Critical Race Theory: Building Ideology

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Harris, Cheryl L. “Whiteness as Property,” The Harvard Law Review.  106.8 (1993): 1707-1769.

Cheryl L. Harris’s influential article begins with narrative; Harris recounts in vivid prose the experiences of her black grandmother during the 1930’s – when, “in the parlance of racist America,” she decided to participate in the “self denial” of “passing” as white (1710).  She argues that her grandmother’s story is “far from unique” and that the “persistence of passing is related to the historical and continuing pattern of white racial domination and economic exploitation that has given passing a certain economic logic” (1712-1713).  Harris explores this in order to investigate the intersections of race and property, positing that whiteness has been constructed as cultural property in the form of status and materiality.  She does this through close analysis of legal discourse and legislation.

I will, however, play with the idea of whiteness as it is constructed through online social media and consumption.  Harris’s brief and deeply personal treatment of “passing” and her careful connection between it and considerations of whiteness as property will be incredibly useful as I think through the implications of “performed” consumerism and identity erasure on Pinterest.  Black participant, Lexa, pins many images and “wants” on her boards similar to white participants.  Danielle who self-identifies as Hispanic has more images of white women than any other participant I am following.  Are these women “passing” in order to reap the benefits or “possibilities associated with whiteness?  Harris’s work has excited my own inquiry and will definitely inform its direction.  To understand whiteness as property is to begin to understand the complex ways that pin boards are linked to our cultural investment in constructions of racial identity and consumption of it.  If whiteness is something to own, to purchase, to inherit, to have – if it not liberty, not privilege – if it is property – well, Pinterest makes a lot of sense.  And it makes sense that this site’s pretty obvious sale of it appeals to non-white or working class white women.

Yosso, Tara J.  “Whose Culture Has Capital?” A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.”  Race, Ethnicity, and Education 8.1. (2005): 69-91.

Tara J. Yosso’s article offers the critical race theory novice an excellent overview of important literature in this examination of race and education that “focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged” (69-70).  Beginning with Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dolores. Yosso examines the ideas of Delgado Bernal who explores how constructions of race have shaped whose knowledge is valuable and Pierre Bourdieu argument that “the knowledges of the upper and middle classes are considered capital valuable to a hierarchical society” (71). She briefly traces CRT’s emergence from critical legal theory’s limitation for understanding racial injustice.  Yosso’s purpose is to “define CRT in education as a theoretical and analytical framework that challenges the ways race and racism impact educational structures, practices, and discourses” (74).

I encountered this text quite by accident, but was delighted to find it quite helpful in my attempt to understand and use CRT when considering how Pinterest (and the Internet, more broadly – but particularly its consumer sites) enables constructions of cultural capital along racialized lines.  I need to consider how the “knowledges” that are required to participate and those that are constructed and circulated through this social media site reflect an example of a restrictive public based on class and race.  It also helps me argue that race is among the “possibilities” played out on Pinterest.  Female users on Pinterest “play” with appropriation of racial identity – because the site’s user data reveals that it is a “female” and “white” digital environment, women of color are silenced?  Passing?  Challenging?  The bottom line: race must be considered in this particular study, because two of my participants are women of color, two are white.  And race is, in my estimation, among the many things users pin – inadvertently or intentionally – users are valuing the dominant knowledges through their participation.  But how are these knowledges challenged or subverted?  I will use Yosso to better understand how race and whiteness happen on Pinterest and why that matters.

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