THE LONG VIEW: The Advantage (28 May 2012)

The Advantage
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown, Pennsylvania
31 May 2012


When the English first landed in Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, in the early seventeenth century, race was not the social force it would become later in American history.  It took two generations of contact and interaction with enslaved Africans and various ethnic Native Americans to formalize racial identities into the laws of the colonies.  By 1670, “white” identity was synonymous with “free,” “Christian,” and “male.”  Hundreds of laws passed over the next century made this definition the core assumption of British North America.  The combination of these racial, religious, gender, and political categories laid the foundation for economic opportunity.  These restrictions only intensified between 1790 and 1960.


Later this year, the Supreme Court will issue another ruling on Affirmative Action.  Nowhere in American jurisprudence has an understanding of the racial advantage emerged.  Our most distinguished judges offer no hint of the awareness that racial categories benefited some people, while penalizing others.  No system embodied this modern line of thought more than the Federal Housing Administration’s use of red-lined neighborhoods to inform mortgage lending between 1936 and 1968.  Being “black,” “female,” “enslaved,” and “pagan” virtually guaranteed subordinate economic status for nearly three hundred years of law.  Yet, there is no legal decision that explains the white advantage embedded in our culture and courts.  There has been no effort to eliminate a system that makes white performance the standard in most areas of American life.


White identity is different in 2012 than it was in 1670.  No longer can only Northern Europeans claim its benefits.  The evolution of belonging to the group with advantages is a story of the twentieth century – a particular story of Norristown – that we need to tell more often.  Ask yourself, ‘how did my family come to be white?’  Or, ‘why do I still see myself this way, and what does it mean for my future?’ Have no doubt that so long as whiteness has an economic and legal value that we struggle to discuss, inequality will continue to persist in the United States.



Dr. Walter Greason is a Visiting Scholar at James Madison University.  You can contact him at or on Twitter (@worldprofessor1).

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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