George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment of Whiteness - \u2022 ~ I J The Possessive I ~ I I ~ Investm.ent in Whiteness i il 1 I TEMPLE UNIVERSITY

George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment of Whiteness...

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TEMPLE UNIVERSITY PRESS IiffiiJ PHILADELPHIA I!I ~ I J I ~ I The Possessive Investm.ent I ~ in Whiteness i il'. 1 I J '" George Lipsitz
The Possessive InvestInent in Whiteness Blacks are often confronted, in American life, with such devastating examples of the white descent from dignity,· devastating not only because of the enormity of white pretensions, but because this swift and graceless descent would seem to indicate that white people have no principles whatever. -JAMES BALDWIN hortly after World War II, a French reporter asked expatriate Richard Wright for his views about the "Negro problem" in America. The au- thor replied, "There isn't any Negro problem; there is only a white problem."j By inverting the reporter's question, Wright called attention to its hidden assumptions-that racial polarization comes from the existence of blacks rather than from the behavior of whites, that black people are a "prob- lem" for whites rather than fellow citizens entitled to justice, and that, unless othe:rwise specified, "Americans" means "whites."2 But Wright's formulation also placed political mobilization by African Americans during the civil rights era in context, connecting black disadvantages to white advantages and finding the roots of black consciousness in the systemic practices of aversion, exploita- tion, denigration, and discrimination practiced by people who think of them- selves as "white." Whiteness is everywhere in U.S. culture, but it is very hard to see. As Richard Dyer suggests, "[W] hite power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular.'" As the unmarked category against which differ- ence is constructed. whiteness never has to speak its name, never has to ac- knowledge its role as an organizing principle in social and cultural relations. 4 To identify, analyze, and oppose the destructive consequences of whiteness, we 1
2 CHAPTER 1 need what Walter Benjamin called "presence of mind." Benjamin wrote that people visit fortune-tellers less out of a desire to know the future than out of a fear of not noticing some important aspect of the present. "Presence of mind," he suggested, ('is an abstract of the future, and precise awareness of the present moment more decisive than foreknowledge of the most distant events."S In U.S. society at this time, precise awareness of the present moment requires an un- derstanding of the existence and the destructive consequences of the possessive investment in whiteness that surreptitiously shapes so much of our public and private lives.» Race is a cultural construct, but one 'With sinister structural causes and con- sequences. Conscious and deliberate actions have institutionalized group iden- tity in the United States, not just through the dissemination of cultural stories, but also through systematic efforts from colonial times to the present to create economic advantages through a possessive investment in whiteness for Euro- pean Americans. Studies of culture too far removed from studies of social struc-

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