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Nicholas A. Banta
Professor Marie Lo
University Studies 101A
27 October 2014

There Is Only A White Problem


In George Lipsitzs piece, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, the idea of
all other races being measured against whites is prominent. It also focuses heavily on
white privilege and transparency. Right off the bat Lipsitz states that [whiteness is] the
unmarked category against which difference is constructed (1). To back his claim, he
includes the fact that whiteness never has to speak its name and never has to
acknowledge its role as an organizing principle in social and cultural relations (1).
Throughout this piece, Lipsitz cites historical examples of how the possessive
investment in whiteness has shaped whiteness into what it has become today.
Starting at its roots, Lipsitzs first example is the colonization of North America,
and later, when African Americans were brought to the continent. Both Native and
African Americans were seen as inferior to whites in early North American history and
thus were suited by nature for the humiliating subordination of involuntary servitude
(2). In laymans terms, Native and African Americans were, in the eyes of whites, meant
to be slaves, and the white, European settlers to be their masters. After efforts to
abolish slavery succeeded, Asians were literally imported into North America to work at
extremely low wages to satisfy the needs not met after the loss of slavery. This set the
standard for white immigration to be a privilege-- a possessive investment. However,

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with the abolishment of slavery, white privilege and the possessive investment in
whiteness did not stop there.
In todays society, Lipsitz emphasizes that whiteness has a cash value and that
Americans are encouraged to invest in whiteness (vii). He backs his claim by stating
that people who are not white receive unequal educational and employment
opportunities, and miss out on the inheritance of the spoils of discrimination. If you look
at modern examples, his claim is entirely and hauntingly true. Discriminatory hiring is
very alive-and-well in a workforce that likes to throw around the term equal
opportunity. This leads to fewer job opportunities for people of color. If they are able to
find work, it is often at a job that is considerably lower paying and passed over by
whites, who are hired on at higher paying jobs. With a low income, or no income at all,
people of color are forced into low-income neighborhoods or ghettos. The quality of
education at schools in low-income neighborhoods often times reach nowhere near the
quality of education found at schools in middle and upper class neighborhoods.
With these examples, Lipsitz paints a perfect picture of what the investment in
whiteness has evolved into today. Whiteness has nearly developed from a race into a
class all its own. It has become a standard to which all other races are measured, and
from which all opportunities are dished out as crumbs and table scraps. In closing, we
must look at one of Lipsitzs strongest observations, which is that whiteness has
become an identity. An identity, as he states, created and continued with all-too-real
consequences for the distribution of wealth, prestige, and opportunity (vii). If whiteness
is a stage set with bright, shimmering lights, and an audience in awe and full of
admiration, then color has become the staircase leading to that very stage.

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Works Cited

Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness Temple University Press


(1998): vii-23. Print.