June 12, 2014
Knowledge: The Enabling of White Supremacy
In her essay, Whiteness as Property, Cheryl Harris delineates the complexities of passing and white privilege. She describes her grandmother’s experience of passing as white in order to work, stating that it was a survival strategy precipitated by the racist social and political context at the time. As Harris states, this became, “the valorization of whiteness as a treasured property in a society structured on racial caste” (277). By stating this, Harris explains how whiteness meant the establishments of certain characteristics of property, where the individual’s body become privileged and was able to receive the advantages of being white, while avoiding consequences. However, the functionality of whiteness as not only a possession, but a given right, includes a “bundle of rights,” where private ownership consists principally of the rights to happiness, exclusion and disposition. As Barbara Field explains in her essay, Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States, “those holding liberty to be inalienable and holding Afro-Americans as slaves were bound to end by holding race to be a self-evident truth” (Fields, 101). In a short, both statements examine how the development of whiteness become the explanation for the domination of other groups and the continued avarice of trying to justify superiority and the existence of entitlement to economic, political and social rights.
In her analysis of whiteness as property, Harris provides evidence that this idea of superiority is being defended and instilled in society by law, showing that by being white there is greater economic and social security as well as stability, a kind that would not be accessible if the party concerned was of color (Harris, 276). As so, when Harris speaks of whiteness as a treasured property in a society structured on a social caste, the set of assumptions, privileges that accompany the status of whiteness, become a form of capital, value and asset. For example, Harris explains, “wages of whiteness are available to all whites regardless of class position, even those whites who are without power, money or influence” (Harris, 285). As so, Whiteness, the characteristic is what distinguishes someone from being “colored,” hence serving as compensation even to those who lack any type of material wealth, making their marker of being white, property itself. This is in relative matter, tied to the advantage extended to whites as a whole, where according to Cheryl Harris, it was this very distinguishing pseudo scientific factor, which later developed into race along with the emergence of whiteness as property that allowed for the racialization of identity and racial subordination of Blacks and Native Americans, providing the ideological basis for slavery and colonization (Harris, 279). Although the systems of oppression of Blacks and Native Americans differed in form, the former involving the seizure and appropriation of labor, the latter entailing the seizure and appropriation of land…undergirding both, was a racialized conception of property implemented by force and ratified by law, thus the origin of property rights in the United States is rooted in racial domination” (Harris, 286). Furthermore, Harris argued that slavery as a system of property facilitated the merger of white identity and property. In addition, Harris stated that, “as the forms of racialized property were perfected, the value and protection extended to whiteness increased (Harris, 286). Regardless of which theory one adopts, the concept of whiteness…established by centuries of custom (illegitimate custom, but custom nonetheless) and codified by law, may be understood as a property of interest” (Harris, 287). When the law recognizes, either implicitly or explicitly, the settled expectation of whites built on the privileges and benefits produced by white