Who Invented White People by Gregory Jay

Who Invented White People by Gregory Jay - Who Invented...

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Who Invented White People? A Talk on the Occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 1998 by Gregory Jay Professor of English, University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee "What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as 'American'?" -- Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination This week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. What should our celebration focus on, and how can we best continue the work that he began? For most of us, Dr. King represents the modern Civil Rights Movement. That Movement was a struggle against the legal and social practices of racial discrimination--against everything from separate drinking fountains, white and colored public bathrooms, and segregated schools and lunch counters to the more subtle, everyday prejudices of ignorance and injustice that are common in America. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 is among Dr. King's greatest legacies, transforming the face of America more decisively than almost any other legislation since the Civil War. Dr. King gave his life for the fight against injustice, and as we survey the changes in the thirty years since then we must say that his was a great and glorious victory. Yet the promised land still eludes us. Once the crude legal structures of discrimination were torn down, Americans faced the fact that changing the laws did not change the feelings and beliefs of individuals, black or white. Beyond the abstract words of law and legislation, real people continued to carry with them the history of racism, whether as victims of its horrors or as beneficiaries of its privileges. To this day, racial discrimination remains pervasive in America. The old-boy networks at major corporations ensure the continuation of white male dominance. Banks regularly discriminate against minorities in business and housing loans. Homeowners and apartment owners refuse to sell or rent across color lines, partly because of the threats and violence that still occur when they do. Parents express discomfort or outright rage when children love or marry across the lines of race. Government subsidizes white suburban life with everything from freeway construction and business tax exemptions to mortgage write-offs while starving urban neighborhoods and cutting welfare programs. Ivy league schools give preference to the children of alumni and wealthy donors for admission, which, given the fact that the alumni and donors are overwhelmingly white, means that white applicants have an artificially easy time getting into the best colleges, and thus into the best jobs. It is hard to have many alumni of color, after all, when in the past colleges refused to enroll people of African or Asian or Hispanic descent, and placed strict quotas on Jews as well. Most of us could pluck similar examples out of the newspaper every day. This is not the legacy that Dr. King envisioned when he stood on the mountain top and saw his dream.
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  • Spring '08
  • Deal
  • White people, Americas

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