have, to think if they have ever heard anybody going around talking about how wonderful it is to be white, how proud they are of their whiteness, how it is their whiteness that defines their life, rather than their job (or anything else for that matter), or touting the benefits accorded to them as white. The only time anybody in those positions ever asks a worker to racially identify is when affirmative action requires them to do so.

Harris also makes claims that seem to me to be obviously untrue about how the law deals with racial minorities and what she calls “oppressed” groups. Harris states

“[The law] has refused to recognize group identity when asserted by racially oppressed groups as a basis for affirming or claiming rights.” (pg. 287)

As we’ve already discussed, Harris doesn’t believe in rights and has no business talking about them at all, but even if she did, this statement would still be nonsense. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does this implicitly and explicitly. The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

More examples could be provided, and easily at that. Her statement is obviously untrue at every single level of government.

The logical and moral inconsistencies of Harris’s arguments are most clearly visible in her closing ideas about affirmative action. She says, 

“[Affirmative Action] directly confronts the notion that there is a protectable property interest in whiteness” (pg 289)

If property is nothing but the expectation of being able to draw some advantage from the thing possessed, as Harris claims on page 280, then what Affirmative Action is doing is not in fact confronting the idea that there is a protectable property interest in whiteness, unless by that you mean it creates a protectable property interest in blackness (or other racial minority-ness). It creates an advantage, defined and protected by law, extended to those of racial minorities, which they can expect to draw from their racial “property”/identity. It hasn’t changed the idea at all, just taken the same tool Harris protests against and uses it again, this time in her favor. It isn’t morally superior, it is just the other side of the same coin. 

Her justification for doing so is found on pages 288-289. She claims

“Fundamentally, affirmative action does not reestablish a property interest in blackness because black identity is not the functional opposite of whiteness. Even today, whiteness is still intertwined with the degradation of blacks and is still valued because “the artifact of ‘whiteness’…sets a floor on how far [whites] can fall.” Acknowledging black identity does not involve the systematic subordination of whites, nor does it even set up a danger of doing so. Affirmative action is based on principles of antisubordiantion, not principles of black superiority.”

What is hiding behind this storm of confusing words is the core idea that “It’s wrong for white people to view their racial identity as property because they did/do it as a means to oppression of blacks. It’s okay for black people to view their racial identity in the exact same way (we won’t use ‘property’ to describe it), because they are the oppressed.”

No.

That’s not how logic works.

That’s not how morality works. 

You cannot claim that it is wrong for one people to encode their racial identity into law to draw advantages from it, and then allow another race to do so. This is the very definition of racism, which she is claiming to denounce while she actively advocates doing something she has claimed is racist. By her own logic, by her own definitions, she is deeply inconsistent with her own ideas of property and racial identity.

Presentation Versus Representation

In hindsight, the historical context from which I analyzed the US Declaration of Independence is quite lacking in comparison to the literary perspective. The most prominent thing that I kept coming back to was the emptiness of the wording used. Phrases such as “one people,” all men are created equal,” and “powers from the consent of the governed.” I see all of these as merely a presentation; they do not truly represent the “one people” of the US. These were written down to provide a sense of unification, equality, and shared power — in reality they are far from that. This entire document is put on as a sort of act to show power in writing rather than in action. While this document was written and published no actions were made to ensure what was said was enforced. This declaration presents representation where there is none to be found.

Going back to the second phrase I quoted, “all men are created equal,” there enslaved West Africans who would have disagreed. Calling upon the erasure poem “Declaration” by Tracy K. Smith, there is a line from this poem that reads “We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. –taked Captive — on the high Seas — to bear–” (Smith). The irony being that this is the exact words of the Declaration the founding fathers wrote. Yet they could not see that they too were the same as they they enslaved. In my opinion, it was an insult to write such a phrase as “all men are created equal” as a presentation to the world how just the US is, while in reality, when it comes time to represent what they wrote, such justice is merely spilled ink.

Smith, Tracy K. “Declaration.” Poetry Foundation, Graywolf Press, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147468/declaration-5b5a286052461.

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.