Whiteness v Blackness — Analysis of Michel Foucault & Fred Moten

Tony Plasencia
13 min readMay 15, 2020


Panopticon in a Prison

I must first make the notion and the separation of two conceptualization which will be used throughout this paper, Power & power but for our purpose will be referred to as: Whiteness and Blackness. Let me begin by constructing the parameters for these concepts, they both hold ‘power’ in different matters , modes & can be reconciled in different manners. Thankfully, there are patrons who will guide us in our understanding of these conceptions as well as their relationship and exercise, namely Fred Moten & Michael Foucault. Fred Moten’s, The Undercommons Fugitive Planning & Black Study, will serve for us as the guide through Blackness and Michael Foucault’s Discipline & Punish, will serve as the guide through Whiteness.

I must preface both concepts for my own reason and the pleasure of the reader. Blackness, Motenian power, is the spirit of ALL Black people z w, the life of ALL Black people, the re-categorization of power. Excuse Me? Yes, this Blackness, birthed from Slavery became the social death for Blacks, this is the key distinction in our analyzation of Power. To continue, Whiteness, the Foucaultnian Power is the spirit of all Whites- privilege & fantasy. Now, we must understand White’s have not suffered this death instead been the operator’s of atrocities. I must note, Whiteness is conception of Moten and will be used wisely but now that we are organized, I will argue that together Moten and Foucault reveal variances in the concept of Power & it’s operationality in society which is found in analyzation of modern institutions, disciplines and human relations — which creates separate realities of existence for Individuals which gridlocks Politics.

Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, is a clear analyzation of Power and it’s own evolution from a tribal sense to a sophisticated creature in modern life. His analysis though through, is fallacious, his operative is in a tone of Whiteness, a single oriented view of Power or rather the ability to have Power. Let me begin by introducing the infancy of Punishment as an instrument of Power, “laws that define the crime and lay down the penalties must be clear, ‘so that each member of society may distinguish criminal actions from virtuous action’”. Here, Foucault offers the root of Punishment, the best medicine for an ill soul. For Foucault, Punishment will always have the ability to be correct & be corrective by setting precedent for the actions of members of society. Though accurate in his initial analyzation he forgets to mention, the manipulability & inaccuracy of such tool for Power such as the Law. His notion of the ‘hands of the king’ as the vector of Power create(s) unease, reason can be seen throughout History, where Power is used maliciously. May I color an example? During the Reagan Administration in California, there was an Open-Carry law which permitted for all individuals to carry Arms. Justly, a colored-group, exercised their liberty & found their exercise — shutdown. Reason? Reversal of a Law because of Fear from the group in Power- Whites. Their reaction to this exercise served as a distinguishment of action, Law(s) only serve those with Power. And this created a necessary evolution for Power to conceal itself so it could continuously serve the ‘virtuous’ & penalize the ‘criminal’. This punishment, as seen , is simply reactionary to the demands of the ‘virtuous’ , as it champions such behaviour. Power as an organism is innate with humans and thus seeks to control.

This simple deconstruction adds speculation and reason as to the shift for Power & Punishment. For Foucault, this is where ‘the gaze [became alert] everywhere’, where the domain of Power expanded into its true ecosystem, Society. From the Laws & Prisons to every facet of life, Power has become ubiquitous and Foucault alludes to this, “there is no risk, therefore, that the increase of power created by the panoptic machine may degenerate into tyranny; the disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible ‘ to the great tribunal committee of the world’ … it has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole” . This shift to Panoptic Power is the justification and the solidification of the White Dominance in the Western world. How? In American History, the realm of Power and it’s different levels is attributed to color of Skin, the darker you get, the less you have. Thus this ‘democratically controlled’ mechanism can only be thought of through the realm of Social Classes and in our reality, the White Person rules. So with this in mind, I can begin the dissection, the Panopticon is the embodiment of Ubiquity and thus serves my latter analogy of the United States. The Founder’s of this nation rooted Power into the seed of the State as the ultimate Sovereign. This Power vested in their commitment to creating a Democratic society. Unknowingly they released Whiteness into the roots of societies and with Time was able to continuously mature to a Tyrannical ideology, White Power. Now here, we can understand Power , capital P is to be synonymous with Whiteness, as it is the Ubiquity that Foucault points out. Now, please, keep in my mind my analogy of the United States which will link Foucault’s word’s well. When faced with this evolution , Foucault creates the solution for Power, “How will power, by increasing it’s forces, be able to increase those in society instead of confiscating or impeding them? The solution is that the productive increase can be assured only if, on the one hand, it can be exercised in the foundations of society & if it functions outside the sudden, violent forms of sovereignty.” Not to expand too much on one point but I must drill this into your mind, as it is the only way in which you will understand.

Using Foucault as our Guide, we must first accept that his thought is not for the United States, instead I am using his concepts of Power to better understand the American society we are placed in. We may also manipulate Foucault, to say that the very foundation of the United States was to ‘function outside the violent forms of sovereignty’’ & against the ‘exercise of the sword’ and the solution? Democracy,Modernity, Liberalism. The principles of the United States which are rooted in the Constitution of the State and guide action internally. A political structure such as democracy can be dissected to be transparent & true but instead acts in accordance as the Panoptican. Transparent, easily accessible, & knowledgeable. The Panopticon as a structure is centralized ,observant and observable , and intelligent. Foucault alludes to Power and Knowledge as having ‘the ability to observe others’, & this relationship provides us with a sustainable thought. The United States has become the proponent of ‘Democracy’ in the world, often exceeding and overstepping precedent in order to ‘ spread the Liberal Democrat thought’ but why? The heavy prosperity brought forth by the Democracy, Modernity, Liberalism in the United States prompted for the spread of these Ideologies as if they were the fix to the world’s problems or as Foucault would say the ‘general function’. See, I wish to tie this together for you, the Founding Fathers of the United States created as Foucault would refer to as ‘bio-political’ state, a knowledgeable form of power. How? Let us begin our analyzation of Micro-Powers or Institutions which stem from the Founding of the Nation. I will rely on the Prison System of the United States to juncture my theory that Whiteness is rooted in the seeds of the United States.

As Foucault has mentioned, laws benefit the virtuous actions of Society. Let us then analyze, “ The coextensive apparatus of Police power must bear ‘over everything’…in order for this [power] to be exercised it had to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive ,omnipresent surveillance … [the] police added this disciplinary function to the auxiliary of justice in its pursuit of criminals and as an instrument for political supervision of plots, movements or revolts.” Here is a main function of Power at work in the United States. The police are the epitome of Power in American Society, as they are seen as an extension of the law which is set to distinguish ‘violent action from virtuous action’. As their power is also ubiquitous, every town/city has an extension of this power. But interesting that Foucault says ‘disciplinary function to the auxiliary of Justice’, a disciplinary Mechanism which is ubiquitous is the definition of the Panoptic Power and Whiteness. Now how does this Whiteness support Justice, as the police are set to be? Already laid out for you, the Black Panthers who acted legally on a Law but had their action ‘just action’ overturned. SO, restriction of liberty is Justice? OK got it, let us take this further. The United States has gone through a stage of rampant Police Violence- innocent murders and exploitation of Liberties to name a few perversions. This Police Violence has been mostly perpetrated on People of Color by White Officers, extensions of the Panoptic mode of Power, and this notion sets us with more thought. The social death from Slavery, remember?

Whites never suffered this, they had never been put in a position of a minority in the United States but yet Blacks did. Their arrival on this land was met with a death- a subjection, a loss of personal freedoms , & humanity. These losses gave the Foundation of such country the ability to dissociate these Individuals from society and deem them unequal target(s) who embody criminality for the ‘violence of Power & Discipline’. The police as a tool of the Panopticon is meant to continually feed the ‘political supervision’ and as stated the politics of the United States is a democracy. This violence is meant , not to reiterate, to keep the Founding spirit alive. The proponent of Whiteness, Whites, their ability to hold power, this is what can be extracted from this analyzation of Police Power. To further my dissection, Foucault says these techniques are to ‘adjust the multiplicity of men’ , keeping them in Power. “that is why discipline fixes; it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion; it dissipates compact groupings of individuals wandering [about in unpredictable ways]”. Those individuals, those groups, People of Color, the discipline of Power urges to weed away those who do not fit. BY encompassing all embodiments, previous evolutions of Power such as Police Violence, Punishment & Discipline- the ruling class is able to control, arrest and regulate the operation of Individuals. In the United States, 56% of the incarcerated- are People of Color, this is a clear indicator of Panoptic power at work. A spirit that is all knowing, everywhere and able to dictate who is able to Operate, Live and prosper in the realms of Normal Society. This Normal Society, is the vision and dream of Whiteness, where there is a commonality between People, where Power can roam without having to work meaning that Power need(s) not to be exercised. A utopia sums up my thoughts, where Homogeneity and Privilege is the culture of Justice but this can never be real as we can simply analyze the upheaval in the United States. I wish to transition into my next author, Fred Moten ,who will offer to us the power for People of Color and how that is operational in Society.

Fred Moten , offers us a completely different view for Individuals and for power in society but especially American Society. His dissection of the ‘undercommons’ is the world in which we will dwell into to understand power & colored existence. Before I continue, let me preface once again by saying that Moten would have labeled Foucaultnian power not only as Whiteness but also as the ‘Commons’ which serve as the ‘Normal’ or Normalization of Society. Where life is seen to be perfect, where social life is actualized — a luxury that is only operational by Whites. Let me also say, because of the Foucaultnian Power, which means to dissipate any ‘wandering individual’ this has forced blacks into ‘ enclosure… [where they are] always at war, always in hiding’ . Now here we can better understand the Motenian power of Blackness which lives in the realm known as the Undercommons. Yes, we can finally understand! For Moten, this setting is the realm of power a termed coined as blackness, that is only manifested in the Undercommons. Let Moten illustrate this realm for you, “ we are the general antagonism to politics, we are disruption and consent to disruption. We preserve ,upheaval! Sent to fulfill by abolishing, to renew by unsettling, to open the enclosure whose immeasurable finality is inversely proportional to its actual area, we got politics surrounded. We cannot represent ourselves. We can’t be represented” .( Moten) Revolution! This is power for blackness, the ability to preserve the previous done perversion. Through the mutual debt of Slacery which all black encompass, the responsibility of the undercommons is to ‘falsify the institution’ of Power. The Foucauldian Power of Whiteness, the constant chase of the criminal has pushed Blacks to an ‘enclosure’ but within something is brewing. Moten transitions to say in the heading of ‘ The University and the Undercommons: ‘ The only possible relationship to the university today is a Criminal One ‘. But why does he choose this? Let us then analyze this heading together as I believe it will make the reading of this essay much more pleasurable. Notice, how, the Panoptic Mode of Power is obsessed with the notion of the Criminal for Moten, here is a Social Institution whose purpose is to manipulate and correct and Individual. Furthermore, on a more minut level let us not forget that the University is an institution of knowledge and as I have said that Power such as the Panoptican is vested on Knowledge much like the Democratic politics of the United States which I have alluded to. And what about it? So Black are forever succumbed to capital P, power? No of course not, I believe the Undercommons are ‘ the questioning of knowledge which always ends in restoration’, a place where the knowledge is manipulated to advance & create a harmonious environment. As Moten says about the University, ‘it is a place of refuge and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment’ . See I point back that the University is an Institution where Blacks & Blackness can prevail and Study and Plan.

To Study other people, to understand the operators of this Power and create a term of Social credit.I will return to this very shortly. For Moten, this Study is very important, as it is the simple action of the University and Knowledge but also has a social coin to it. When speaking about the Black(s) or Maroons in study, he says, “They study without an end, plan without a pause, rebel without a policy, conserve without a patrimony. They Study in the university and the university forces them under, relegates them to the study of those without interests, without credit … They never graduate. They just ain’t ready. They’re building something there, down there… Mutual Debt”.(Moten)This study is done in the escape of the criminalization of Violence set forth by the Panoptic Power. See, the power here is the ability to revolt without interference from the Police Power. They can revolt through thought, thought of the debt owed through the social death, here in the undercommons, they can counter the experience of the Black Panthers. They can create not policy, but rather an idea, a ‘study without an end’, that could possibly manifest itself in the realm of Commonality. Studying the oppressor’s they learn the seed’s of Power without being in sight of the Panoptican. Notice how Moten says ‘ forces them under’, this is much a tool of the Panoptican , the University as its Institution, centralizes itself so it can assert its legitimacy. But yet, it creates the Undercommons which is means to undermine its legitimacy. The study that is important is how to redeem their Debt, how they will be able to have a realm of Existence and acceptance in Society. Moten alludes to the answer to the study for Blacks, “ Hapticality, the touch of the undercommons, the interiority of sentiment, the feel of what is to come is here, Hapticality, the capacity to feel though others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel the feeling, this feeling of the shipped is not regulated, at least no successfully”( Moten). The answer of the Revolution and the arm of power for Blacks. The essence of Blackness is the ability to be human and not necessarily a proponent or body of Power. By escaping the gaze of Commonality, Blacks were able to perpetuate a thought and create an embracive community known as the Undercommons. This gaze along with the social debt allowed for no-representation that ultimately created its own Sovereignty , Love. See, this is extremely interesting, even within the world of Power, there is a community of Individuals that exists in a different life. Constantly being criminalized, victimized, and ostracized and thus has been placed in a realm of Revolt and enclosure. But within this Realm, they were able to undermine the component of Knowledge and perverse Power to advance their Agenda of receiving credit. What does this all mean? Through the violence of Power and the revolt of Love, what can be learned?

Well for Moten , “what’s left is politics but even the politics of the commons.. Can only be a politics of ends.. [there must be] a regulatory end of the common”( Moten). The continuity of the commons or let’s say the Power of Whiteness is ultimately leading to an ends. What sort of ends? Well, I am sure a simple analyzation of the United States will serve our purpose. In 2019, the United States at a midst of a Civil War- with the race relations high and Power exceeding its justification ( Trump Impeachment), it is evident that the essence of the Founder’s is having a detrimental effect on American Society. See, if Police Violence is to be continued, this politics of Power, then there will be an imbalance and revolt will prevail. For the more violence, force that is perpetuated by Whiteness , the ability that Blackness has to study and revolt. But what would you say if I offered a solution? A politic of Love. See, the study of the Undercommons, the revolt to Power, underlies and finds progress in Politics. Once again as stated by Fred Moten, “the Undercommons’ is a box, and if you open it you can enter into our world” . The rule of the Common must end, and those perpetrators of Power must open the box to the Undercommons and release Love. This is the only answer to the gridlocking of Politics in the United States. By having a separation of Factions based on Skin Color is only creating an imbalance in Power but also in Social progress. The State must encompass empathy into its own study of its citizens to even consider Politics.



Tony Plasencia

Recent SFSU grad in Political Science. 4 years of tech experience in Silicon Valley & keen to possibilities of Big Tech and AI in our public Sector