Become a Patron! 


From: Martha R. Mahoney, Segregation, Whiteness, and Transformation, 143 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 1659 (May, 1995) (86 Footnotes) (Full Document)


Martha R Mahoney

Residential segregation is both cause and product in the processes that shape the construction of race in America. The concept of race has no natural truth, no core content or meaning other than those meanings created in a social system of white privilege and racist domination. Recent work in critical race theory helps understand residential segregation by analyzing race as a social construction and whiteness as a racial construction. Segregation is the product of notions of black inferiority and white superiority, manifested geographically through the exclusion of blacks from more privileged white neighborhoods and the concentration of blacks into subordinated neighborhoods stigmatized by both race and poverty. In turn, the segregated world we inhabit comes to define race for its inhabitants. The lived experience of people in a segregated society links the perceived natural quality of the world we inhabit with its racialized characteristics-giving the social construction of race a quality that seems both natural and inevitable. Segregation therefore reflects and reinforces socially created concepts of blackness and whiteness. Understanding that race is socially constructed, and that its social construction is made into a naturalized feature of the physical world through residential segregation, can help us understand how to transform the current allocation of privilege. In this Paper, I emphasize the relationships between concentration into segregated residential communities and access to or exclusion from work as central features in the process of the social construction of race.

Although America has a long history of racial subordination, social and legal fictions continue to equate formal legal equality with equality in fact. In the context of residential segregation, this formalism leads to de-emphasizing the ongoing existence and harms of segregation and to emphasizing legal and economic mechanisms that could theoretically correct it. Professor Johnson's article therefore rightly criticizes both the idea that the market will naturally end discrimination and the idea that the existence of antidiscrimination law in housing will be sufficient to end segregation. Civil rights scholars necessarily put a great deal of energy into revealing past and present structures of subordination. We prove (again and again) that subordination has happened and does happen, that segregation reflects and creates inequality, and that white privilege is real. The metaphor of a “property right in whiteness” helps emphasize that privilege exists and that law protects it. While necessarily repeated, the reiteration of the existence of subordination and privilege tends to take our eyes off the question of transformation. This Paper explores the links between residential segregation and white privilege and then addresses particular issues in transforming the social construction of whiteness and blackness.