Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Racism, Class Inequality, and the Politics of Recognition

"The 'cunning of recognition', as Elizabeth Povinelli describes this maneuver of power, does not refuse to recognize past atrocities committed by the liberal state, but acknowledges the horror of these actions--e.g., slavery, genocide, segregation, and apartheid--in order to secure and reinvigorate the future of the liberal nation-state and its core values (Povinelli 2002: 29). In short, liberal forms of multi-culturalism use national rituals of apology for the past mistreatment of subordinated and oppressed members of society not to transfer power or to change society but to re-create the national form.

Racial reforms--from attempts at reconciliation in Australia, to civil rights in the US, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa--function as narratives of national redemption, maintaining (and sometimes inventing) racial cleavages along the way (see Dominguez 1994). What surprise, then, that 'racial reform' has overlapped--if not conspired--with neo-conservative assaults on the welfare state that have gutted the very institutions that were supposed to remedy these inequalities (Baca 2004; see Prashad in this issue). Such co-existence of racial reform with the deepening of racial and class inequality is not as anomalous as some commentators suggest (e.g., Holt 2000: 5-7). Instead, the manner in which racial reforms complement racializing discourse illustrates the politics of nationalism, which requires that we theorize the relationship between the racist content of neo-liberal reforms and the rise of multi-culturalism (Baca 2003)."


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