restricted access 113 Segregation, Whiteness, and Transformation
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113 Segregation, Whiteness, and Transformation MARTHA R. MAHONEY Transforming the Social Construction of Whiteness and Blackness: The Case of Residential Housing Transformative work against segregation and racial oppression must directly confront racism and the social construction of race. Whiteness and blackness are not merely mirror images of each other. "White" does not only mean "opposite of Other" but also stands for the dominant, transparent norm that defines what attributes of race should be counted, how to count them, and who (as in white employers or mortgage bankers) gets to do the counting. Therefore, destabilizing "Other"-ness doesn't entirely destabilize the dominance of whiteness. Even though race has no natural reality or truth, it has great social force. More work is required, therefore, to undo the many forms of harm that have been part of the construction of race in America, including the perpetuation of residential segregation and the impoverishment of black individuals and communities. Because whiteness is a transparent and dominant norm, part of the transformative project necessarily includes exposing white privilege to white people. From outside the cultural circle of whiteness, white retention of privilege looks willful. Some protection of privilege is indeed a conscious preference for whites and against people of color, a conscious protection of assets and access in society. At other times, a preference for whiteness reflects a preference for the qualities that have been attached to whiteness. For example, consider those employers who artlessly and bluntly interpret race, class, and status in describing their hiring preferences. Because maintaining white consciousness requires not-seeing whiteness and not-seeing race, in many situations white privilege will also reproduce itself unconsciously and through a formal attachment to colorblindness. As Barbara Flagg has pointed out, positioned white decisionmaking that protects and perpetuates white privilege usually lacks the sort of "intent" to discriminate that law often requires before being willing to remedy subordination.! Transformative work on whiteness therefore requires attacking its power as a dominant norm, while seeking points of potential for change in the social construction of whiteness. Necessary steps toward change include attacking the power of whiteness as an invisible, dominant social norm; participating in the project (necessarily repeated) that reiterates the existence of subordination and privilege by revealing the ongoing reproduction of white privilege and power; disputing the legal and social preference for colorblind approaches 143 U. PA. L. REV. 1659 (1996). Copyright © 1995 The University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Reprinted by permssion. Copyrighted Material Segregation, Whiteness, and Transformation 655 that reproduce color and power evasion, protect privilege, and deny cultural autonomy; and seeking points of unity and transformative potential. In the context of residential segregation, antidiscrimination law is part of the attack on whiteness as a dominant norm. Whiteness has been constructed by excluding blacks, by defining white areas as superior, and by allocating to white areas the resources that reinforce privilege. Housing discrimination perpetuates segregation. It reflects the social construction of race-blacks as undesirable residents for white areas, whites as desirable residents for those areas-and perpetuates the processes that concentrate black poverty and continue to reproduce race and racism in America. A straightforward attack on housing discrimination is therefore vital to break down walls of exclusion and begin the process of including people of color into formerly all-white or mostly white areas. Fighting housing discrimination is an important part of transforming whiteness in America. Although antidiscrimination law is necessary, however, it is inadequate to effectively undo the processes of selective investment and disinvestment that are part of the social construction of whiteness and blackness. Further measures will also be necessary to reveal white privilege and to deprive privilege of its apparently natural quality. Because the social construction of race is not symmetrical, and because blackness is not simply the mirror image of whiteness, the effects of deconcentrating segregated housing are different for blacks than for whites. For whites, the concentration of blacks somewhere other than white neighborhoods is what allows whiteness to remain both exclusive (that is, physically populated mostly by white persons) and a dominant norm (unnoticed except when threatened). Breaking down the walls of exclusion helps break down white dominance as well as making white spaces less white. Residence in white neighborhoods obviously has some advantages for those black individuals who find that it detaches some of the social construction of blackness (including identification with "inner-city" or "unemployable ") for some of the privileges of whiteness ("suburban" and, often, "employable"). However, moving blacks toward white areas fails to address...