The Possessive Investment in Whiteness

How White People Profit from Identity Politics
Revised and Expanded Edition

George Lipsitz
Outstanding Books Award, Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America, 1999
Book Cover

PB: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-494-6
Publication: Mar 06

HC: $91.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-493-9
Publication: Mar 06

Ebook: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-495-3
Publication: Mar 06

312 pages
6 x 9

A widely influential book - revised to reveal racial privilege at work in the 21st century


In this unflinching look at white supremacy, George Lipsitz argues that racism is a matter of interests as well as attitudes, a problem of property as well as pigment. Above and beyond personal feelings and acts of individual prejudice, whiteness is a structured advantage that produced unfair gains and unearned rewards for whites while imposing impediments to asset accumulation, employment, housing, and health care for members of aggrieved racial groups. Reaching beyond the black/white binary, Lipsitz shows how whiteness works in respect to Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.

Lipsitz delineates the weaknesses embedded in civil rights laws, the racialized dimensions of economic restructuring and deindustrialization, and the effects of environmental racism, job discrimination, and school segregation. He also analyzes the centrality of whiteness to U.S. culture, the racial appeals encoded within patriotic nationalism, commercialized leisure, and political advertising. Perhaps most important, he identifies the sustained and perceptive critique of white privilege embedded in the art and politics of the radical black tradition.


"(A) valuable resource for middle school, high school, and college level students."Multicultural Review

"Traversing a remarkably broad terrain of American social, political, and cultural history from the colonial period to the present, ... Lipsitz takes a variety of angles on the workings of whiteness... All of these discussions are productive; some of them are dazzling... This is a terrifically important book."Matthew Frye Jacobson, American Historical Review

"The Possessive Investment in Whiteness is the product of painstaking research and rigorous analysis.... (Lipsitz's) spirited writing recaptures a fire that has come close to being extinguished in this era."Brenda Gayle Plummer, The Annals of the American Academy

"If we could only take one book with us into the 21st century, this is the one I would choose. With lucidity and passion, George Lipsitz reveals that so-called 'color-blind' public policy actually contributes to the maintenance of racism; that white privilege and the demonizing of colored people are two sides of the same coin; and that whiteness is both a huge subsidy as well as a noose around the necks of working-class white folk. His insights into how the color line works in the realm of public policy, politics, and culture, and what we must do to destroy it, can save our lives." Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America

"George Lipsitz is one of the few historians of the U.S. who commands an audience eager to read what he writes on virtually any subject. What sets his work still more remarkably apart is the discipline never to abuse that trust...This book is a case in point. As rigorous as it is creative, this collection combines a firm grasp of the material roots and consequences of white supremacy with striking cultural criticism. Its extensive treatment of Asian-American and Latino/a experiences breaks decisively with the tendency of studies of whiteness to reduce race to a black-white binary. Few works on whiteness discuss past and present together with such subtlety, care and passion."David R. Roediger

"Lipsitz is best known for showing how popular culture and the changing fortunes of the working class and people of color transformed the United States after World War II. This new book brings together his fierce passion for racial justice with his talent for cultural analysis."The Progressive

Table of Contents

Introduction: Bill Moore's Body

  1. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
  2. Law and Order: Civil Rights Laws and White Privilege
  3. Immigrant Labor and Identity Politics
  4. Whiteness and War
  5. How Whiteness Works: Inheritance, Wealth, and Health
  6. White Desire: Remembering Robert Johnson
  7. Lean on Me: Beyond Identity Politics
  8. "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac": Antiblack Racism and White Identity
  9. "Frantic to Join . . . the Japanese Army": Beyond the Black-White Binary
  10. California: The Mississippi of the 1990s
  11. Change the Focus and Reverse the Hypnosis: Learning from New Orleans

About the Author(s)

George Lipsitz is Professor of Black Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of A Life in the Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Opposition (Temple), Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s, Dangerous Crossroads, and Time Passages.