The Construction of Whiteness in America

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When considering the grounds in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney supported his ruling in the Dread Scott case, it becomes quite apparent that his reasoning resonates from ideals that were engrained into the culture of the United States by its white inhabitants from its very beginning. These ideals were created in order to suppress minorities, most specifically the entire Black race, while constructing the superiority of whiteness and it’s power over the nation as a whole.

This construction of whiteness was built on the enslavement of Blacks, but went so much deeper than the use of controlled labor. Within the constraints of slavery many methods were used to in order to physically, psychologically, emotionally, and culturally break down the Black race in America. The results of these varying aspects carried out not only the ability to create an identity of whites as a superior race in their own minds, but also a new identity of how Blacks self-identified themselves for generations. Beyond the physical abuse enslaved Africans had to endure, were the slave master’s actions to strip them of their cultural identity. Despite the fact that many of these enslaved Africans came from different areas of Africa and naturally had some cultural differences amongst them from this result, shared similarities remained. One such cultural practice that carried significant importance was the ceremonial naming of newborns. The white slave masters would not acknowledge their slave’s African names and would typically assign them white names. “But no matter how determinedly they named themselves, after a name was forced on slaves by the master, the imperatives of the slave system won out. In the slave’s mind the new name was associated with the enforced obedience and powerlessness, and this is what rendered “pet names,” even African ones, of little consequence, because the language slaves increasingly heard was English. The most poignant evidence of the loss of authority of African names is the deceptive use of them in the new environment. The slave name would become bridle. Still, for the slave the spiritual damage was not lessened by the knowledge that the question of his name had been decided through the use of whip and gun. The sharp reduction in the public use of African names reinforced a tendency not to employ them privately, especially since new names tended in time to take on their own appeal.”(1) This practice not only accomplished the stripping of a spiritual and cultural African identity, but also sent a message to their entire race. According to Freud the “twisting round of a name when it is intentional amounts to an insult; and it might well have the same significance in a whole number of cases where it appears in the form of an unintentional slip of the tongue.”(1) This form of control correlated to a blatant disrespect of any African that was able to survive the middle passage, as well as their American born generations to come. In addition it broke down the identity of all Blacks, which allowed the authoritative whites to engrain their superiority in not only their own minds, but also to some extent the minds of all Blacks in America. The results of stripping down the identity of Black slaves in order to establish and build the idea of white superiority effectively drew lines within the Black communities of enslaved and freed Blacks. While depicting culturally that everything associated with Africa was negative and demeaning, white America accomplished confusion among the Black community and what they found appropriately identified their people. This process slowed the possibility of conformed unity among Blacks in America to some extent, providing a longer more difficult path in strategizing how to gain the rights their Black leaders knew their people deserved. Many Black leaders at the time had different feelings concerning what was the appropriate way to self-identify their race. While embracing the...
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