*This essay is in NEW LEFT REVIEW 225 (Sept.-Oct. 1997). A s;ightly different version also appears in Michelle Fine et al, eds., OFF WHITE: READINGS ON RACE, POWER, AND SOCIETY, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2004).

Behind Blue Eyes: Contemporary White Racial Politics

Howard Winant

 
 

Introduction

In a quiet office at a Washington think tank, a balding white man with a Ph.D
composes a tract on the biologically-determined intellectual inferiority  of blacks.
Out on a Brooklyn street, as black demonstrators march through a
segregated white enclave, white residents yell racist epithets. In a suburban
Virginia church, an evangelical Protestant minister preaches to a largely white,
overwhelmingly middle-class audience. At an urban college campus in California,
whites and blacks, Latinos and Asians, sit side-by-side in the overcrowded
classroom, and in their own separate groups in the cafeteria. As they drive home
to their segregated neighborhoods, they pump the same high-volume hip-hop
sounds through their car speakers. A few miles up the interstate, neo-Nazis train
at a private ranch. A few miles the other way, a multiracial garment workers' union
is being organized; a majority of the workers in the bargaining unit are Asians and
Latinos, but there are some whites. Among the organizers, one of the most effective
is a young white woman who speaks good Spanish.

How can we make sense of the highly variable "whiteness" of these rather emblematic
characters? How does the contemporary US racial order locate white identities?
Indeed, how viable is white identity? Is whiteness merely the absence of "color," the
sign of "privilege"? Is it, in other words, a purely negative signifier? Or is it possible to
view white identities more positively, to see whiteness in terms of "difference" perhaps,
but not in terms of racial domination, supremacy, or hierarchy? In this essay I look at US
racial politics and culture as they shape the status of whites. In other words, I begin from
the premise that it is no longer possible to assume a "normalized" whiteness, whose
invisibility and relatively monolithic character signify immunity from political or cultural
challenge. An alternative perspective is demanded, one which begins from a recognition
of white racial dualism.

My discussion of this theme, in the next section of this essay, is an extension to whites of
the Duboisian idea that in a racist society the "color line" fractures the self, that it imposes
a sort of schizophrenia on the bearers of racialized identities, which forces them to see
themselves simultaneously from within and without. Du Bois of course intended this
analysis to explain problems of black politics and culture at the turn of the 20th century;
it was a time when few publically questioned the normalization of whiteness. I extrapolate
his idea to whites at the end of the 20th century; today, I suggest, whiteness has been
deeply fissured by the racial conflicts of the post-civil rights period. Since the 1960s
contemporary racial discourse has been unable to function as a logic of racial superiority
and justified exclusion. Therefore it has been forced into rearticulations, representations,
reinterpretations of the meaning of race and, perforce, of whiteness. In the following
section of this paper I analyze the new politicization of whiteness which has taken shape
particularly in the post-civil rights era -- the period since the ambiguous victory of the civil
rights movement in the mid-1960s. Here we discuss the reasons why, contrary to the
racially egalitarian thrust of the civil rights "revolution," the significance of white identity was
reinterpreted and repoliticized -- largely in a reactionary direction -- in the wake of the 1960s.
I identify several factors contributing to this shift: the erosion of traditional ethnicities, the
decline of class-based politics, and the elaboration of right-wing racial ideologies able to
rearticulate some of the 1960s movement demands in a discourse of conservatism and
"color-blindness."

Next, I analyze the range of white racial projects that the contemporary politics of racial
dualism generates. My account of racial projects, as developed in earlier work, focuses
on the relationship between representation and structure. Therefore in this investigation
I look for distinct views on the meaning of whiteness. How do these interpretations link to
political positions, policies, and programs? I discuss a series of racial projects that span
the political continuum, and develop some critical perspectives on the "left" or "progressive"
projects. In the final section, I focus on the future of whiteness in the US, and sketch out
some elements of what a potential anti-racist politics for whites might look like.

Whiteness as Racial Dualism

Once, US society was a nearly monolithic racial hierarchy, in which
everyone knew "his" place.  Today, nobody knows where he or
she fits in the US racial order.

Thirty years after the enactment of civil rights legislation,
agreement about the continuing existence of racial subordination
has vanished.  The meaning of race has been deeply problematized.
Why?  Because the legacy of centuries of white supremacy lives on
in the present, despite the partial victories of the 1960s.
Because the idea of "equality," it turned out, could be
reinterpreted, rearticulated, reinserted in the business-as-usual
framework of US politics and culture.  Because that framework is
extremely resilient and able to absorb political challenges, even
fundamental and radical ones.  Because the outlawing of formal
discrimination, which was a crucial and immediate objective of
the 1960s movements, did not mean that informal racist practices
would be eradicated, or indeed even that anti-discrimination laws
would be seriously enforced.

And yet it would be inaccurate to say that the movement failed.
In virtually every area of social life, the impact of the postwar
racial mobilizations is plain to see (Jaynes and Williams 1989).
Although in some sectors, like housing desegregation, massive
efforts to transform an entrenched and complex pattern of racial
discrimination were largely (though not entirely) defeated
(Massey and Denton 1993), in other areas -- for example the
desegregation of the armed forces (Moskos 1988, Butler 1980) -- really
remarkable change occurred.

More relevant to this article, white racial attitudes shifted
drmatically in the postwar period.  As the definitive work on the
subject put it:

[S]egregation of and discrimination against black people were supported as principles by a majority of white Americans in the early 1940s, and no doubt in the preceding decades. By the early 1970s, however, support for overt discrimination in employment had nearly vanished..., and in most other public spheres of life -- public accommodations, public transportation, and even public schools -- the proportion of the white population insisting on segregation in principle was both small and shrinking (Schuman et al 1985, 193; emphasis original).
"In principle." In practice, however, research demonstrates a continuing
[W]hite reluctance to accept the implementation of policies intended to change race relations; reluctance on the part of whites to enter social settings (e.g., schools) in which blacks are the majority; continuing discriminatory behavior by whites, especially in areas involving close personal contact; conflicting beliefs of whites with regard to the values of equality and individualism...(Jaynes and Williams, eds. 1989, 116).
So, monolithic white supremacy is over, yet in a more concealed
way, white power and privilege live on.  The overt politics of
racial subordination has been destroyed, yet it is still very
possible to "play the racial card" in the political arena. 
Racially-defined minorities are no longer subject to legal
segregation, but they have not been relieved of the burdens of
discrimination, even by laws supposedly intended to do so. 
Whites are no longer the official "ruling race," yet they still
enjoy many of the privileges descended from the time when they
were.  

In this situation the old recipes for racial equality, which
involved creation of a "color-blind" society, have been
transformed into formulas for the maintenance of racial
inequality.  The old programs for eliminating white racial
privilege are now suspected of creating nonwhite racial
privilege.  The welfare state, once seen as the instrument for
overcoming poverty and social injustice, is now accused of
fomenting these very ills.  

Therefore, not only blacks (and other racially-identified
minorities), but also whites, now experience a division in their
racial identities.  On the one hand, whites inherit the legacy of
white supremacy, from which they continue to benefit.  But on the
other hand, they are subject to the moral and political
challenges posed to that inheritance by the partial but real
successes of the black movement (and affiliated movements). 
These movements advanced a countertradition to white supremacy,
one which envisioned a radicalized, inclusive, participatory
democracy, a substantively egalitarian economy, and a nonracial
state.  They deeply affected whites as well as blacks, exposing
and denouncing often unconscious beliefs in white supremacy, and
demanding new and more respectful forms of behavior in relation
to nonwhites.  Just as the movements partially reformed white
supremacist institutions, so they partially transformed white
racial consciousness.  Obviously, they did not destroy the deep
structures of white privilege, but they did make counterclaims on
behalf of the racially excluded and subordinated.  As a result,
white identities have been displaced and refigured: they are now
contradictory, as well as confused and anxiety ridden, to an
unprecedented extent.  It is this situation which can be described as
white racial dualism.[1]
The New Politicization of Whiteness
What are the implications of post-civil rights era racial dualism
for contemporary politics?  There seems little doubt that the new
politicization of whiteness plays a crucial role in determining
the direction of US politics today.  Many analysts have pointed
to the significance of race as a "wedge issue" that divides the
Democratic Party, inducing large numbers of working- (or middle-)
class whites to vote Republican (Greenberg 1985, Edsalls 1992). 
Of course, this "wedge" has been there for a long time: it
operated under slavery, flourished in the late 19th century
populist era, and problematized the New Deal Coalition.  It
threatened to split the Democratic Party in 1948.  It did in fact
split the party after the 1960s.

Since that time the meaning of whiteness has been cast into
doubt: does it signify privilege or is it merely one identity --
one form of "difference -- among others?  To what extent is race
still a salient marker of social position and status, and to what
extent is it a relic of the past in a society now determined to
be "color-blind"?  In some respects, the crisis of "whiteness"
does reflect the greater racial egalitarianism of the post-civil
rights period.  In other ways this crisis is merely the latest
defense of white supremacy, which now covers itself with the fig
leaf of a formal egalitarianism.  The contemporary crisis of
whiteness -- its dualistic allegiances to privilege and equality,
to color consciousness and color-blindness, to formally equal
justice and to substantive social justice -- can be discerned in
the contradictory character of white identity today.

In my view, there were three new developments which set the
stage for the new politicization of whiteness.  First, the
erosion of white ethnicity in the post-WWII period meant that a
more uniform racial identity, that of "Euro-American," became
available to whites.  Second, class politics lost much of its
resonance in a postindustrial economy characterized by capital
flight and downsizing; as a result standards of living stagnated
and opportunities for political mobilization along class lines
faded.  Third, the limited reforms achieved by the black movement
and its allies in the 1960s were susceptible to reinterpretation
by the right, making a de facto racial reaction ideologically
palatable to the political center.

ETHNIC EROSION: For a long time many whites partook of an ethnic
"otherness" which placed them in an ambiguous relationship with
both established WASP elites and with racially-defined
minorities.  But by the mid-20th century white ethnicity was in
serious decline.  Large-scale European immigration had become a
thing of the past; while urban ethnic enclaves continued to exist
in many major cities, suburbanization and gentrification had
taken their toll.  Communal forms of white ethnic identity had
been vitiated by outmarriage, and by heterogeneous interethnic
contact in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and religious
settings.  As a result, intracommunal white ethnic ties weakened
dramatically, while racial identity remained strong.  The result
was the emergence of a "postethnic" Euro-American identity (Alba
1990, Waters 1990), whose bearers were far more open to political
alliances with the WASP elite (and generally Republican) groups
than their parents would have been.  

WEAKENED CLASS POLITICS: Alternative collective identities and
non-racial forms of solidarity were not readily available to
working-class whites in the post-civil rights period. 
Class-based identities had always been weak in the US, and were
particularly debilitated in the wake of the red-baiting period of
the late 1940s and 50s, the same moment in which the black
movement was gathering strength.  

From the early 1970s on, working-class incomes stagnated or
declined in real terms as profits soared, provoking growing
resentments against declining living standards.  Corporate
assaults on unions and labor rights increased, to which most
unions responded ineffectually, often resisting reform movements
in their own ranks (Geoghegan 1992), and sometimes capitulating
to racism and sexism as well (Hill 1993).  The globalization of
capital expanded -- in labor and money markets, as well as
production processes -- leading to the elimination of millions of
manufacturing jobs.  Deindustrialization and "downsizing" thus
occurred in a climate which largely forestalled any collective
working-class response, such as would have been inevitable in the
heyday of the New Deal Coalition.  No effective popular critique,
much less popular mobilization, could be mounted in the cultural
or political mainstream against these trends.  

RACIAL REACTION: With alternative perspectives unavailable or
unconvincing, a distinct tendency developed in the 1980s, and
continues into the present, to blame declining living standards
on the welfare state and the supposed parasitism of the poor.  To
hear Reagan and Bush (and in a milder way, Clinton) tell it, the
problems faced by white workers do not derive from corporate
hunger for ever-greater profits, or from deindustrialization and
the "downsizing" of workforces; rather these troubles emanate
from the tax burden imposed on the employed by the unemployed. 
The taxes of the productive citizens who "play by the rules" and
"go to work each day" are going to subsidize unproductive and
parasitic "welfare queens" and "career criminals" who "don't want
to work."  The racial subtext of this discourse hardly needs
elaboration.  

Yet it would be inaccurate to describe the racial reaction of the
post-civil rights era as merely a new form of "coded" white
supremacy.  A crucial aspect of its success was its ability to
reinterpret some of the 1960s movements' most cherished demands
in a conservative and individualistic discourse focused on formal
equality.  This was in fact a legitimate rendition of certain
movement positions, which were selected, to be sure, from a
generally more radical movement discourse, but not invented out
of whole cloth.  The frequent reference made on the right to Dr.
King's phrase about "the content of their character, not the
color of their skin" (Steele 1990), for example, demonstrates the
possibility of rearticulating movement claims in a more pacific
direction, and not coincidentally, in a direction far more
palatable to whites.

The neoconservative rearticulation of 1960s movement demands in
the form of the "color-blind" ideal of what a racially
egalitarian society would look like thus served several purposes:
it did in fact embody a certain current in movement thinking; it
described the limited but real accomplishments of integration,
accommodation, and tolerance that were achieved in the post-1960s
period; it offered a concrete vision of how US society might get
"beyond race"; it allowed society's inevitable failure to do this
on a large scale to be blamed on "race radicals" and
"separatists," who insisted on cultivating a "victim mentality";
and, as I have mentioned, it provided a fig leaf with which to
cover over the unpleasant fact that widespread discrimination,
and indeed unreconstructed white supremacist attitudes, remained.
***
Thus from the late 1960s on, white identity has been
reinterpreted, rearticulated in a dualistic fashion: on the one
hand egalitarian, on the other hand privileged; on the one hand
individualistic and "color-blind," on the other hand "normalized"
and white.  

Nowhere is this new framework of the white "politics of
difference" more clearly on display than in the reaction to
affirmative action policies of all sorts (in hiring, university
admissions, federal contracting, etc.).  Assaults on these
policies, which have been developing since their introduction as
tentative and quite limited efforts at racial redistribution
(Johnson 1967, but see also Steinberg 1994), are currently at
hysterical levels.  These attacks are clearly designed to effect
ideological shifts, rather than to shift resources in any
meaningful way.  They represent whiteness as disadvantage,
something which has few precedents in US racial history
(Gallagher 1995).  This imaginary white disadvantage  -- for
which there is almost no evidence at the empirical level -- has
achieved widespread popular credence, and provides the cultural
and political "glue" that holds together a wide variety of
reactionary racial politics.
White Racial Projects
Both the onset of white racial dualism and the new politicization
of whiteness in the post-civil rights era reflect the
fragmentation of earlier concepts of white racial identity and of
white supremacy more generally.  In their place, a variety of
concepts of the meaning of whiteness have emerged.  How can we
analyze and evaluate in systematic fashion this range of white
racial projects?

As I have argued elsewhere (Winant 1994, Omi and Winant 1994),
the concept of racial projects is crucial to understanding the
dynamics of racial formation in contemporary society.  

In this approach, the key element in racial formation is the link
between signification and structure, between what race means in a
particular discursive practice and how, based upon such
interpretations, social structures are racially organized.  The
link between meaning and structure, discourse and institution,
signification and organization, is concretized in the notion of
the racial project.  To interpret the meaning of race in a
particular way at a given time is at least implicitly, but more
often explicitly, to propose or defend a certain social policy, a
particular racialized social structure, a racial order.  The
reverse is also true: in a highly racialized society, to put in
place a particular social policy, or to mobilize for social or
political action, is at least implicitly, but more often
explicitly, to articulate a particular set of racial meanings, to
signify race in certain ways.

Existing racial projects can be classified along a political
spectrum, according to explicit criteria drawn from the meaning
each project attaches to "whiteness."  Such a classification will
necessarily be somewhat schematic, since in the real world of
politics and culture ideas and meanings, as well as social
practices, tend to overlap in unpredictable ways.  Nevertheless,
I think it would be beneficial to attempt to sort out
alternative conceptions of whiteness, along with the politics
that both flow from and inform these conceptions.  This is what
I attempt here, focusing on five key racial projects, which I
term far right, new right, neoconservative, neoliberal, and new
abolitionist.

THE FAR RIGHT RACIAL PROJECT: On the far right the cornerstone of
white identity is belief in an ineluctable, unalterable
racialized difference between whites and nonwhites. 
Traditionally, this belief has been biologically grounded, and in
many respects it remains so today.  But a distinct modernizing
tendency exists on the far right as well. It is thus necessary to
distinguish between explicitly fascist and "neofascist" currents
within the far right racial project.

Explicitly fascist elements on the far right can be identified by
two features: their frank belief in the biological superiority of
whites over nonwhites (and Jews), and their insurrectionary
posture vis-a-vis the state.  Although their accounts of the
nature and sources of racial difference vary, often relying on
religious doctrine, as in the case of the so-called "Christian
Identity" movement, which identifies blacks and Jews as "mud
people" whose origins are different from those of "Aryans," a
biologistic element is always present. Explicitly fascist groups
on the far right openly admire Nazi race-thinking, fantasize
about racial genocide, and dream of establishing an all-white
North American nation, or, failing that, seceding from the US to
establish such a nation, possibly in the Northwest (Ridgeway
1990, Diamond 1995, Novick, Southern Poverty Law Center 1995).
Because in the far right view, government policies of the
post-civil rights period threaten "whiteness" and traditional
white privileges, the far right project invokes a traditional
fascist theme, betrayal.
The Klan in the `20s made a mistake thinking that evil resided in men who came home drunk or in Negroes who walked on thre wrong side of the street. Today we see the evil is coming out of the government. To go out and shoot a Negro is foolish. It's not the Negro in the alley who's responsible for what's wrong with this country. It's the traitors in Washington (Robb 1985, 25).
While acts of racial and antisemitic terror continue and even
increase, and the elaboration of fascist doctrine continues as
well, significant modernizing currents have appeared on the far
right in the past decade, leading us to assert that the
"neofascist" dimension of the far right's racial project has
gained considerable ground.  These tendencies occupy an
intermediate position between the explicit fascism I have
discussed, and the more mainstream new right racial project which
I address in the following section.  "Neofascists" generally
have an ultraright provenance -- a history of association with
the KKK or Nazi groups -- but they now actively seek to renovate
the far right's traditions of white racial nationalism (Walters
1987) and open advocacy of white supremacy.  Largely as a result
of the challenges posed by the 1960s, the far right, no less than
other US political currents, has been forced to rearticulate
racial meanings, to reinterpret  the content of "whiteness" and
the politics that flows from it.  

"Neofascism's" response has been political mobilization on racial
grounds: if blacks have their organizations and movements, why
shouldn't whites?  The various activities of David Duke exemplify
the new trend: his electoral campaigns, his attempts at student
organization (for example his effort to create white student
unions on college campuses), and his emblematic National
Association for the Advancement of White People.[2]  

"Neofascists" believe that open avowal of white supremacy, or
explicit defense of white racial privilege, will be
counterproductive today.  They differ from the explicitly fascist
currents on the far right because they are willing to engage in
mainstream politics; they are not, at least officially,
insurrectionary.  As a case study, consider the following leaflet
distributed in the San Francisco area in 1987:
A CHALLENGE TO WHITE PEOPLE
Are you tired of...
--"Affirmative Action" quotas that discriminate against whites in
hiring, promotion, and admission to colleges and graduate
schools?
--A non-enforced immigration policy that allows millions of
illegal immigrants each year to flood our country, taking away
jobs, consuming vital natural resources, and taking over
politically?
--Forced integration of our schools, causing White families to
leave our largest cities, which are then taken over, one by one,
by hordes of non-Whites?
--Immigrants who refuse to learn our language and demand that we
pay for education and even ballots in theirs?
--Hundreds of non-White political organizations receiving
foundation grants and tax exemptions, while our people are
voiceless and disregarded by the politicians?
--Attempts by the media to conceal or downplay all these
problems, while they foist a false sense of racial guilt on
whites?
If so, why not join with thousands of your White kinsmen who are
looking out for WHITE interests?[3]

Notice that the racial reforms of the 1960s are blamed for
creating many of the supposed inequalities listed here:
"discrimination" against whites, immigration of minorities,[4]
school integration, bilingual education etc.  Notice too that
many of these formulations would be unexceptional in mainstream
new right political discourse, with the sole qualification that
they explicitly seek to organize whites qua whites.

While the far right is not at present a real political threat,
its advocacy and practice of racial terrorism should generate far
more concern than has been evidenced so far.  Assaults on
minority and Jewish institutions and individuals, and the
targeting and threatening of prominent anti-racist activists and
organizations, continue a long-standing US tradition of white
violence and intimidation.  The openly insurrectionary stance of
a range of far right groups, their possession of substantial
quantities of arms, their determination to recruit disaffected
and anomic white youth, their widespread circles of adherents in
police agencies and the military, their growing international
coordination, and their adoption of far more sophisticated
techniques of organization (so-called "leaderless cell
structures," for example), are all disturbing in their own right. 

But beyond the present moment, the real danger presented by the
far right racial project is linked to the potential for the
emergence of a full-fledged fascist movement in the US.  It is by
no means certain that such a movement could develop, but it would
be irresponsible to rule out such an eventuality.  Far right
groups would have serious contributions to make to such an
effort: they could provide "shock troops" in situations of social
upheaval, for example.  Furthermore, because today there is no
clear dividing line between far right racial ideology and more
"moderate" forms of right-wing white identity politics (notably
the new right racial projects discussed in the next section), it
is possible that an ideological convergence might occur as well. 

In the far right's view, the state has been captured by "race
mixers" and will have to be recaptured by white racial
nationalists in order to end the betrayal of "traditional values"
that a racially egalitarian and pluralistic national politics and
culture would portend.  Whether this reactionary objective could
happen by peaceful means, or whether an armed insurrection would
be required to achieve it, remains a matter of dispute.  Whether
a rhetoric of absolute racial difference (a la the explicitly
fascist currents on the far right) will be most effective in
accomplishing this, or whether a rhetoric of white victimization
and white rights (a la the renovated neofascist currents on the
far right) will work better in the post-civil rights era, is also
in question.  But on one objective both currents of the far right
project are united: the US must remain a white man's country.

THE NEW RIGHT RACIAL PROJECT: The new right's project is based on
white racial nationalism (Walters 1987).  The contemporary new
right has its origins in resistance to the black movement of the
1950s and 60s; with the Wallace campaign of 1968 (Edsalls 1992),
this resistance crystallized as a national, electorally-oriented,
reactionary social movement.  The Wallace campaign drew large
numbers of far right activists, Klansmen, and Neo-Nazis into
electoral politics for the first time in the postwar period
(Diamond 1995, Ridgeway 1990, Novick 1995).  Although his initial
1964 run for the presidency had emphasized southern
intransigence, states' rights, and explicit resistance to racial
reform in general, by 1968 Wallace had formulated a right-wing
populism which went well beyond mere resistance to racial
integration.  Wallace recognized the deep threat that substantive
racial equality posed to fundamental ideas about the kind of
society and the kind of nation-state the US was supposed to be.
The Wallace campaign shaped a new right populism and a new symbolic language for the politics of race, a symbolic language allowing politicians to mobilize voters deeply resentful of racial change without referring specifically to race. Wallace created a new demonology and defined a new political symbol, an adversary of the public will that would for the next twenty years compete with, if not replace, the Republican "establishment" of big business and corporate America (Edsalls 1992, 78).
In effect, Wallace and his minions understood the same thing that
black radicals and their allies had understood about the US in
the 1960s, although of course they were on opposite sides of the
conflict.  Through whatever optics they employed --
anti-communism, racism, southern chauvinism, states' rights
doctrines going back to Calhoun, agrarian populism, America First
isolationism -- they recognized a deep truth: that white
supremacy was not an excrescence on the basically egalitarian and
democratic "American creed," but a fundamental component of US
society.  To destroy it meant reinventing the country, the social
order, the government.

Indeed, for the US to come to terms in the mid-20th century with
its own history of conquest and enslavement would have involved
at a minimum a deep national reckoning.  It would have severely
threatened the foundations of the nation-state.  The consequences
of this agonizing self-appraisal would necessarily have included
massive economic redistribution and the kind of atonement for
white supremacy which was later to be associated with demands for
compensatory programs such as "affirmative action" -- or more
properly, reparations.  Thus the threat posed by the black
movement -- material, political, and psychic -- to the key
institutions of the Pax Americana, not to mention the majority of
the US population, the white majority, was profound. 

In opposition to this threat, building upon the foundation laid
down by Wallace, the new right developed a political orientation
that was nationalist, populist, and authoritarian.  This
position, of course, has numerous precedents in earlier
historical moments.  It seeks by covert means to legitimate the
"psychological wage" that Du Bois argued was an essential benefit
allocated to whites by white supremacy (Du Bois 1977 [1935]).  It
continues the racist legacy of southern populism, which in the
past bred the likes of Ben Tillman and Theodore Bilbo (Woodward 1973).   
And it associates whiteness with a range of capitalist
virtues: productivity, thrift, obedience to law, self-denial, and
sexual repression.  This in turn permits the crucial articulation
of corporate and white working class interests -- the cross-class
racial alliance -- which endows new right positions with such
strategic advantage today.

Like the far right, the new right seeks to present itself as the
tribune of disenfranchised whites.  But the new right is
distinguished -- if not always sharply -- from the far right by
several factors.  First, rather than espouse racism and white
supremacy, it prefers to present these themes subtextually: the
familiar "code-word" phenomenon.  Second, it wholeheartedly
embraces mainstream political activity, rather than abjuring it
or looking at it suspiciously.  Third, it can accept a measure of
nonwhite social and political participation, and even membership
(think of Alan Keyes, for instance), so long as this is pursued
on a "color-blind" basis and adheres to the rest of the
authoritarian, nationalist formula.  For the far right in
general, "color-blindness" is race mixing and therefore verboten. 
For the new right, suitably authoritarian versions of
"color-blindness" are fine.

The new right diverges from neoconservatism (discussed below), in
its willingness to practice racial politics subtextually, through
coding, manipulation of racial fears, etc.  De facto, it
recognizes the persistence of racial difference in United States
society.  The new right understands perfectly well that its mass
base is white, and that its political success depends on its
ability to interpret white identity in positive political terms. 
Precisely because of its willingness to exploit racial fears and
employ racially manipulative practices, the new right has been
effective in achieving much of its agenda for political and
cultural reaction and social structural recomposition.  These
were crucial to the new right's ability to provide a solid base
of electoral and financial support for the Republican Party and
the Reagan "revolution."  The demagoguery employed by George Bush
in the 1988 Willie Horton campaign ads, or by Pete Wilson or Phil
Gramm in their contemporary attacks on immigrants and affirmative
action, shows this strategy is far from exhausted. 
Neoconservatism has not, and could not, deliver such tangible
political benefits, and in fact lacks an equivalent mass
political base.  That is why the neoconservatives are seen as a
bunch of "pointy-headed intellectuals" by many on the new right.

At present, the new right racial project is poised to achieve --
or perhaps has already achieved -- political hegemony.  If this
is consolidated it will follow the formula of "color-blindness"
plus repression: or what I have sometimes characterized as
"tough love" social policy.  In this approach, US society is
conceived as non-racial, "color-blind," and democratic above a
certain socioeconomic line, and paternalistic if not outrightly
coercive below that line.  American apartheid, with its chocolate
cities and vanilla suburbs (as George Clinton described them)
sets the stage for many anti-democratic initiatives.  The range
of repressive policy options being seriously considered for the
ghettos and barrios includes forced sterilization, widespread
stop and frisk policies, coerced menial labor, and further
increases in ghetto and barrio repression, or (if you prefer this
term), occupation. 

Such draconian, perhaps neo-dictatorial, racial policies are
justified on the basis of the "dysfunctionality" and "parasitism"
of the ghetto poor.  But beyond the suffering they propose to
ratchet up to even higher levels, they contain significant
contradictions in their efforts to mobilize and reaffirm the
whiteness which serves as their base.  Repressive racial policies
share with the entire complex of new right politics and
provenance the objective of consolidating whiteness, which is
conceptualized as all that the "underclass" is supposedly not:
productive, law-abiding, sexually "under control," etc.  But in
the post-civil rights era, the tensions of racial dualism can be
seen even in these repressive tendencies.  If "tough love" is to
be applied only to the ghetto and barrio poor, on what grounds
does it exempt the white poor?  Is it, in the final analysis, a
complex of racially oriented measures?  But if it is
fundamentally racist, to what extent can the substantial
racially-defined minority middle classes escape its implications? 
Even the new right, it seems, cannot do without at least a fig
leaf of ostensible anti-racism in its campaign to rearticulate
and relegitimize white supremacy.

THE NEOCONSERVATIVE RACIAL PROJECT: Neoconservative discourse
seeks to preserve white advantages through denial of racial
difference.  For neoconservatism, racial difference is something
to be overcome, a blight on the core United States values -- both
politically and culturally speaking -- of universalism and
individualism.

Unfortunately, it is easier to declare these values to be
operative in US politics and culture -- and to read them back
into earlier stages of US history -- than it is to demonstrate
that they apply to race.  Without question, the Enlightenment
doctrine of natural rights was partly constitutive of the US
sociopolitical order.  But it is equally true that countervailing
principles existed -- notably, doctrines of European superiority
-- which justified the conquest and enslavement of supposedly
lesser peoples.  Indeed the Enlightenment principle itself was
troubled by various idealisms which persisted within it: its
assertion of the existence of a detached and impartial Reason,
for example.  Supposed possession of this faculty provided a
warrant for domination of the natural world, and a principle for
classification of human subjects (and human bodies) according to
attributions about their closeness to or distance from this ideal
(Young 1990, Horkheimer and Adorno 1989 [1944]).  Europeans
attributed to non-Europeans a lack of access to this faculty (or
a lesser, "lower" grasp of it), thus justifying their arrogation
of power and privilege (Jefferson 1984 [1787]). 

The doctrine of natural rights frames the liberal view of
citizenship that in turn informs the neoconservative vision of
race.  It is visible in the dissent of Justice Harlan from the
Plessy decision in 1896.  It is visible in "the American creed"
which Myrdal claimed as a universalizing and individuating
tendency that would ultimately sweep away irrational race
prejudice and bigotry in the US (Myrdal (1962) [1944]).  It is
visible in the founding documents of US neoconservatism, such as
Glazer's essay on "The American ethnic pattern" (Glazer 1978). 
And it is visible in the basic anti-statism and laissez-faire
attitude of neoconservatives, in regard to racial matters:
My proposal for dealing with the racial issue in social welfare is to repeal every bit of legislation and reverse every court decision that in any way requires, recommends, or awards differential treatment according to race, and thereby put us back onto the track that we left in 1965. We may argue about the appropriate limits of government intervention in trying to enforce the ideal, but at least it should be possible to identify the ideal: Race is not a morally admissible reason for treating one person differently from another. Period (Murray 1984, 223; see also Gilder 1981, Sowell 1983).
Besides its fundamental suspicion of racial difference, which it
also seeks to equate (or reduce) to ethnicity (Omi and Winant
1994, 14-23), the neoconservative project has cast doubt on the
tractability of issues of racial equality, tending to argue that
the state cannot ameliorate poverty through social policy, but in
fact only exacerbates it (Williams 1982).  These positions
indicate the substantial distance the neoconservative project has
travelled from the liberal statism, and indeed the racial
pluralism, with which its chief spokespeople once identified, for
example in Glazer and Moynihan's Beyond the Melting Pot (1970
[1963]).[5]

The appeal to universalism -- for example in terms of social
policy or critical educational or literary standards -- is far
more subtle than open or coded appeals to white racial fears,
since it has far greater capacity to represent race in apparently
egalitarian and democratic terms.  Indeed the very hallmark of
the neoconservative argument has been that, beyond the
proscription of explicit racial dicrimination, every invocation
of racial significance manifests "race-thinking," and is thus
suspect:
In the phrase reiterated again and again in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no distinction was to be made in the right to vote, in the provision of public services, the right to public education, on the ground of "race, color, religion, or national origin." Paradoxically, we then began an extensive effort to record the race, color and (some) national origins of just about every student and employee and recipient of government benefits or services in the nation....This monumental restructuring of public policy..., it is argued by Federal administrators and courts, is required to enforce the laws against discrimination....It is a transitional period, they say, to that condition called for in the Constitution and the laws, when no account at all is to be taken of race, color and national origin. But others see it as a direct contradiction of the Constitution and the laws, and of the consensus that emerged after long struggle in the middle 1960s (Glazer 1978, 4).
Yet a refusal to engage in "race-thinking" amounts to a defense
of the racial status quo, in which systematic racial inequality
and yes, discrimination as well, are omnipresent.[6]  

To the extent that it functions as an argument against policies
aimed at increasing substantive racial equality, it is not
difficult to explain the wholesale conversion of "moderate"
whites to neoconservative racial politics in the post-civil
rights era.  From the late 1960s on, white identity has been
reinterpreted, rearticulated in a dualistic fashion: on the one
hand egalitarian, on the other hand privileged; on the one hand
individualistic and "color-blind," on the other hand "normalized"
and white.  With Reagan's election in 1980, the process reached
its peak.  A class policy of regressive redistribution was
adopted; working-class incomes, stagnant since the mid-1970s,
continued to drop in real terms as profits soared. 
Neoconservative racial ideology -- with its commitment to formal
racial equality and its professions of "color-blindness" -- now
proved particularly useful: it served to organize and rationalize
white working class resentments against declining living
standards.    

The neoconservative project now extends beyond strictly racial
issues to a quasi-imperial defense of the political and cultural
canons of western culture tout court (D'Souza 1995).  It not only
argues for a "color-blind" racial politics, but rearticulates
formerly anti-racist perspectives in a discourse denying any
validity to perceptions of racial difference:
The scenario...reads as follows: when science apologizes and says there is no such thing, all talk of "race" must cease. Hence "race," as a recently emergent, unifying, and forceful sign of difference in the service of the "Other," is held up to scientific ridicule as, ironically, "unscientific." A proudly emergent sense of ethnic diversity in the service of the new world arrangements is disparaged by whitemale science as the most foolish sort of anachronism (Baker 1985, 385; emphasis original).
Thus the neoconservative perspective is not as inclusionary as it
superficially appears.  Indeed, neoconservatism suffers from bad
faith.  It may serve for some as a rationalizing formula, a
lament about the complexities of a social world in which the
traditional verities, and indeed the traditional speakers,
writers, and political actors, have come under challenge from a
host of "others," but as soon as it advances beyond critique to
proposals for action its pious professions of universality and
liberality are quickly replaced by formulas for orthodoxy, both
in social and in academic policy.  

Neoconservative appeals to universalism are political strategies
which decontextualize race and thus obscure racial difference. 
Neoconservative suspicions of the state involve at least tacit
acceptance of "objective" racial inequalities, often masked by
supposedly utilitarian arguments that state policies "don't work"
in the realm of race.  Therefore the neoconservative project,
despite its protestations to the contrary, must be viewed as an
attempt to maintain political and cultural arrangements which
systematically maintain white advantages, both social
structurally and culturally.  Neoconservatism involves a
Eurocentric "standpoint epistemology" (Harding 1987), no less
than did the explicitly racist (and sexist) discourses triumphant
liberalism replaced in the earlier part of the century.

THE NEOLIBERAL RACIAL PROJECT: Neoliberal discourse seeks to
limit white advantages through denial of racial difference.  The
overlap with neoconservatism is, of course, hardly accidental. 
Yet there are significant differences in political orientation
between the two projects. 

Neoliberalism recognizes the cross-cutting and competitive
dynamics of race- and class-based forms of subordination in the
post-industrial, post-civil rights era.  It seeks systematically
to narrow the differences which divide working and middle-class
people as a strategy for improving the "life-chances" of
minorities, who are disproportionately poor.  It thus attempts to
appeal to whites with arguments about the medium- and long-term
consequences upon their living standards of downward mobility and
greater impoverishment of nonwhites.  The neoliberal racial
project can thus be described as social democratic, focused on
social structure (as opposed to cultural representation a la the
various right-wing racial projects), and somewhat class
reductionist in its approach to race.

The most effective, as well as controversial, spokesperson for
the neoliberal racial project has undoubtedly been William Julius
Wilson.  In a series of prominent scholarly works and political
interventions, Wilson has argued for the use of class-based
criteria (and consequently, against the use of racial logics) in
formulating social policy aimed at achieving greater substantive
equality in US society.  He has contended that this reorientation
of social policy priorities is both better suited to the
contemporary dynamics of capitalist development, and that it is
politically strategic in ways that explicit racially oriented
policies are not.

While Wilson does not dismiss the effects of historical racial
discrimination, he argues that since the late 1960s capital has
been "color-blind," and that consequently the large-scale
demographic, economic, and political changes which have
negatively affected the ghettos and barrios do not have their
origins in racial discrimination.  Therefore, "group-specific"
policies such as affirmative action in all its incarnations,
cannot improve the situation experienced by the African-American
"underclass."  Wilson thus calls for "universal programs," rather
than group-targeted ones, to halt the deterioration of inner-city
communities, arguing that such measures will disproportionately
help the minority poor:
The hidden agenda is to improve the life chances of groups such as the ghetto underclass by emphasizing programs to which the more advantaged groups of all races can positively relate (Wilson 1987, 120).
This "hidden agenda," of course, justifies a pragmatic attempt to
woo white, middle-class voters.  Their needs -- for more and
better jobs, access to education and health care, and reductions
in drug trafficking and crime -- can be linked to those of the
minority poor if the "wedge issue" of race can be blunted.  To
this end Wilson has urged political actors (notably President
Clinton, whom he has served as an advisor) to create "biracial
coalitions" by promoting programs which unite, as opposed to
divide, racial minorities (particularly blacks) and whites.
[I]f the message emphasizes issues and programs that concern the families of all racial and ethnic groups, whites will see their mutual interests and join in a coalition with minorities to elect a progressive candidate (Wilson, 1992; A15).
A similar argument has been proposed by Michael Lind, who argues
that
...the American elites that subsidize and staff both the Republican and the Democratic parties have steadfastly waged a generation-long class war against the middle and working classes (Lind 1995a, 35),
using race, as well as other divisions, to achieve unprecedented
levels of power and concentrated wealth.  Affirmative action, and
other race-based initiatives aimed at achieving greater
substantive social equality, only contribute, according to Lind,
to the effectiveness of the "overclass's" divide-and-conquer
strategy:
...the overclass shores up its defense against genuinely representative democracy (i.e., a popular coalition uniting middle-class and working-class Americans of all races and regions) by adopting a strategy of divide and rule expressed in the language of multiculturalism.... Unified along the lines of economic interest, the wealthy American minority hold the fragmented majority at bay by pitting blacks against whites in zero-sum struggles for government patronage and by bribing potential black and Hispanic leaders, who might otherwise propose something other than rhetorical rebellion, with the gifts of affirmative action (Lind 1995a, 44).
Both Wilson and Lind call for a nationalism of the left, a
populist alliance of the have-nots, regardless of race, against
the haves.  Lind's version is perhaps more radical and certainly
more explicitly nationalist: he proposes specific measures to tax
corporate flight, restrict immigration, and establish a "common
high-wage trading bloc."  Like Wilson, he proposes to eliminate
affirmative action, which he would replace with a
...transracial America..., [where] a color-blind, gender neutral regime of individual rights would be combined with government activism promoting a high degree of substantive social and economic equality (Lind 1995b, PAGE?).
Wilson's proposals, though more circumspect, conform in all their
essentials to this perspective.  He too identifies
deindustrialization and the continuing influx of new migrants to
the depressed cities as key sources of ghetto and barrio poverty;
he too calls for government activism in support of a high-wage
economy and tight labor market, as the recipe for achieving
substantive, transracial social justice.

The neoliberal project actively promotes a pragmatic vision of
greater substantive equality, linking class and race, and arguing
for the necessity of transracial coalition politics.  These
themes seem to us worthy of support, and receive more discussion
below in this essay's concluding section.  

For the present I wish simply to register some uneasiness
with the neoliberal project in respect to its treatment of race. 
Most specifically, I question the argument that race-specific
policies should receive less attention in a progressive political
agenda (Wilson 1987, 10-12).  Despite protestations that the
neoliberal approach is more hardheaded, more willing to face up
to the difficult questions of "the rise of social pathologies in
the ghetto," it is also noteworthy that the neoliberal project
tends to deny, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, the
ongoing relevance of white supremacy to ghetto and barrio
poverty.  It tends to deemphasize the "dirty little secret" of
continued racial hostility, segregation, and discrimination of
all sorts.  

Powerful as some of Wilson's, Lind's, and others' arguments are,
they do not succeed in demonstrating the demise of racism or
white privilege.  They largely fail to recognize the ongoing
racial dualism that prevails in the contemporary period,
perceiving post-civil rights era conflicts between whites and
racially-defined minorities merely as strategic problems, and
paying less attention to the deep-seated structural racial
conflicts endemic to US society.  

This weakness is more noticeable in some areas than others, for
example in respect to residential segregation or criminal justice
issues, which simply cannot be understood as outcomes of
"color-blind" capitalist development imperatives or
deindustrialization, and are certainly not the product of
affirmative action.  Rather, the imperviousness of these problems
to political reform testifies to the continuing viability of
old-fashioned white supremacy, and to the competitive advantages
whiteness still has to offer.  

What drops out of the neoliberal project, then, is precisely the
cultural and moral dimensions of white supremacy.  The neoliberal
project does not challenge whites on their willingness to receive
a "psychological wage," which amounts to a tangible benefit
acquired at the expense of nonwhites (Du Bois 1977 [1935],
Roediger 1991, Harris 1993).  Indeed, the neoliberal project does
not challenge whites to abjure the real wage subsidies, the
artificially low unemployment rates, or the host of other
material benefits they receive in virtue of their whiteness
(Lipsitz 1995). 

Nevertheless, the neoliberal project does undertake a crucial
task: the construction of a transracial political agenda, and the
articulation of white and minority interests in a viable
strategic perspective.  This is something which has been missing
from the US political scene since the enactment of civil rights
legislation thirty years ago.
THE ABOLITIONIST PROJECT
Drawing their inspiration from W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, the social
historians who have provided the core insights of the
abolitionist project stress the "invention of whiteness" as a
pivotal development in the rise of US capitalism.  They have
begun a process of historical reinterpretation which aims to set
race -- or more properly, the gestation and evolution of white
supremacy -- at the center of US politics and culture.  Thus far,
they have focused attention on a series of formative events and
processes: the precedent of British colonial treatment of the
Irish (Allen 1994, Ignatiev 1995); the early, multiracial
resistance to indentured servitude and quasi-slavery, which
culminated in the defeat of Bacon's Rebellion in late 17th
century Virginia; the self-identification of "free" workers as
white in the antebellum North (Roediger 1991); and the
construction of a "white republic" in the late 19th century
(Saxton 1990).  

These studies, in some cases quite prodigious intellectual
efforts, have had a significant impact on how we understand not
only racial formation, but also class formation and the
developing forms of popular culture in US history.  What they
reveal above all is how crucial the construction of whiteness
was, and remains, for the development and maintenance of
capitalist class rule in the US.  Furthermore, these studies also
show how the meaning of whiteness, like that of race in general,
has time and again proved flexible enough to adapt to shifts in
the capitalist division of labor, to reform initiatives which
extended democratic rights, and to changes in ideology and
cultural representation.

The core message of the abolitionist project is the imperative of
repudiation of white identity and white privilege, the
requirement that "the lie of whiteness" be exposed.  This
rejection of whiteness on the part of those who benefit from it,
this "new abolitionism," it is argued, is a precondition for the
establishment of substantive racial equality and social justice
-- or more properly, socialism -- in the US.  Whites must become
"race traitors," as the new journal of the abolitionist project
calls itself.  Its motto: "Treason to whiteness is loyalty to
humanity."

How is this rejection of whiteness to be accomplished?  Both
analytical and practical measures are envisioned.  On the
intellectual level, the abolitionist project invites us to
contemplate the emptiness, indeed vacuity, of the white category:
It is not merely that whiteness is oppressive and false; it is that whiteness is nothing but oppressive and false.... It is the empty and terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn't and on whom one can hold back (Roediger 1994, 13; emphasis original).
In short, there is no white culture, no white politics, no
whiteness, except in the sense of distancing and rejection of
racially-defined "otherness."  

On the practical level, the argument goes, whites can become
"race traitors" by rejecting their privilege, by refusing to
collude with white supremacy.  When you hear that racist joke,
confront its teller.  When you see the police harassing a
nonwhite youth, try to intervene or at least bear witness.  In
short, recognize that white supremacy depends on the thousands of
minute acts that reproduce it from moment to moment; it must
"deliver" to whites a sense of their own security and
superiority; it must make them feel that "I am different from
those "others."  Single gestures of this sort, Race Traitor's
editors say,
...would [not] in all likelihood be of much consequence. But if enough of those who looked white broke the rules of the club to make the cops doubt their ability to recognize a white person merely by looking at him or her, how would it affect the cops' behavior (Editorial 1993, 4-5)?
Thus the point is not that all whites recognize the lie of their
privilege, but that enough whites do so, and act out their
rejection of that lie, to disrupt the "white club's" ability to
enforce its supremacy.

It is easy to sympathize with this analysis, at least up to a
point.  The postwar black movement, which in the US context at
least served as the point of origin for all the "new social
movements" and the much-reviled "politics of identity," taught
the valuable lesson that politics went "all the way down."  That
is, meaningful efforts to achieve greater social justice could
not tolerate a public/private, or a collective/individual
distinction.  Trying to change society meant trying to change
one's own life.  The formula "the personal is political,"
commonly associated with feminism, had its early origins among
the militants of the civil rights movement (Evans 1980).

The problems come when deeper theoretical and practical problems
are raised.  Despite their explicit adherence to a "social
construction" model of race (one which bears a significant
resemblance to my own work), theorists of the abolitionist
project do not take that insight as seriously as they should. 
They employ it chiefly to argue against biologistic conceptions
of race, which is fine; but they fail to consider the
complexities and rootedness of social construction, or as we
would term it, racial formation.  Is the social construction of
whiteness so flimsy that it can be repudiated by a mere act of
political will, or even by widespread and repeated acts aimed at
rejecting white privilege?  I think not; whiteness may not be a
legitimate cultural identity in the sense of having a discrete,
"positive" content, but it is certainly an overdetermined
political and cultural category, having to do with socioeconomic
status, religious affiliation, ideologies of individualism,
opportunity, and citizenship, nationalism, etc.  Like any other
complex of beliefs and practices, "whiteness" is imbedded in a
highly articulated social structure and system of significations;
rather than trying to repudiate it, we shall have to rearticulate
it.

That sounds like a daunting task, and of course it is, but it is
not nearly as impossible as erasing whiteness altogether, as the
abolitionist project seeks to do.  Furthermore, because whiteness
is a relational concept, unintelligible without reference to
nonwhiteness -- note how this is true even of Roediger's
formulation about "build[ing] an identity based on what one
isn't" -- that rearticulation (or reinterpretation, or
deconstruction) of whiteness can begin relatively easily, in the
messy present, with the recognition that whiteness already
contains substantial nonwhite elements.  Of course, that
recognition is only the beginning of a large and arduous process
of political labor, which I shall address in the concluding
section of this paper.

Notwithstanding these criticisms of the abolitionist project, we
consider many of its insights to be vital components in the
process of reformulating, or synthesizing, a progressive approach
to whiteness.  Its attention is directed toward prescisely the
place where the neo-liberal racial project is weak: the point at
which white identity constitutes a crucial support to white
supremacy, and a central obstacle to the achievement of
substantive social equality and racial justice.
CONCLUDING NOTES: WHITENESS AND CONTEMPORARY POLITICS
In a situation of racial dualism, as Du Bois observed more than
90 years ago, race operates both to assign us and to deny us our
identity.  It both makes the social world intelligible, and
simultaneously renders it opaque and mysterious.  Not only does
it allocate resources, power, and privilege; it also provides
means for challenging that allocation.  The contradictory
character of race provides the context in which racial dualism --
or the "color-line," as Du Bois designated it, has developed as
"the problem of the 20th century."  

So what's new?  Only that, as a result of incalculable human
effort, suffering, and sacrifice, we now realize that these
truths apply across the board.  Whites and whiteness can no
longer be exempted from the comprehensive racialization process
that is the hallmark of US history and social structure.

This is the present-day context for racial conflict and thus for
US politics in general, since race continues to play its
designated role of crystallizing all the fundamental issues in US
society.  As always, we articulate our anxieties in racial terms:
wealth and poverty, crime and punishment, gender and sexuality,
nationality and citizenship, culture and power, are all
articulated in the US primarily through race.

So what's new?  It's the problematic of whiteness that has
emerged as the principal source of anxiety and conflict in the
postwar US.  Although this situation was anticipated or
prefigured at earlier moments in the nation's past -- for
example, in the "hour of eugenics" (Stepan 1991, Kevles 1985,
Gould 1981) -- it is far more complicated now than ever before,
largely due to the present unavailability of biologistic forms of
racism as a convenient rationale for white supremacy.[7]  

Whiteness -- visible whiteness, resurgent whiteness, whiteness as
a color, whiteness as difference -- this is what's new, and newly
problematic, in contemporary US politics.  The reasons for this
have already emerged in my discussion of the spectrum of racial
projects and the particular representations these projects assign
to whiteness.  Most centrally, the problem of the meaning of
whiteness appears as a direct consequence of the movement
challenge posed in the 1960s to white supremacy.  The battles of
that period have not been resolved; they have not been won or
lost; however battered and bruised, the demand for substantive
racial equality and general social justice still lives.  And
while it lives, the strength of white supremacy is in doubt.

The racial projects of the right are clear efforts to resist the
challenge to white supremacy posed by the movements of the 1960s
and their contemporary inheritors.  Each of these projects has a
particular relationship to the white supremacist legacy, ranging
from the far right's efforts to justify and solidify white
entitlements, through the new right's attempts to utilize the
white supremacist tradition for more immediate and expedient
political ends, to the neoconservative project's quixotic quest
to surgically separate the liberal democratic tradition from the
racism that traditionally underwrote it.  The biologistic racism
of the far right, the expedient and subtextual racism of the new
right, and the bad-faith anti-racism of the neoconservatives have
many differences from each other, but they have at least one
thing in common.  They all seek to maintain the long-standing
association between whiteness and US political traditions,
between whiteness and US nationalism, between whiteness and
universalism.  They all seek in different ways to preserve white
identity from the particularity, the difference, which the 1960s
movement challenge assigned to it.

The racial projects of the left are the movements' successors (as
is neoconservatism, in a somewhat perverse sense).  Both the
neoliberal racial project and the abolitionist project seek to
fulfill the movement's thwarted dreams of a genuinely (i.e.,
substantively) egalitarian society, one in which significant
redistribution of wealth and power has taken place, and race no
longer serves as the most significant marker between winners and
losers, haves and have nots, powerful and powerless.  Although
they diverge significantly  -- since the neoliberals seek to
accomplish their ends through a conscious diminution of the
significance of race, and the abolitionists hope to achieve
similar ends through a conscious reemphasizing of the importance
of race -- they also have one very important thing in common. 
They both seek to rupture the barrier between whites and
racially-defined minorities, the obstacle which prevents joint
political action.  They both seek to associate whites and
nonwhites, to reinterpret the meaning of whiteness in such a way
that it no longer has the power to impede class alliances.

Although the differences and indeed the hostility -- between the
neoliberal and abolitionist projects, between the reform-oriented
and radical conceptions of whiteness -- are quite severe, we
consider it vital that adherents of each project recognize that
they hold part of the key to challenging white supremacy in the
contemporary US, and that their counterpart project holds the
other part of the key.  Neoliberals rightfully argue that a
pragmatic approach to transracial politics is vital if the
momentum of racial reaction is to be halted or reversed. 
Abolitionists properly emphasize challenging the ongoing
commitment to white supremacy on the part of many whites.  

Both of these positions need to draw on each other, not only in
strategic terms, but in theoretical ones as well.  The
recognition that racial identities -- all racial identities,
including whiteness -- have become implacably dualistic, could be
far more liberating on the left than it has thus far been.  For
neoliberals, it could permit and indeed justify an acceptance of
race-consciousness and even nationalism among racially-defined
minorities as a necessary but partial response to
disenfranchisement, disempowerment, and superexploitation.  There
is no inherent reason why such a political position could not
coexist with a strategic awareness of the need for strong,
class-conscious, transracial coalitions.  We have seen many such
examples in the past: in the anti-slavery movement, the communist
movement of the 1930s (Kelley 1994), and in the 1988 presidential
bid of Jesse Jackson, to name but a few.  This is not to say that
all would be peace and harmony if such alliances could come more
permanently into being.  But there is no excuse for not
attempting to find the pragmatic "common ground" necessary to
create them.

Abolitionists could also benefit from a recognition that on a
pragmatic basis, whites can ally with racially-defined minorities
without renouncing their whiteness.  If they truly agree that
race is a socially constructed concept, as they claim,
abolitionists should also be able to recognize that racial
identities are not either-or matters, not closed concepts that
must be upheld in a reactionary fashion or disavowed in a
comprehensive act of renunciation.  To use a postmodern language
I dislike: racial identities are deeply "hybridized"; they are
not "sutured," but remain open to rearticulation.  "To be white
in America is to be very black.  If you don't know how black you
are, you don't know how American you are" (Thompson 1995, 429).
NOTES
1. The obvious reference in these remarks is to Myrdal's
framework (Myrdal 1944).  Without endorsing his entire
perspective, which we think proceeds in a somewhat idealistic
fashion, it is possible to affirm the vitality of Myrdal's
central premise: that democratic principles remain incompatible
with racial subordination.
2. A thoughtful discussion of Duke may be found in Langer 1990,
94-98.  Already in the 1970s Duke had begun the renovation of his
Klan ideology:
We see [the Ku Klux Klan] as a social movement in the traditional sense. The same way that the Sons of Liberty were. The same way the Communist Party was.... In other words, a movement for social change and not just a fraternity for people to get together and have fun or salute the past (quoted in Chalmers 1981, 10)
3. Leaflet distributed by the White Aryan Resistance -- aka WAR;
Concord, CA.
4. Here the problem would be the 1965 Immigration Reform Act,
which eliminated the racial quotas that had existed since the
1920s.
5. Even in the later Affirmative Discrimination, Glazer affirms
as one of the three formative principles of "the American ethnic
pattern" the idea that "...no group...would be required to give
up its group character and distinctiveness as the price of full
entry into the American society and polity" (p. 5).  Yet it is
questionable how much this pluralism can be sustained without a
recognition of racial difference, since race is at a minimum an
important dimension of political mobilization.
6. Without entering too far into the question of what
constitutes "objective" racial inequality it must be recognized
that on such issues as housing (Massey and Denton), employment
discrimination (Kirschenman and Neckerman), criminal justice
(Butterfield 1995), welfare (Quadagno), or unemployment, the
evidence is rather unambiguous.  If anything the data minimize
inequality.  Take unemployment: here official statistics neglect
the informal economy, which is a primary source of employment and
locus of discrimination against racial minorities, particularly
undocumented workers.  Unemployment data measure only "active"
job seekers, not those who have been without (formal) jobs for a
long time or those who have become discouraged in their job
search.  These constructions of the data on unemployment have a
political subtext: the reduction of the numerator on the monthly
BLS report obviously improves the image of the party in power
(Gordon 1987).  There are also ample grounds on which to question
the racial logic of unemployment figures, which rely on census
categories (Omi and Winant 1994, 3-4, 82).
7. Professor Troy Duster has raised important questions about
our argument that biologistic racism has been discredited, or at
least relegated to a secondary status in contemporary debates
about race.  In his Backdoor to Eugenics (Duster 199 ) he
suggests that biologism is as susceptible to rearticulation as
any other ideological dimension of racism.  Additional evidence
for this argument is provided by the appearance of The Bell Curve
(Herrnstein and Murray 1994).  Our view is that, while scientific
grounds for racism are no more dead than religious ones, the
biologistic argument cannot regain the cachet it possessed in the
19th and early 20th centuries; the political dimensions of race
will persevere as its predominant determinants (Omi and Winant
1994, Omi and Winant 1993).
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