A lot of the excellent new work that has been done on race and racism in the Middle Ages—both in this series and also within academia—focuses either on telling the stories of people of color in the Middle Ages, or understanding how the racial categorizations of people of color came to be. But whiteness, as a racial category, was also under construction during this period. In medieval Britain, there was a centuries-long dispute over who had the right to feel British.

Over the course of the Middle Ages, ‘Britishness’—the right to claim British identity—became racial property. I call this racial identity a ‘property’ (an idea I’m taking from Cheryl I. Harris) to emphasize its status as an object of political power. Like real estate, Britishness in the Middle Ages became a thing to be owned. And it had value. By appropriating the anti-imperialist ideas of the very peoples they had subjugated, English writers represented themselves as the heroes of their political history. [read more]

Public Medievalist 28 March, 2017