whiteness and property ownership: the right to exclude

two weeks ago, maureen and i went to go see claudia rankine’s talk on whiteness in boston (we also went to see toshi reagon’s in-progress opera for parable of the sower, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic).

among the amazing insights she shared was this line:

“whiteness and property ownership share a common nucleus: they are based on the right to exclude.”


a few thoughts since hearing this:

  1. ideas about “ownership” and “property” (which beget ideas about real estate) seem to me to be fundamental problems with neoliberalism and the west. we’re sort of hemmed in on all sides with this framing. something sylvia taught us at a css advanced training i went to a couple of years ago is how european’s convinced indigenous people to let them “buy and own” land. it was an idea that didn’t make sense to the indigenous folks. and the white europeans came over and imposed their made up this idea on them (which is why all the purchase agreements are fucked). but once people could “own” land in the u.s., all sorts of problems were triggered. many of the social problems we’re dealing with today are rooted in this idea (gentrification, food sovereignty, environmental damage, climate change, etc.). if we believed land and natural resources were shared, we wouldn’t destroy them like we do. industrial capitalism, in fact, wouldn’t even make sense, because of the way it consumes out of scale with what land can support.
  2. whiteness as an idea, at its root, is about being able to define a group that should have power so that there are groups that can be denied it. this is its sole purpose. this is also why it can shift over time. dealing with rankine’s proposition about inclusion, i’m convinced, is the way through the mess. as john a. powell discusses, othering and belonging are the name of game. my friend, casper, is thinking about this (in very big ways) these days, too. and it all makes sense to me. hm!!!


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