Academic journal article Social Justice

From Third World Liberation to Multiple Oppression Politics: A Contemporary Approach to Interethnic Coalitions

Academic journal article Social Justice

From Third World Liberation to Multiple Oppression Politics: A Contemporary Approach to Interethnic Coalitions

Article excerpt


Global industrialization and demographic and economic restructuring in the U.S. compel us to challenge existing paradigms and search for new visions to promote interethnic coalitions. During the past two decades, a large influx of immigrants of color has dramatically changed the country's composition. Income polarization and status differences within and across various racial communities have created lines of division that further complicate race relations. Notwithstanding this fragmentation, the diverse composition of the present-day metropolis underlines the necessity of mobilizing the various ethnic groups around urgent projects and issues that stem from common life chances. Furthermore, structures of inequality and ideological differences inevitably lead to conflict and destruction as demonstrated by the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992. With these and other considerations in mind, scholars must develop new strategies for bringing together such diverse constituencies.

Recent changes in the racial composition of American society have been accompanied by increased conflict among various racial and ethnic groups, including Blacks, Asians, and Latinos (Chang, 1990; Min, 1996; Oliver and Johnson, 1984; Torres, 1995). Building coalitions of color in contemporary society is much more formidable than it was in the 1960s as a result of contextual shifts and new complexities in the internal organizational structure and, hence, in the objective interests of different racial groups. Moreover, in reaction to these changes, as well as simple disillusionment, various segments in minority communities have, in a self-defeating manner, essentialized the source of their marginalization and have begun to consider racial identity as the ends rather than the means to empowerment. Despite these changes, theoretical and historical divisions of race continue to be based on a traditional Black-white paradigm of race relations. To build effective multiracial alliances, we need to pay attention to differences and conditions within and among racial groups. We must also account for the experiences and situations of Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans without losing sight of the enduring social inequalities faced by African Americans.

The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how demographic, economic, and political transitions in American society have changed the nature of race relations since the social upheavals of the 1960s and to suggest the need for rethinking multiracial organizing. We discuss the following topics:

1. The changing global and economic conditions that have altered the Third World politics of the 1960s;

2. The changing political climate that gave rise to the neoconservative ideology of the 1980s;

3. The retreat to racial identity politics in the 1980s and 1990s; and

4. A general shift from white/Black to inter-minority conflict.

We explore multiple oppression politics as a strategy to overcome racial and ethnic divisions and to engender the development of coalition spaces. Third World consciousness in the latter part of the 20th century cannot exist without considering the basic premises of multiple identity politics.

The Theoretical Constructs of Third World Consciousness

To understand the conditions under which coalitions succeed and fail, it is necessary to identify both the forces that shape one's internalized worldview and the limitations and opportunities rendered by external structures. Theories of group formation differentiate between the subjective consciousness and the objective interests of individuals and groups within a coalition. Objective interest is defined as an individual's predisposition toward a particular need, object, or goal such that "his or her well-being is diminished, sustained, or enhanced by it," whether or not the individual is aware of it (Davis, 1991). Subjective identity begins to emerge when the individual becomes cognitively aware of his or her marginalized or advantaged position in larger hegemonic systems. …

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