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The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 586

Essay

In Lipsitz’s article, the problem of the social foundations of racism are approached from an unconventional angle. Instead of examining diversity, the author reviews how “whiteness” became standard in America. The main thesis of the essay is that the appearance of slave-based economies created a centuries-long institutional racism. Whiteness became synonymous with freedom and superiority, while blackness became the synonym of slavery and inferiority.

Whites in America’s history maintained their superiority by being able to manipulate racial minority groups and use them for their advantage. Lipsitz mentions several examples when Blacks were used to fight against Native Americans and vice versa. By having the right to determine the classification and racial categories, whites could put “Mexicans” and “Asians” into their right place. They also created financial and employment rules later on to make settling harder for African Americans and immigrants. While in the beginning of America’s history racism was institutional and open, the methods later became more sophisticated, moving from exclusion to segregation and inequality on economic, educational, and social levels. Immigrants and minority groups were always used for the purposes that served whites. In war, they were sent to the front, often fighting against other minority groups considered to be the enemy of whites. While there was no real tension among ethnic groups in America, whites managed to create a lack of cohesion, delaying the civil rights movement.

Lipsitz also makes an important point, when he mentions that racism always existed in America, however, it underwent a process, based on the interest of the whites. As he states: “racism has changed over time, taking on different forms and serving different social purposes in each time period” ( 4). In the 20th century, racism became more indirect and based on economic advantages and disadvantages assigned to each group. The author mentions some examples, such as the federal housing policy, old age pension rules, and finance accessibility. Many housing and lending policies were designed to support racial segregation. The infrastructural focus of policies also lied on “advantaged” neighborhoods, while areas became devastated and neglected. In the 1950-1960-s, the new urban renewal projects destroyed the communities of racial minorities, and over 60 percent of displaced people were from minority groups (6). Housing is an important factor determining health, child development outcomes, and economic opportunities. The author states that a 1988 government survey revealed 71 percent of Blacks and 50 percent of Latin Americans living in areas where air pollution is extremely high. At the same time, the white mainstream population engaged in a collective demonization of blacks in communities: African Americans, Mexicans, and some Asian groups are still viewed as criminals by many whites. Even in 1990, a survey found that 50 percent of whites thought blacks were less intelligent, and lazy.

The chapter of Lipsitz reveals that social group interests are represented in social, housing, economic, and educational policies. Even some 15 years ago, African Americans and Latin American immigrants were found to be extremely stigmatized by whites. The source of the fact that today whites consider minority groups inferior lies in the political and economic actions of the colonial period. While racism became less institutional and less open, it is still present and deeply embedded in the thinking of the mainstream society.

Classroom question:  If there is no proof for minority groups’ inferiority, why does the white community still think about them as less intelligent, lazy, and a threat to “whiteness”? Are there any examples you can think of that reflect the social norms that reinforce racism in the society?

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