Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Towards a Paradigmatic Shift on Ordering Race?

Towards a Paradigmatic Shift on Ordering Race?

Chambi Chachage

Jennifer L. Hochschild et al.'s book on Creatinga New Racial Order[1] is both an optimistic and pessimistic projection of the future of race in the US. In the case of the latter it employs empirical data on youths to show that race matters less and in a significant way compared to older generations. However, in the case of the latter the text shy away – not least because of the indeterminacy of the state and societal structures – from explicitly stating that these youths would create a new racial order. As a result the policy implications deduced remains open ended.

Of particular interest to me is the stability of the racial order at the institutional level that continues to conflate race and class in the US society. While I acknowledge that there has been significant strides in shaking the global racial order that has manifested itself as a national/local racial order in the US across time and space the residue of that old order that was created in the crucible of slavery and colonialism remains intact. It is this order that continues to limit the US presidency of the first black person from undertaking massive racial transformation despite the fact that it was the same youths studied by the text that overwhelmingly elected him regardless of his race. Moreover, it is the same institutional order that still makes it dangerous to drive or walk while black, a situation that led to the killing of an innocent, unarmed young black man - Trayvon Martin. And it the same order that reproduces the glaring skewed incarceration of black men in the US’ jails.

To appreciate the argument that there has been a creation of a new racial order one has to take an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary viewpoint. In this regard there has been a series of changes that may have not necessarily been visible and what is happening in the 21st century is a successive change that may lead to a more radical transformation. The “racial order of the late twentieth century that emerged from the 1960s’ civil rights movement, opening of immigration, and Great Society”, argues Hochschild and her colleagues, “is undergoing a cumulative, wide-ranging, partly unintentional and partly deliberate transformation” (p. 13).

 In a sense this is a relatively soft paradigmatic shift in racial relations and institutional racism that can hardly lead to a truly postracial society in the US. However, the authors are adamant that if the racial reordering trend of what they refer to as four powerful transformative forces – immigration, multiracialism, genomic science and cohort change – continues then the US can finally reach the following order envisioned by James Madison: “one in which no majority faction, not even native-born European Americans, dominates the political, economic, or social arena” (p. 14). Even though the authors seem optimistic, the analysis of what they refers to as the blockages to these transformative forces pulls them toward pessimism. And as recent developments indicate, there are significant backlashes against immigration to the extent that the first black president in the US has not yet effected his long awaited immigration reform. Even his medical reform that is pro-minority is still under serious threats from reactionary forces.

Interestingly, in a way the authors underscores wealth redistribution across the color line as one of the main blockages. They thus aptly point out that “nothing suggests that policy or economic changes to reduce wealth disparities are in the offing—an important blockage to transformation of the American racial order” (p. 153). As the black middle class expand by creating and recreating itself through racial uplift, an optimistic outlook would suggest, this wealth gap will increasingly be closed thus decoupling race from class within the US. However, pessimistically, that only remains a possibility.

Having wavered between optimism and pessimism the authors thus settle for this more realistic position: “the outcome of the contest between transformative and entrenched forces will be decided through political actions not yet taken” (p. 176). These actions ought to necessarily involve deracializing class at the societal and institutional levels. In that regard this policy recommendation of theirs is cogent: “taking political advantage of demographic change and growing heterogeneity is the driving mechanism, and changing structures of wealth holding and exclusion is the essential goal (Ibid.)

[1] Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla Weaver & Traci Burch (2012). Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America. Princeton-New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press.


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