Racial Realities: Social Constructs and the Stuff of Which They Are Made
Eric C. Thompson
Ronald R. Sundstrom
More than Nothing: The Persistence of Islamophobia in ‘Post-Racial’ Racism
Requirements for an Ethics of Race
Racism and Indigenous People in Australia
Intolerant Europe: The Drive against the Roma
The End of Multiculturalism
Beyond Race, Gender, and Class: Reclaiming the Radical Roots of Social-Justice Movements
Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy
Forging National Unity: Ideas of Race in China
India’s Dalits: Racism and Contemporary Change
Taking Sides on Latin America: The ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Left
India and the New Great Game
Volume 12 ● Number 2 ● Summer/Autumn 2010—Race and Racisms
The End of Multiculturalism
Multiculturalism is over, but not racism. This is certainly not a post-racist moment, even as it is indeed a post-multicultural one. This short essay contributes to the literature on “post-racism” by suggesting that the debate misses its mark. The point isn’t whether the United States is in a post-racist phase or not, but that while racism has changed over the past thirty years, multiculturalism has enabled some people to advance, to enjoy the fruits of the American dream at the same time as the system was drastically transformed to curtail this dream for the majority of the population.
Alice Hicks had two pictures on the wall in her living room: portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. When I first went to her home in the early 1990s, it was as a community organiser coming to make contact with a veteran in the struggles for justice in Providence, Rhode Island. Alice was one of the key people of the DARE community. “Direct Action for Rights and Equality” could not have got going in 1986 without the support of community stalwarts like Alice. She was a rock, leading many fights in her neighbourhood. People worked, but they didn’t seem to make enough to pay for their basic needs (including heat and food). A garbage incinerator spewed toxic material into the air, as absentee landlords abandoned properties that had become rubbish dumps. And, to top it all, the police were unnecessarily aggressive towards the young men who sought to find dignity as they came of age. I remember Alice, even as she struggled with her own health, coming to meetings, sitting down and quietly fulminating about problems, or else being on the street at a press conference or demonstration. She was a pillar of strength.
Each time I went to pick her up for a meeting, and as I waited for her to get her things or else to bring me something to drink (which was part of her obligatory kindness), I stared at the portraits. One day, casually, I asked her why she had a picture of JFK on the wall. I could understand the King picture, but not that of a man who had refused King and his movement the necessary support. And besides, I said, it was LBJ who pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. She smiled at me, ready to indulge my impertinence. “Of course President Johnson did those things,” she said. “And those acts were important. But were they enough? What did they get us? This?” Her weak arms opened expansively, to encompass not her living room but her neighbourhood, her world. “President Johnson gave us something. I accept that. But it was Dr King and President Kennedy who allowed us to dream. President Johnson’s real gift was not even a pale shadow of those dreams.”
I didn’t understand the significance of what Alice told me that morning until years later. Politically, it was clear that the civil-rights struggle’s major legislative victories were both enormously important and far too limited. Almost two hundred years after the birth of the United States, people of African ancestry were able to claim the franchise, unhindered by all kinds of legal blocks, and to claim the right to social and political dignity. After President Johnson signed both the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), Dr King took to the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (4 July 1965), to remind his congregation of his dream from the march on Washington (28 August 1963). “My dream,” he said, “has often turned into a nightmare.” Brave civil rights workers had been shot, he recounted, and the condition of black life had deteriorated, so that there were many “Harlems of our nation”.
I’ve seen my dream shattered as I’ve walked the streets of Chicago and seen Negroes, young men and women, with a sense of utter hopelessness because they can’t find any jobs. And they see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. And not only Negroes at this point. I’ve seen my dream shattered because I’ve been through Appalachia, and I’ve seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty.
But this had not killed his dream entirely. “I still have a dream,” he told the congregation in Atlanta, “that one day all of God’s children will have food and clothing and material well-being for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, and freedom for their spirits.”
I read this sermon, called “The American Dream”, in 1998, about five years after that morning with Alice. She prepared me for it, to see the 1964–5 laws as both a culmination of a struggle and as the opening of a new struggle. A portrait of President Johnson might have meant that the story had ended with the laws. Having portraits of President Kennedy and Dr King indicated that the unfinished dream was more powerful than the small victories that come on the way.
Thirty Years Too Late
You give me second-class houses,
The tragedy of the age of integration (1954 onwards) is that it overlapped with the demise of the social-wage state and with the rise of the neo-liberal social order. The victory of the civil‑rights movement came thirty years too late. Just when the US state agreed to remove the discriminatory barriers that restricted non-whites’ access to public goods, the form of the state changed. Privatisation and the assault on the state’s provision of social welfare (in the most expansive sense) meant that the state was not capable of providing public goods to the newly enfranchised citizens. You win, but the prize is hollow.
The civil-rights movement fought for the widest provision of dignity: for the freedom to eat and dream, to study and work, to relax and pray. Human needs squashed down by enslavement and by the rigid Jim Crow codes asserted themselves in the remarkable mass social movement that emerged after the Second World War, and they catapulted towards victory after the Supreme Court’s 1954 verdict in Brown v. Board of Education and the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. The court gave sanction from above while the boycott gave hope from below.
From the New Deal of the 1930s to the Great Society of the 1960s, the US state entered the world of social commerce and interaction with an agenda to benefit people across the lines of class. Progressive movements in the nineteenth century had pushed against governmental institutions that were devoted to the needs of business, in particular the very large monopoly firms and their owners. Populists and progressives, socialists and abolitionists, trade unionists and farmers, all demanded more from the state to which they paid their taxes. All they got was sanctimonious speeches and the baton. Only when the economy cracked and the ruling elites had no other means of saving their economic system did one or two moderate ideas come to the surface. Pushed by the unemployment councils and the gaunt faces of the starving peasantry, the state finally provided relief and reconstruction for the life-world of the workers. The concept that united the many social programmes of this period was the social wage. The social wage is that amount of deferred wages that goes towards the creation of various publicly available goods, such as public transportation, health services, schools, parks, postal delivery, public safety, and so forth. The beautiful concept of the social wage implies that public services are available to all, regardless of income and social standing, even as they are paid for by a progressive tax scheme.
A universal concept as an abstract idea, the social wage came into the world in this period in a much less elevated way. The Depression hit most people very hard, even those who had little to lose before the collapse of the economy (as Langston Hughes put it, “the Depression brought everybody down a peg or two. And the Negro had but few pegs to fall”). The Roosevelt administration devoted substantial resources to relief for the population, including for African Americans (by 1935, African Americans constituted 20 per cent of those on relief, even though African Americans made up only 10 per cent of the population). Writing in his major 1944 study on discrimination in the United States, the sociologist Gunnar Myrdal noted, “For almost the first time in the history of the nation the state has done something substantial in a social way without excluding the Negro.”1
Relief came as charity, not as the means for advancement. The state entered the housing market to send African Americans into public housing projects, and not to the middle-class new towns. Segregation, whose abolition was a major goal of the civil-rights movement, was reinforced. A house is not just a place to live, but also equity to borrow against. So when whites got federal loans to buy homes, they were also given a down payment on the American dream—to send their kids to college, to buy a car, to advance themselves up the greasy pole of the organisational society. African Americans and other people of colour did not get these benefits, sent as they were to penniless neighbourhoods or public housing, neither of which drew the commercial banks with their cheque books. Public space and public services for those of colour had been severely compromised.
If the social wage did not fully take hold of the lives of African Americans and other people of colour (Latinos, Asians, Native Americans), neither did it fully do what was necessary for all women. The domain of “women’s work”, in general, was not taken in hand by the state. For example, when women’s organisations and women trade unionists voiced demands for public childcare, they were turned aside. White women did benefit from the perquisites of the social wage—the parks and schools, transportation networks and other services.
Those whom the state deemed to be white lived a charmed life. Federal dollars came to them as housing loans in sub-divisions blessed with state-sponsored water and sewer lines, and these suburbs existed on the edges of cities, linked to them with state-built freeways, on which the new suburbanites drove their mortgaged cars, powered by state-subsidised gasoline. This ensemble is what historian George Lipsitz calls the “possessive investment in whiteness”. The illusion of the free market masked the immense government subvention.
The civil-rights movement emerges in the 1950s partly as a demand for the breakdown of the barriers to full enjoyment of the social wage. Three million African Americans and half a million Latinos (as well as considerable numbers of Asian Americans and Native Americans) fought in the Second World War. They travelled far from the narrow confines of Jim Crow oppression, enjoying the fresh air of other continents where they came to terms with the fact that they could die for their country, but they weren’t allowed fully to live in it.
Large numbers of African Americans also migrated during the war to the burgeoning cities of the South as well as the North. Here they lived in close quarters with each other, and worked in the expanding industrial sector. Joining trade unions gave them practical experience of being organised, and a corporeal sense of the power this involved. By 1945, one and a half million African Americans were union members. In California and Texas, Latinos moved against the recalcitrant Anglo-dominated political and economic system through such vehicles as the American G. I. Forum and the Community Service Organisation (both founded in 1948). History’s small voices became a mighty scream against a system run on the labour and disenfranchisement of people of colour.
Integration didn’t mean just that everyone should sit at the same lunch counter or study in the same classroom (you don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality). It meant also that people, regardless of their place in society, should have access to the social wage. No more red-lining to prevent people of colour from buying affordable houses, with loans guaranteed by the federal government. No more denying young students of colour resources given to other students that would provide them with opportunities to utilise their intelligence for economic betterment. Access to public space and to state-sponsored social advantages was about the legal right to the social wage.
The Civil Rights Act allowed people of colour to benefit from the social wage (transportation, education, etc.) and social insurance (social security, welfare, etc.). It was in and through the New Deal state that people of colour would claim their deferred or indirect wages. The state stood before them as the bulwark against racism and as the bank for their economic dreams. Affirmative action schemes in the state sector strengthened this impression, and before long, the largest trade union for African Americans, for example, became AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
From the mid-1960s on, the character of the US state went through a complete overhaul. The New Deal–era “social-wage” state slowly withered, as the neo-liberal–era “corporate wage” state took its place. No longer would the state intervene against inequality and for justice, even in the half-hearted way it did from the 1930s to the 1960s. Now, the state would conduct itself as the exemplar of restraint, pushing for discipline in the money markets and on the streets, reining in social spending and social disorder. Corporate power over the state increased at the expense of democracy, a shift that had drastic results for those communities which had only just been allowed into the ambit of the social wage and equality. In this sense, the victory of the civil-rights movement was thirty years too late. When that victory arrived, the Bank of Justice was broke.
The legal and electoral gains of the civil-rights movement were significant, but limited, particularly as the state form changed, and the promises of economic mobility began to sour. The ambit of anti-racism, as far as the establishment was concerned, narrowed to the legal, political and cultural domain. It was the third domain, as multiculturalism, that gained momentum in the 1980s. Both Barack Obama and I were in college in the 1980s. We were absorbed with thinking of massive social changes, and experimenting with life in a post–Jim Crow world. “We smoked cigarettes,” he writes in his memoir, Dreams from My Father, “and wore leather jackets.”
At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society’s stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated.”2
It was the task of multiculturalism to embed us in the social mores, to bring us out of our alienation.
Being in college during the time of multiculturalism’s institutionalisation was remarkable. For one thing, the administration at my college (as elsewhere) moved some money towards the diversification of the curriculum. We already had faculty on board who could teach African history or Chinese literature, but now they were able to create minors and even majors, to secure funds for programming and to give a higher profile to the study of places elsewhere. The college also provided funds for students to create cultural organisations, to gather together to socialise for themselves and to conduct cultural shows for the campus. These were early days for the cultural organisations.
One of the tricks of college multiculturalism was that it gave us students of colour a sense that our histories belonged to this intellectual world, indeed, that we should walk with pride across the campus. But multiculturalism didn’t touch the overwhelming power of “white supremacy from above”, which was lodged in the bricks and mortar of our beautiful campus. I don’t mean the men in white hoods, who had laid terror across the country decades earlier (that’s “white supremacy from below”). I mean the comfortable assumption of multiculturalism that our histories belong, but do not in any way come close to the untouched (and generally unspoken) superiority of the cultures of Europe (and of European culture in the United States). The world of multiculturalism welcomes the cultures of other lands (Africa, Asia, Latin America), and puts them up for display. But it is unwilling to allow this new cultural recognition to disrupt the contented place of European culture at the top of an unspoken hierarchy. Teach the Bhagavad-Gita and the history of the Asante Kingdom, but, come on, they are not of the same calibre as, say, the Bible and the history of the Renaissance. Include the “non-Western”, but always as subordinate, even if we are too polite actually to make such a statement in public.
What allows European civilisation to remain untouched by foreign hands, despite the long history of interaction and borrowing, is the tendency to divide the world into separate civilisations, to make the claim that these civilisations have their own logic and that they are insulated from each other. These unitary civilisations are then all provided with a dominant logic; contradictory traditions are erased or at least seen as trivial to the point of irrelevancy. These isolated cultures, in turn, are seen to play an overwhelming role in the lives of the individuals affiliated with them. For example, Indian civilisation is seen as singular, governed by particular social rules (such as caste) that are timeless and immutable. If individuals or groups disagree with these rules, it is claimed that they are no longer of that civilisation, but have now been, say, “Westernised”. The civilisation’s culture remains stable, and the actions of individuals and groups are treated as variances from the norm. It was this static idea of culture that grounded the concept of multiculturalism.
Much of what I’ve written above is in the passive voice. In a crafty opening to his 1984 La Racisme, Albert Memmi describes racism as a “tragic enigma”: “No one, or almost no one, wishes to see themselves as racist; still, racism persists, real and tenacious.”3 As I lay out the inner logic of multiculturalism, much the same sort of intimation occurs to me. Hidden in the core of the idea are its pernicious implications, although on the surface much of it seems bland and inoffensive. Martin Luther King anticipated this in a 1967 speech, when he asked his country to see integration not as a “problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity”. This beauty is in the resources of these traditions, their wisdom, as well as the struggles to reform and reconstruct social and theological life. “It is good,” Gandhi wrote in the mid-1920s, “to swim in the waters of tradition. But to sink in them is suicide.” The histories of interchange and subordination, and the contradictions within the delineated cultural worlds, are generally ignored in the mainstream rendition of multiculturalism. We are told to respect one another, as if condescension were a social relation we should prize. I’d prefer to struggle with cultural elements in someone else’s society rather than bow down before them in the name of cultural relativism.
I guess when I say that multiculturalism has its tricks, one of them is the ability to mask the maintenance of both cultural and social hierarchy while allowing in a selection of cultural forms and their chosen people. The campus’s overall hierarchical culture remains. Upward mobility is the order of the day: one has to be proud if one of one’s own is now a corporate CEO or a military general. I suppose it was with a combination of self-righteousness and bitterness that I copied down a line from Gandhi in one of my college notebooks: “the test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns, but the absence of starvation among its masses.” I suppose also that that was why I spent more of my free time (and there was not much of that) organising my peers against the college’s investments in apartheid South Africa and volunteering at a local church basement to give a hand to the newly arrived Salvadorian political refugees. It turned out that the bulk of the “Students against Apartheid” were either Indians or Mexican Americans. At our events, we played the soundtrack from Pukar and Coolie and ate tacos, while talking about how to get our college to disinvest (we won). These were incidental episodes, unable to overwhelm the culture of hierarchy that governed the campus. Campus politics, in its small way, might have tried to incubate a culture of solidarity, although to be fair we mostly let our marginality get in our way and ended up with self-righteousness.
Corporatism and the Theft of the Commons
Most Americans today are simply fed up with government at all levels.
In 1972, at a White House gathering, Carl Gerstacker, head of Dow Chemicals, told President Richard Nixon, “I have long dreamed of buying an island owned by no nation and of putting the world headquarters of the Dow Company on the truly neutral ground of such an island, beholden to no notion of society.” That the head of a US-based firm could voice such secessionist ideas in front of the US president, and find approval for them, is astounding. But Nixon was receptive, even eager. He had touted the “New Federalism”, which included not only a genteel form of the racist “states’ rights” but also, decisively, freedom for capital to operate across the country.
On the first score, Nixon devolved social-wage schemes to increasingly under-funded states and municipalities. Nixon’s team sought to “starve the beast”, where the “beast” represented the federal government, the state—the very institutions in which the civil-rights movement had vested its hopes and from which it claimed the unpaid cheque of the social wage. One administration after another would thenceforth cut the funds to support the constitutive and regulative state, invoking the mantras of “fiscal responsibility” and “balancing the budget” to undermine any effort to increase their social-wage obligations. The cutbacks often took place in those areas of the state’s operations that held the most promise for widening the aspirations of the newly enfranchised people of colour, such as in the extension of housing credit, the improvement of schools and the enhancement of college scholarships, and the provision of employment opportunities previously closed to people of colour. “States’ rights” of the Southern variety (don’t mess with our right to Jim Crow) now transformed into the right of localities to undermine the federal provisions passed by the Johnson administration in response to the civil-rights movement.
The captains of industry and finance had already pledged themselves to the inevitable victory of civil rights, but the spirit of equality didn’t interfere with their own concerns and projects. Most of them were liberals in that they couldn’t countenance bad behaviour or racism of the Ku Klux Klan variety. That was simply gauche. But their sensibility didn’t translate into a concession that the state should now redouble its efforts on other fronts to ameliorate the long night of slavery and Jim Crow. On the contrary, their sense of decency simply went so far as to prohibit any outward signs of racism, whereas their strong commitment to the private sector and individual initiative enabled them, as a class, to frown at any suggestion of an expansion of the federal disbursement. They certainly didn’t want an expansion of the social wage, but what they really wanted was elsewhere: the withdrawal of the state’s “interference” in the world of money.
Gerstacker’s dream had already begun to be reality in Nixon’s America. Regulation of corporations began to slacken, as did tax laws and other such hindrances. Through a series of complex manoeuvres, the US dollar gradually replaced gold as the anchor of international finance. Petro-profits and offshore funds began to be held in dollars, whose strength provided a necessary resilience to the slowly unfettered US commercial banks and corporate sector. Many companies officially registered in Delaware (which operates as a flagless tax haven), in the minor islands of the Caribbean and in various European “offshore” ports. Most of the larger firms did not need to avail themselves of such loopholes. They simply lobbied for less and less regulation. Even when modest laws to protect workers and the environment, to protect shareholders and depositors, remained on the books, these were summarily ignored since the state no longer possessed the capacity or will to enforce its own statutory regulations. This deregulated state is an essential part of the landscape of the post–civil rights world.
In the 1990s, I remember spending hours of my week trying to reach various federal offices, mainly regarding police brutality and regulation of tobacco advertisements in places where youths congregate (a real problem in oppressed neighbourhoods). Washington, D.C., seemed far from our reality. To ask for assistance from the state on matters of regulation and enforcement seemed akin to banging on a door to an empty room. The state has gone to lunch, permanently.
What this story traces is the development of the corporate state, riding roughshod over the social-wage state. And this shift is not unique to the United States. Indeed, this is a gradual, global process that has been given the misleading name “globalisation”. The term “globalisation” refers to the breakdown of the social-wage state, the release of finance capital from state constraints, the creation of a new telecommunications technology to interlink the planet, and the production of transportation networks (including deep-water docks) to move goods across the oceans. When you put these elements together you have a social order that is able to undermine the needs of ordinary people in the service of capital. Investment money flees to areas where labour is controllable and its costs are low, where production of goods takes place only when they are needed (“just-in-time production” enables low inventories to be held by firms), and where states cease to be able to plan properly for the future wellbeing of their societies. Globalisation makes the world an island for corporate power.
Unleashed capital and unregulated businesses prey upon that wonderful resource protected for several decades by the social-wage state: the commons. In the early decades of the twentieth century, social democratic states and anti-colonial movements that evolved into states corralled vast sectors of social life and the landscape, designating them as the “commons” to be used by all. Education and healthcare, water and forests, electricity and roadways would be run by the state in the people’s interests, and private-profit-driven firms would be unable to control them. From the 1970s onwards, these areas of social life and the landscape have been contested by those who want to maintain them in their public guise and those who want to privatise them. The fights are dramatic in the streets of Bolivia and in the byways of Baghdad, but they are important also in the reconstruction of New Orleans and in the surrender of vast areas of US public policy to corporate lobbyists. These are examples of how the “commons” is now the battlefield between those who believe that everything is for a profit and those who believe that at least some things are sacrosanct.
The seizure of the commons comes at a time when the entire global economy is being reshaped by major technological and legal changes. Telecommunications systems (satellites and undersea cables) and rationalised forms of transport for goods (aboard container ships) led to the possibility that firms could disarticulate the production process. No longer is a commodity necessarily made in one place: its production can be co-ordinated across the oceans (cotton from Egypt is cut in Bangladesh; buttons from Brazil are put onto these shirt pieces in the Mexican maquiladoras for sale in the United States).
These work sites typically hire women workers, most of whom are without the protection of union membership or governmental regulations. Although these workers turn out valuable goods whose production often requires skill, their work is degraded: they are deemed unskilled workers. Men in these jobs are also treated as unskilled, a process of “harmonising down”, bringing all workers to the lowest common denominator. The entire process of the devaluation of work and the super-exploitation of workers is known as the “feminisation of labour” (even though in some cases, such as in the agricultural sector in many countries, women have lost the jobs they once had to machines and to men). The US service sector grew in the era of globalisation according to this same logic, bringing down the value given to service jobs, both in terms of pay and respect.
Globalisation hit the Atlantic world with as much ferocity as it did the rest of the planet. Factories closed their doors, and more and more workers found themselves redundant. Educational systems set up to provide the minimal literacy needed for an industrial workforce now lost their momentum: what was there to educate children towards, as jobs vanished? The hopeless at the bottom of the income scale went “off the books”, into illegal occupations or into despondency. Their neighbourhoods resembled prisons, with the police as the main emissary of the state, and with many sent to actual prisons, whose populations burgeoned. White workers also suffered, but not at the rates of workers of colour. Migrants at the upper end of the labour scale (high-tech contract workers) and at the lower end (undocumented manual labourers) were subjected to anti-immigrant rhetoric. They also faced pressure from those who had been the local victims of globalisation (whose jobs went overseas) and from politicians who had engineered the simultaneous deindustrialisation of North Atlantic society and the destruction of agriculture in the global South (the apposite example here is the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexican corn).
‘The Stagnant Equality of Sameness’
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The son of a white mother and a black father whose middle name is Hussein and who has lived and travelled widely around the world—this is not the typical biography of an American president. Even twenty years ago it would have been impossible to imagine the eventuality. But much has changed in the past decades. The civil-rights laws of the 1960s gave full legal equality to non-white citizens, although this barely altered the conditions of deprivation for those who needed only to glance backwards to see their enslaved ancestors. Nevertheless, the new conditions of the 1980s enabled select non-white citizens to move into the upper reaches of the military, the academy, and the corporate world. In this post-segregated world, diversity was valued, and mainstream institutions prided themselves on hiring non-whites. It is this change that opened the doors of Occidental College, Columbia University, and then Harvard to Barack Obama. A generation of black, Latino, and Asian youths came out of these elite establishments to positions of authority in the country’s institutions. What distinguished Obama from most of those who graduated from these colleges is that he decided to relinquish the lure of Wall Street for the most impoverished streets. He became a community organiser.
In Dreams from My Father, Obama relates how he was moved by the culture of the civil-rights movement. From it, he learnt that “communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens. They expanded or contracted with the dreams of men—and in the civil rights movement those dreams had been large”.4 His journey through the streets of Chicago to the presidency was marked by a determination to allow people to have big dreams and to tend communities, small and large. But the advantage for Obama was that his pursuit of the highest offices came at a time when diversity had become the dominant ethos. His achievement is his and that of his times. He is not a black politician, someone who wins office in a predominantly black neighbourhood and principally tends to the needs of the black community. He is a dark-skinned man who leads a nation that has come to terms with the fact of diversity.
Obama’s victory is not, however, a victory over racism or social turmoil. The police will continue to discriminate against black drivers; bank officials will continue to snub black buyers in what are seen as white neighbourhoods. The petty insults and the meaningful discriminations have not been overcome by Obama’s ascent. Indeed, that ascent has even spawned resentment. What we have is what Martin Luther King called “the stagnant equality of sameness”; integration with resentment is not a community. It is stagnant because there is little hope of transcending the resentment; it is sameness because there is no understanding that historical inequalities cannot simply be wished away. Indeed, these inequalities have hardened.
2. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2007), pp. 100–1.
3. Albert Memmi, Racism, trans. Steve Martinot (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 3.
4. Obama, Dreams from My Father, p. 134.