“Race is a cultural construct, but one with deadly social causes and consequences” (Lipsitz 2). In his book, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics, George Lipsitz argues that it is in the best interest of white Americans to “invest in whiteness, to remain true to an identity that provides them with resources, power, and opportunity (Lipsitz vii).” Lipsitz’s book gives a substantial amount of evidence to show America’s investment in whiteness with historical facts, stories, and statistics. Although at times Lipsitz’s arguments are biased and hard to reference, because overall he gives competent, emotional, and logical evidence, it does not deter from his main argument that Americans do indeed have an investment in whiteness and his assertion that it is the duty of every person of color to take action to rid of this investment.
In his book, Lipsitz says that “[w]hiteness is everywhere in U.S. culture, but it is very hard to see (Lipsitz 1).” A major factor as to why Lipsitz wrote this book was due to the events surrounding Bill Moore’s death when Lipsitz was a youth. Bill Moore was a white man in the 1963 who, distressed by the racial violence in Mississippi, went on a one man march from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi to deliver a letter to Governor Barnett. During his march, he was threatened and murdered. “Investigators found fifty-one dollars in Moore’s pocket and a diary among possessions…In a final entry he wrote that ‘a couple of men who had talked to me before, drove up and questioned my religious and political beliefs and was sure I’d e killed for them’ (Lipsitz x).” The suspected killer of Bill Moore, Floyd L. Simpson was not indicted, nor was anyone else indicted for Bill Moore’s death. Lipsitz admits that “the murder of Bill Moore did affect [him] to an unusual degree, even more than the many reports of the deaths of dozens of blacks in the civil rights struggle (Lipsitz xiv).” Lipsitz’s book summarizes that public policy, for a long time, have excluded communities of color from everything that Americans deem as desirable. These things include but are not limited to a good education, fair housing, power, good jobs, and social status. Lipsitz asserts that in order for equality for all to exist, everyone of all colors must take action to get rid of America’s possessive investment in whiteness. Lipsitz writes: I think I know why Bill Moore’s murder affected me so deeply in 1963. His actions forced my first confrontations with the possessive investment in whiteness—a poisonous system of privilege that pits people against each other and prevents the creation of common ground. Exposing, analyzing, and eradicating this pathology is an obligation that we all share, white people most of all. (Lipsitz xix) Lipsitz offers compelling, emotional, and historical facts and stories to support his claim that America has an investment in whiteness. His major story is about Bill Moore and the reasons as to why his murder affected Lipsitz and how it should affect others. Aside from Bill Moore, Lipsitz also gives historical evidence from colonial times and he also pulls a lot from the civil rights movements of the 1950’s to 1990’s. From colonial times, he states convincingly that “[w]hite settlers institutionalized a possessive investment in whiteness by making blackness synonymous with slavery and whiteness synonymous with freedom, but also by pitting people of color against one another (Lipsitz 3).” During colonial times, colonials gave rewards to the Native Americans for the capture of black runaway slaves. The reverse was also a consequence of the investment in whiteness, black slaves were recruited into militias in order to fight the Native Americans (Lipsitz 3). “The power of whiteness depended not only on white hegemony over separate racialized groups, but also on manipulating racial outsiders…to compete with each other for white approval…seek the rewards and privileges of whiteness…(Lipsitz 3).” “Although reproduced in new form in every era, the possessive investment in whiteness has always been influenced by its origins in the racialized history of the United States—by the legacy of slavery and segregation, of ‘Indian’ extermination and immigrant restriction, of conquest and colonialism (Lipsitz 3).” Although times change, the investment in whiteness nonetheless is still a factor in society states Lipsitz. For example, in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, although slavery is no more, segregation is rampant. Even though the federal government has passed civil rights law in an attempt to equalize education, these laws having been “designed to end segregated education [, they like a lot of other laws and policies,] have been consistently undermined and defeated by white resistance and refusal (Lipsitz 34).” Lipsitz not only discusses the implications of the possessive investment in whiteness on blacks but because is America a nation full of different ethnic backgrounds, Lipsitz also includes the implications for Latino and Asian communities. One of the biggest implications for Latinos was in 1994 when California’s Proposition 187 was passed. This proposition meant the denial of health benefits, education, and other everyday subsidies to undocumented residents (Lipsitz 48). “Although surveys showed that many Canadian, Italian, Israeli, and Irish citizens lived and worked in California without proper credentials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the popular campaign…expressly targeted immigrants from Mexico and Central America (Lipsitz, 48-49)…” The campaigning of Proposition 187 caused great deal of unpleasant occurrences after the Proposition itself was passed. “A counter attendant at a fast-food restaurant refused to serve hamburgers…to three English speaking Mexican American teenagers…The registrar at a California State University campus submitted a proposal to students with Spanish surnames that they needed proof of citizenship to remain enrolled… (Lipsitz 51).” “U.S. wars in Asia over the past five decades have also contributed significantly to this view of Asian Americans and Asians as foreign enemies incapable of being assimilated into a U.S. national identity (Lipsitz 71).” In America, Asians have also faced the implications of the possessive investment in whiteness. Japanese and Japanese Americans, during World War II, were forced into internment camps (Lipsitz 71). In 1890, Chinese Americans were mandated to leave neighborhoods close to downtown and in areas that were ready for redevelopment and were relocated to “isolated industrial areas of the city filled with waste dumps and other environmental hazards (Lipsitz 25).” Being Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, or Cambodian did not matter because these and other Asian ethnic groups “have often found themselves identified as undifferentiated ‘Asians’ in the United States… (Lipsitz 71).” Although these factual accounts of history in the United States support Lipsitz’s argument, Lipsitz leaves himself open to criticisms and fallacies. For example when Lipsitz writes: “Although surveys showed that many Canadian, Italian, Israeli, and Irish citizens lived and worked in California without proper credentials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the popular campaign…expressly targeted immigrants from Mexico and Central America… (Lipsitz, 48-49),” he does not inform where these surveys come from. Even when Lipsitz references his sources, his information is from a source that is biased toward his subject. When Lipsitz writes about the riots in L.A. after the beating of Rodney King, he states: “Of the nearly 47,000 police brutality cases reported to the federal Department of Justice between 1986 and 1992…only 15,000 were investigated, and only 128 led to prosecution of any kind (Lipsitz 148).” This source of information is referenced to be written by Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights activist. Not only was this information from a biased source, but the numbers do not differentiate or specify if all 47,000 of the cases reported between 1986 and 1992 were from blacks involved in the riots of L.A. or if the 47,000 cases is a number pulled from all accumulated complaints. In terms of criticism and in an ironic sense, Lipsitz’s book itself, could be an investment in whiteness itself. In the conclusion of “Whiteness Studies: ‘Nothing but Oppressive and False’?” an essay written David Calahan, a professor at the University of Aveiro, found in Anthony David Barker’s Europe Fact and Fiction: A Collection of Essays, Calahan writes [T]he way in which [whiteness] might be used within the contexts of the academy…of the firm opinion not only that [whiteness] can be used positively, but it must be used positively…the danger lies in instituting a discourse of accusation and guilt, in which whiteness can only serve as the oppression…but it endstops the potential energy for change that many white people undeniably posses…white youth must feel that they have a stake in racial politics that connects them to the struggles being waged by other groups…Whiteness does indeed need to be made strange, and the link between whiteness and systemic privilege and exclusion, but not as always already and only systemic privilege and exclusion. (125) In terms of Calahan’s view, Lipsitz’s book may not be the answer to getting rid of “whiteness.” For Lipsitz’s argument is that “whiteness is everywhere (Lipsitz 1),” it is “reproduced in a new form in every era (Lipsitz 3),” and it is in the interest of white Americans to “invest in whiteness, to remain true to an identity that provides them with resources, power, and opportunity (Lipsitz vii).” However, Lipsitz does also assert that the problem is not whiteness itself but “our [possessive investment] in it…our possessive investment in whiteness can be altered…but only if we face the hard facts openly and honestly…it requires us to take action, not merely assert good intentions (Lipsitz 235).” Although there are fallacies, biases, and arguable criticisms in Lipsitz’s work, with this assertion, Lipsitz’s calls upon everyone, people of all color, “to look at what is happening in our society and say ‘I want this to stop’ (Lipsitz 248).” This assertion may not bring about an immediate end to whiteness and the investment in it, but perhaps it is a start.
Calahan, David. "Whiteness Studies: "Nothing but Oppressive and False"?"; Europe Fact and Fiction: A Collection of Essays. Ed. Anthony David Barker. Aveiro: Centro de Línguas e Culturas, 2001: 117-125 Academia.edu. Acadamia, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. .
Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2006. Print.