One thing we often forget about that case is that Homer Plessy’s argument was that he was white!

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-07-01 21:19Z by Steven

One thing we often forget about that case is that Homer Plessy’s argument was that he was white! He got bounced from the white section because the conductor said he was black. The question wasn’t that all train passengers should be able to sit together, rather Plessy said, “No, I’m a white person, actually.” The court admitted that it was very important to be able to determine who was white and who was not, and that having the ability to be white is a form of property, that it’s valuable, extremely valuable, in 1896.

Brian Jones, “The Social Construction of Race,” Jacobin, June 25, 2015.

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The Social Construction of Race

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2015-07-01 20:55Z by Steven

The Social Construction of Race


Brian Jones

Race is a social fiction imposed by the powerful on those they wish to control.

The first friend I ever had was a little boy named Matt. We were maybe four or five years old. Matt came to me one day with a very serious look on his face and gave me a little talking-to. He explained to me: “Brian, you’re brown. And I’m peach.”

I don’t remember saying anything back, but I think in my mind I was like “Okay. . . ? Well these Legos aren’t going to build themselves.”

Matt was trying to do me a favor. He was trying to introduce me to the very bizarre and peculiar rules that we all know as grownups — very important things to understand. If you didn’t understand them, you’d find American life and society very strange. You’d do things you shouldn’t do, go places you shouldn’t go. You’d mess up if you didn’t understand the particular rules that govern the ideology of race in the United States.

Sometimes when you go outside of the American context you begin to appreciate how particular and unique these rules are. I remember reading about a (probably apocryphal) interview with the former dictator of Haiti, Papa Doc Duvalier, who referred to the “white majority population” of Haiti. The American journalist interviewing him didn’t understand, so they had to define to each other what makes somebody white or black. The American journalist explained that in the US, one metaphorical drop of black blood designates someone as black. And Duvalier replied, “Well, that’s our definition of white.”

The whole idea of this talk — if you take away nothing else — is this: the whole thing is made up. That’s it. And you can make it up different ways; and people have and do. And it changes. And it has nothing to do with biology or genetics. There’s a study of several decades of census records that found that twice as many people who call themselves white have recent African ancestry as people who call themselves black.

This is not just a matter of folksy beliefs, or prejudice, or wrong ideas, though those things are all in the mix. This is a matter of law…

Read the entire article here.

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