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Race and racism in the contemporary globalized world is a product of historical forces that still resonate today. With a focus on the United States and its relation to race–racism research both in the United States and abroad. By reexamining the Atlantic slave trade, social scientists and historians tie its establishment to the development of the modern world economy. This research paper then examines the specific ways that these linkages are still operative in the United States and globally. The author also suggests new research strategies for understanding the specific ways to expose the depth of these structural racial inequalities, and how to begin to eradicate them.
- Pushing the Racial Formation Paradigm
- Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century
- Race and Racism beyond the Borders of the United States
- Three Hundred Years and Counting
- New Engagements of Race
- New Globalization Research and Race
- Dismantling Structural Racism: The Unfinished Job
Racial Formation in the Twentieth Century by Omi and Winant (1984, 1994, 2002) provided a framework through which sociologists, anthropologists, and others could locate the role of race in structuring broader social formations. It was quite useful to use to look at the political and social terrain of the 1970s and 1990s in the United States, especially. It arose at the same time politically that the conservatives and neoliberals were forging a ‘new world order’ that introduced the concepts of ‘colorblindness’ and ‘postracial America’ that one still hears echoed among conservatives during the first Obama administration (Goodman et al., 2012). Also, in the 1990s, anthropologists, sociologists, and biologists reaffirmed the fact that race as a biological construct was not real, but was an illusion, a social construct (Mukhopadhyay and Moses, 1997; Goodman et al., 2012; Smedley, 1993). Omi and Winant challenged that benign view by indicating that race was not an illusion, but was very much a foundational axis of American society (Omi and Winant, 2012: p. 14). Mullings, Harrison, and others also comment that anthropologists, by denying the biological basis of race, actually left a void and a vacuum to talk about what race really was, and how it continued to operate as a powerful social construction (Mullings, 2005; Harrison, 1995). It was Mukhopadhyay and Moses in 1997 who challenged the field of American anthropology to reestablish race in its anthropological discourse (Mukhopadhyay and Moses, 1997). Since then, anthropologists have looked at the social construction of race and racism from many perspectives, including intersectionality of issues like gender, sexual orientation, class, and identity (Mullings, 1997; Bolles, 2001; McClaurin, 2001); power and hegemony (Sanjek, 1998; Smith, 2012); globalization and capitalism (Wade, 2003; Brodkin, 2000); genetics and genomics (Goodman et al., 2012; Bliss, 2012); immigration, migration, and transnationalism (Kearney, 1995); racial critique of the discipline of anthropology itself (Baker, 1998; Mullings, 2005; Marks, 2005; Blakey, 1997; Harrison, 2008; Susser and Patterson, 2001); antiracism research (Mullings, 2005); and the future of race–racism in the United States and the world (Winant, 2001; Goodman et al., 2012).
Pushing the Racial Formation Paradigm
Since the 1990s, there have been developments in the research on race in the United States and abroad that both critique and build on the foundation of Omi and Winant’s work. The edited book Racial Formation in the 21st Century (2012) is a place to begin this critique and new vision of racial formation and its processes. In the introduction, while paying homage to Omi and Winant, the editors, HoSang, LaBennett, and Pulido point out at least three ways that Racial Formation in the 20th Century fell short. They are specifically that Omi and Winant focus too much on the United States as the global model for race, there was a conflation of the concept of race and ethnicity, and class is treated in a dismissive way (2012: p. 6). This book goes on to take a holistic view of new racial theory formation since the original Omi and Winant publication, as well as what they call dialogues and conversations with other racial formation theories that were also in circulation during the 1990s. Two of these theories are critical race theory (Crenshaw, 1991; Crenshaw et al., 1995) and intersectionality theory (Crenshaw et al., 1995; Twine, 1998). Racial formation theory of Omi and Winant did tackle the issue of ethnicity in the United States by explaining that ethnicity is a process by which individuals and groups (come) to understand, or understand themselves as separate or different from others based on social practices such as language, religion, rituals, and other patterns of behavior. In this analysis, they note that the use of the term ethnicity instead of race offers the opportunity for conservatives and neoliberal policies to question or negate the legal and policy gains of people of color in this country, when new policies and programs are focused not on race, but on the creation of a ‘colorblind society,’ which ignore the history and the intractability of structural racism (Goodman et al., 2012).
Other racial theorists outside the fields of sociology and anthropology, such as Thomas Holt (2002) in history and Paul Gilroy (1993, 2002) in cultural studies and American studies have used the concept of Omi and Winant’s racial formation to build theoretical frameworks to better understand and explain the history of the formation of black expressive culture, black diasporic identity, and hybridity. Winant (2000, 2001) argues that there was no such thing as race in classical antiquity. Isaac in his book The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity did find what he calls significant examples of ‘protoracism’ in Greek and Roman literature, “despite his observance that racism did not exist in its current form of biological determinism, nor was there any systematic persecution of any ethnic group or another.” Other historians and anthropologists also found it useful to make a distinction between prototypical forms and the systematic racial classification that took center stage over the past two centuries in our modern world (Smedley, 1993). Indeed, Mullings contends that a reexamination of history and race, especially the slave trade puts the concept of race in a different light (2005). Historians like Holt (2002), and anthropologists like Brodkin (2000) along with Winant (2001) all tie the centrality of the African enslaved labor trade to the development of the modern capitalist world economy. Stuart Hall and Paul duGay (1996) and his concept of new ethnicities fall in line with how literary studies have conceptualized race and ethnicity. This field has highlighted how over recent years transnational literacy influences multilingual traditions that traverse national boundaries, and that new multinational public spheres are produced by the translation of diverse texts, ideas, and people. HoSang, Bennett, and Pulido also note that by focusing on the circuits of ethnicity formation in conjunction with racial formation and exploring these relations in and across nations, such studies began to diverge from sociological models of racial formation in which the state plays a central role (HoSang et al., 2012: p. 9). In other words, the sheer movement of vastly diverse groups of people is producing especially for the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, new ways of thinking about and enacting racial formation on a global scale. Paul Gilroy in Black Atlantic (1993) emphasizes the common global routes that historically link black expressive culture. Foregrounding common experiences of oppression rather than defining blackness in relation to Africa as an ‘actual or mythical’ homeland, Gilroy was able to conceptualize black communities as constructed in defiance of racial essentialism and as connected through popular cultural productions (Gilroy, 1993).
Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century
Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century takes us to old and new intersections, beyond the borders of the United States, back to biology and back to the unfinished job of dismantling structural racism here in the United States and beyond. Research in the area of intersectionality in the twenty-first century examines how sociopolitical categories and identities based in race, gender, and class interact, sometimes systematically structuring social inequality and injustice, and sometimes profoundly challenging such social structures. This notion of challenging structures builds on Kimberle Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality (1991) that sought to explain how the experiences of women of color are “simultaneously the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourses of either feminism (read white women) or anti-racism (read men of color)” (Crenshaw, 1991: p. 299). Priya Kandaswamy (2012) points in this new direction as she builds on legal scholar Crenshaw’s model and suggests that racial formation is fundamentally a gendered and sexualized process and further argues that viewing race as unstable, historically produced, and changing in the ways that Omi and Winant demonstrates complicates the meaning of intersectionality (Kandaswamy, 2012: p. 24). For her, it is precisely the intentional interrogation of the historical embeddedness of race, gender, sexuality, and class with each other that will produce new theories of intersectionality. In a similar vein, Ferguson (2012) challenges the historiographical framework proposed by Omi and Winant in Racial Formation that helped to theorize US national liberation movements as more than instances and outcomes of social agitation, showing that they were historiographical provocations that pushed people in the United States to think differently about racial difference and identity. He is fine with the theorizing, but he feels that they leave out a significant group of people who were not officially a part of the national civil rights or national liberation movements of the time. He says “those [smaller] movements were initiated by women of color and queers of color within the United States. Indeed, reperiodizing anti-racist politics according to the emergence of those movements constituted by people of color who were marginalized by sexuality and gender allows us not only to observe the specificities of civil rights and national liberation movements but also to see how race and anti-racist politics were rearticulated in those very movements.” (Ferguson, 2012: p. 45).
Andrea Smith (2012) moves us in still another direction that links indigeneity, settler colonialism, and the uninterrogated terrain of white supremacy. In her article, she challenges the very racial theory framework that is used in Ethnic Studies and Native Studies programs. She agrees that “native peoples are treated as ethnic groups suffering from discrimination rather than as nations undergoing colonization, and that these two groups should get together to discuss that erroneous framework . at the same time because of this political and intellectual divide, there is little dialogue among them that would help us to understand how white supremacy and settler colonialism intersect, especially in the United States” (2012: p. 66). In this chapter, she argues that scholars’ lack of attention to settler colonialism hinders the analysis of race and white supremacy developed by scholars who focus on race. In the end, she focuses on ways that native scholars and practitioners can rearticulate their relationship with the land, and with the white power structure (2012: p. 88).
Where does one go from here? Future research should focus among other things on relationships among antiracist, women’s, anticolonial/anti-imperial, and labor-based/ antipoverty movements. There is also a powerful ‘intersectionality’ that exists on the political right (especially in the United States), where antifeminist, antilabor, ‘blame the victim’-oriented, homophobic, and ambiguously antiracist orientations operate and need to be interrogated. There is a need for more research that investigates the instability in practice of intersectional situations and social structures. For example, how do individuals and movements navigate among the raced, gendered, queer, class, and caste-based dimensions of social, cultural, and political life; what is the relationship between intersectionality and indignity; what are the elusive linkages among axes of identity and difference, and those between alliance and antagonism? There is also a continuous need for historical views of intersectionality both in the United States and transnationally. Even more fundamentally, what are the emerging contested views and definitions of intersectionality itself? Is intersectionality in both local and global contexts different? If so, how? How are intersectionality and postcolonialism connected, and what are the newly emerging theories around intersectionality and the politics of identity? Finally, theoretical frameworks and methodologies are needed that highlight micro–macro linkage problems and social movements in particular comparative and historical contexts.
Race and Racism beyond the Borders of the United States
For the past two decades, scholars in anthropology, sociology, and other fields have looked at issues of immigration, transnationalism, race and ethnicity, diasporic studies (Ong, 1999), and intersectionality through cross-cultural, transnational, and global lenses. The idea of race and the hierarchical institutionalization of racial difference emerged dialectically in relation to sixteenth-century economic transformations that ultimately created what is now known as ‘the modern West’ (Holt, 2002). While notions of difference operated prior to this period, the expulsion of Muslims from Europe, the initial European voyages of exploration and discovery, and the development of mercantile trade generated a novel situation whereby, for the first time, racialized labor became crucial to the mobilization of productive forces on a world scale (Holt, 2002: p. 32; Thomas and Clark, 2006). At the same time that the associations between nation building and imperialism and between racial slavery and the development of export-oriented mass agricultural production became more tightly integrated, new philosophical and scientific ideologies began to circulate in Europe about the nature of man. Within religious, philosophical, scientific, and political discourses, hierarchies of human value over time were mapped onto gendered, racial, and civilizational differences (Thomas and Clark, 2006; Goodman et al., 2012).
In this way, early state formation (in the old and new worlds) and mercantile capitalism inaugurated material and ideological processes that indelibly linked the ‘New World’ and the ‘Old’ in a common project of defining people in a commodified social hierarchy that was expressed in gendered racial and class terms. In other words, the development of a highly structured social and economic system in the New World is the direct result of Imperial conquest (by Europeans), plantation slavery, and structural racial domination. These new racialized processes also had an impact back home on metropolitan Europe as well. According to Gilroy (2002) and Thomas and Clark (2006), this formulation of the modern world conceptualizes the Atlantic Ocean as an integrated geohistorical unit in which the structural transformations associated with early European expansion westward created what ultimately became a triangular web of political, economic, and sociocultural relations joining individuals, communities, and classes on three continents in a single sphere of interaction (Thomas and Clark, 2006; Mullings, 2005; Mukhopadhyay et al., 2007).
Three Hundred Years and Counting
Imperialism, slavery, and colonial exploitation in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries created enduring global linkages that were sustained through the post-emancipation period of the mid-nineteenth century and into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At the same time when the age of exploration was taking place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, both science and religion colluded (sometimes consciously and sometimes not) as the two dominant discourses of colonialization and the institutionalization of a permanent racial hierarchy in the Americas, Africa, and South Asia. Advocates for slavery and colonial expansion helped to institutionalize the new science of anthropology, in part to counter Abolitionists’ claims based on morality and biblical tenets. As the discipline developed during the late nineteenth century, human difference was parsed along a color-coded hierarchy from savage to civilized – from black through brown, yellow, and red to white (Baker, 1998; Thomas and Clark, 2006; Goodman et al., 2012). The fact that some researchers documented customs and behaviors while others measured brains and bodies did not change this hierarchy because human diversity and cultural differences were blurred and racially mapped in a way that privileged biology as the basis for human difference, with those in power being male Europeans.
However, other changes were afoot in the early twentieth century as altered relationships between the means of production and local and global consumption that also had a hand in transforming racial meanings once again. The rise of resistance movements such as Garveyism and Pan-Africanism in the early twentieth century showed that racialized peoples, both laborers and intellectuals, were also helping to shape notions of their own identity as well as notions of where they belonged, both physically and metaphorically. While socioeconomic and political arrangements in the United States required that racialized labor forces remain fixed within the particular (material and ideological) places to which they were transported, by the middle of the twentieth century models of production and consumption instead relied upon a massive movement of these same labor forces out of their place, “from South to North in the United States, from colony to metropole in the British, French, Portuguese and Dutch West Indies, from country to city in southern and western Africa” (Holt, 2002: p. 70). This movement that was facilitated, in part, by the liberalization of US immigration laws in 1965, helped to generate a transnational wave of immigrants from homelands especially from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia, to new lands such as the United States, Europe, and Canada.
New Engagements of Race
By the mid-twentieth century, these changes in demographics helped to push the transformation of locally particular notions of difference into discourses of new meanings of race, ethnicity, and national descent. This reordering of human subjectivity in increasingly ethnic heritage terms follows structurally related shifts in the language of contemporary American racial organization particular to the post-1965 period. During this period, the intensification of civil rights discourses against discrimination generated new ideologies about racial/ethnic identities and racial difference. These changes also set the stage for the formation of other post-civil rights movements that focused on honoring new cultural traditions and heritages (women’s rights, gay rights, Native American rights, and Latino rights, just to name a few). In a commodified world, these new heritages, rather than becoming homogenized in an ‘American melting pot’ advertising discourse that stressed sameness, new marketing strategies were developed to exploit new lucrative racial and ethnic markets. The cultural formation of a new commercial politics of linkage between people in the Americas and those in related ‘homelands’ set the stage for the establishment of a heritage and identity category through which linkages to origins were used to supplement national identity and citizenship in the adopted country. In the social sphere, this emphasis on diasporic interconnection redefined prevalent notions of biological race to emphasize what came to be called by some researchers cultural race, shaped by new conceptions of ethnicity, or ancestral heritage (Mukhopadhyay et al., 2007; Thomas and Clark, 2006; Harrison, 2008). This notion of cultural race is also deeply rooted, not in biology but in a historical context.
During the 1980s through the 1990s, the rights discourse of the 1960s all but disappeared from the national political discourse in the United States. In other parts of the world, discourses of equality were also on the wane because states were less powerful in some locations, and in others, less willing to hold ‘equality’ as a value for all citizens. At the same time, the postcolonial context was one in which migration, movement, and the rise of a global media have created a situation in which as Winant has indicated “the nation-based dimensions of racial solidarity have atrophied” (Winant, 2000: p. 180). Today, no one can deny that race and racism currently exist in a world in which larger and larger percentages of national populations are illiterate, where the avenues for self-advancement have become increasingly limited, where remittances constitute ever greater percentages of developing countries’ gross domestic products, where sexual tourism and sex trafficking is on the rise (in the Inland Empire of Southern California as much as it is globally), where the availability of critical social services is on the decline in the United States and elsewhere, where a commitment to social equality becomes framed as anticapitalist by the conservatives and far right politics in the United States, and where an assertive call for global peace is seen as suspiciously unpatriotic. Global economic restructuring has thus resuscitated racialized and naturalized social stratification systems that are currently at work in such industries as banking, and the mortgage foreclosure industry here in the United States that has specifically targeted poor racialized populations to prey on.
New Globalization Research and Race
It has become commonplace to speak of the contemporary intensification of processes of globalization and the ways in which they are continually reconfiguring the structures of everyday life. While scholarly analyses of globalization have proliferated, and while there have been recent attempts within the social sciences to consider the articulations among ethnicity, gender, and sexuality within a global frame of analysis, race and processes of racialization are not usually considered central to academic discussions of global economic and political transformations. Yet, globalization is facilitated by the transmission and reproduction of deeply embedded social prejudices rooted in a past characterized by territorial concepts of identity that both generated and were generated by structural racial inequalities. As such, the contemporary twenty-first century redistribution of wealth has exacerbated historically entrenched racial hierarchies. In other words, racial formations dynamically reflect and shape global processes and are not merely effects of them. As a result, the complexity of contemporary global processes can never be fully grasped without a deep understanding of the historically specific and dynamic ways that race has both constituted and been constituted by global transformations. What is clearly critical, then, to a more complete understanding of contemporary global processes is an integrated analysis of the historical precedents of current circulations, of how imperialism and racial ordering have shaped global movements, and of the ways conceptualizations of identity, membership, and citizenship have been both constructed and institutionalized in racial terms (Mullings, 2005; Thomas and Clark, 2006).
Dismantling Structural Racism: The Unfinished Job
In some ways, this short research paper has only touched the surface of this topic of ‘race and racism’ as one looks at the unfinished business of exposing anew, and then eradicating structural racism. It is not enough for researchers to just reveal the breadth and depth of the social and cultural underpinnings of structural racism, and the power dynamics that operate to maintain this highly racialized and stratified social system in US society and elsewhere. One must do more. Sociologist Howard Winant reminds us that as we talk about the issue of ‘post-racialism’ in the United States to remember that some of the incorporative concepts of racial difference tend to actually validate the very identities they purport to question. Rather than serving as catalysts for truly new racial formations they actually “reinforce the racialized social structures such as comprehensive racial stratification, discrimination, xenophobia, etc. that they so loudly repudiate” (Winant, 2001: p. xix).
The author suggests that much more critical research and praxis work still needs to be done in key areas such as looking for new intersections in addition to mining more deeply the intersectionality of race, class, and gender; researching race, migration, and immigration both locally and globally; continued research on the validity of the claim of reverse discrimination by Euro-Americans (especially in the United States); researching the contradictions of claims of ‘colorblindness’ in the ubiquitous presence of conversations about race; conducting a deeper and more critical analysis of the continuing educational, housing, and health disparities along axis of race, ethnic, and class lines; researching the impact of national, regional, and state demographic changes and race; continued research and study of whiteness and power from the inside out; more research on the links between race and globalization studies; and more research on the relationship of race, gender, and human rights, just to name a few.
Race is about power relations, and continues to be an ideology to legitimize the dominance of certain groups. Race and its consequence racism are fundamentally part of a global system of structural racial stratification and inequality. People indoctrinated in US individualism often have difficulty understanding abstract notions of a social system, social stratification, and how one’s social position impacts individual experience and opportunities. For example, fluctuations in racial categorization and definitions of ‘whiteness’ reflect demands for population growth set against a backdrop of powerful elites seeking to maintain a system of social stratification and cultural dominance. The US race-based system of social classification became a way of maintaining the dominance of elite ‘white’ groups, politically and socially, while simultaneously recruiting new populations. Race became a central basis for organizing labor and maintaining an economically stratified system, first in the agricultural sector and now in the growing industrial and postindustrial sectors. Racializing the labor force helped to mask the pervasive class stratification and structural inequality that has always characterized American life. The North American system of racial classification is most accurately viewed as a historically and culturally specific ‘legitimizing ideology,’ a complex and unique way for explaining, justifying, and perpetuating a system of social, economic, and political inequality. But these racial meanings were also contested in the past and will continue to be contested (Mukhopadhyay et al., 2007; Omi and Winant, 2012).
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