“The credit economy is a network of contracted servitude. … Whenever one spends money, one spends a portion of the substance, wealth and life of those who have undertaken loans. Yet the value of money is also backed by profitability, including the drudge of labour in sweatshops and factories, the exclusion from the formal economy of those who are not employed profitably, the consumption of natural resources and the erosion of ecosystems and societies. The value of money is still paid for in flesh and blood.” (Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money, 239)

“The debtor may be infinitely removed from equality with her debt, she may have infinitely little in common with what she owes, but this gap between her privative actuality and the telos that is promised her on credit still renders her visible as a figure of this economy.” (Sean Capener, An Unbloody Priesthood in an Economy of Blood)

“Although the existence of certain property rights may seem self-evident, and the protection of certain expectations may seem essential for social stability, property is a legal construct by which selected private interests are protected and upheld. In creating property ‘rights,’ the law draws boundaries and enforces or reorders existing regimes of power. The inequalities that are produced and reproduced are not givens or inevitabilities; rather, they are conscious selections regarding the structuring of social relations. In this sense, it is contended that property rights and interests are not ‘natural’ but ‘creation[s] of law.’ In a society structured on racial subordination, white privilege became an expectation and … whiteness became the quintessential property for personhood.” (Cheryl Harris, Whiteness as Property, 280-81)

In the first post of this series, I put forth Philip Goodchild’s idea that we must think ecologically about money – think about the social relations it produces and enables. I furthered this thought by suggesting we must also think about money itself ecologically – about the relations that enable the invention and maintenance of money. Understanding the invention of capital as occurring through racialization is crucial to this ecological thought.

As noted in the previous post, Denise Ferreira Da Silva and Paula Chakravartty understand blackness and brownness as demarcations of exclusion from a set of social relations. Goodchild notes too that poverty is this threat of exclusion from the normative economic set of social relations. We can understand racialization, then, as the process of delimiting the poor from the rich. This threat of poverty and the figuration of poverty through the indelible indebtedness of racialization as black or brown is what gives money’s promise of value meaning. Here I want to examine what is deemed valuable as a way of understanding how criminality functions. For there to be a criminal requires the understanding of what is not criminal and why it is not. As I posit the criminalization of blackness as an effect of the relations between blackness and value, I also present whiteness and the benefits and privileges accrued to whiteness as structured by a relation to value. That relation is one of credibility – of being credible.

What it means to be white is to be included within relations that traffic in credibility. Being credible is not the same thing as not having debt. As Capener notes above, being credible is the separation of one’s debt from one’s self. One is not one’s debt even if one is a debtor. Thus, one is still recognizeable as a figure within the capitalist economy because one’s debt never dissolves one’s self. Whiteness is the assurance of the fact that one is a subject, agent, and owner of one’s self. This is, as Cheryl Harris notes in the quote above, the value of whiteness as a property of one’s self. Further, as a property of one’s self that is valuable because of its credibility, the expectation for how one is to be recognized and related to is as one who is credible – as one whose place as a subject who is able to exchange objects always ought to be recognized.

Yet this expectation of recognition as credible requires a misrecognition or disappearance of what makes this recognition possible. Goodchild notes this by pointing to what it means to be credible – to participate in an economy structured on credit and debt. There is a whole structure of servitude operating. Some flesh and blood is being used to pay for the credit of others. Some flesh and blood are permanently indebted so that whiteness can be recognizeable as a credible subjectivity. The property of being white is the demarcation of who is the owner of property rather than being owned by property.

We can see these relationships between race and credit/debt, property and ownership, at work in the case of Darren Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown. In the aftermath of the murder, the global protests and marches of solidarity, the refusal of the state to indict Wilson, and the growing resentment on display by many white people tired of black people ‘making this about race,’ what becomes clear is the expectation of credibility in contradistinction to the expectation of indebtedness.

For example, part of the failure to indict Darren Wilson by the grand jury had to do with issues of credibility. Who is a credible witness? Who is a credible subject? In this case, the recounting of events by black people have been roundly dismissed as not credible precisely because of their blackness, which is the propensity to “make things about race” and lie about the violence of history as it happened. Meanwhile, the anonymous white woman, Witness 40, whose legitimacy as a witness was challenged by the FBI (and it’s increasingly becoming clear she may not have even been present at the scene of the murder) is still legible as a credible witness in the logic of whiteness. Sean Hannity and others continue repeating her affirmation of Darren Wilson’s account of Mike Brown “charging” him. Additionally, Wilson’s own account, is considered especially credible. Not only because he is white, but because as a police officer he protects and enforces credibility, which is to the interest of private property. Despite his exceptional disregard for the actually legally stated procedures with which police are to respond to ‘criminals’ or handle evidence or file reports, Wilson is treated as a hero by many whites, has been given a national interview in which he expresses no remorse for killing Brown, and has had over half a million dollars donated to him. In short, it pays to be credible, to be white, precisely because it is black flesh and blood that pays rather than one’s self.

Indeed, in many white responses to Ferguson, there is lividness at the idea of anyone thinking an injustice has occured. Any support of Brown, his family, the Ferguson protestors, etc, is met with incredulity based on the assumption that black people are indebted in some way to white people. Whether for being in America and having access to it’s wealth of economic opportunities, for being freed from slavery, for the ways white people have tried to ‘help’ black people – there is the latent idea that white people are owed a certain behavior from black people which is not consistent with the performance of protest. In this example we can see black people’s indebtedness is understood as one with their being,. Black poverty and experiences of policing are black people’s own fault. If blacks would simply become credible subjects, as white people are, they would not be such moral failures, they would not be so poor, they would not be so violent – so criminal.

In short, blackness is not recognizeable apart from the imposition of a permanent indebtedness. On the other hand, whiteness is only recognizeable as being separate from its debts, even when history, the law, and one’s own behavior raises questions about the justness with which this credibility is extended, circulated, and maintained.

2 thoughts

  1. Because of course, poor white people without privilege do not exist?

    Racism has trumped common sense in this essay, as often sexist trumps common sense in feminism.

    When are we going to learn that privilege exists only for the few, not the many, and that the few are not separated out from the many by race or gender, but rather by inheriting the ill gotten gains of past generations? And thus having the money to purchase loans to the poor, creating a new slavery of debt?

    There is a way out. Know that the privilege exists, live within your means, and one day, maybe your distant descendants will be people of privilege as well.

  2. I love this connection between credit and credibility–one I had never explicitly made before. I sadly think this post is so spot on. Thank you for writing it.

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