Why does IP law require a critical race lens today?
IP law requires a critical race lens today because the very foundations of intellectual property –conceptualizations of property, of possession, of artistic expression – cannot be understood apart from the historical alignment between whiteness and property rights, as Cheryl Harris so persuasively argued in her groundbreaking 1993 article “Whiteness as Property.” In an age when white supremacy is exercising renewed influence at the highest levels of our government, it is all the more incumbent upon us to identify the less visible ways in which racial hierarchies shape the formation of the legal rights that we tend to take for granted and that underpin so much of our economy. A critical race lens forces us to understand IP law as part of the legacy of white supremacy.
How does your work contribute to re-imagining IP in the twenty first century?
In my book, Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property in American Dance, I argue that copyright has served both to consolidate and to contest racial and gendered power in the field of dance. In other words, even if intellectual property is one of the “master’s tools,” it has been put to multiple uses by people with very different relationships to power. In the twenty-first century, we must recognize and reckon with IP’s contradictions.
How do you hope to advance the discourse of race and IP through your work?
As a dance scholar, I hope to encourage more attention to the body as a site where race and IP intersect. I’m interested in how deeply imbricated – and how thoroughly racialized – conceptualizations of property and conceptualizations of the body are. Recall that John Locke’s “natural rights” theory – the idea that “every Man has a property in his own Person” – is premised on a gendered, racialized notion of embodied sovereignty. Dance has a particularly vexed relationship to IP, which is worthy of attention in its own right. But because it places the body front and center, it has the potential to expose under-explored connections between race and IP.