Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

By David R. Roediger | Go to book overview

4
White Workers, New Democrats,
and Affirmative Action

Written originally in 1994, as President William Jefferson Clinton abstained from defending affirmative action in the campaign over Proposition 209 in California, this chapter will strike many readers as counterintuitive, if not flatly wrong. During his second term, President Clinton so attracted loyal African American support, most critically in the crisis surrounding his impeachment, that an account of his failures on a central question of racial justice seems carping. If Clinton has claimed credit for “ending welfare as we knew it, ” his role in the constriction of affirmative action has been far less clear. Indeed, his advocacy of a “Mend it, don't end it” policy with regard to affirmative action transformed his image into that of a relative defender of the practice in the mid-1990s. The chapter on the politics of race in Christopher Hitchens's searing No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, though the book's best, is therefore also its least resonating. Similarly, Adolph Reed, Jr.'s excellent collection Without Justice for All: The New Liberalism and Our Retreat from Racial Equality, which powerfully demonstrates the timidity of Clinton's policies on race and reform and shows that the terrain the president defended with regard to affirmative action was precisely ground he had ceded in his 1992 campaign and his first term, struggles to find an audience.1All of this invites me to revise both the title and the argument of this chapter radically. However, although I have added new material, I have not undertaken such wholesale revision. Rather, I hope to make a modest contribution to efforts to look at the neoliberal views of race and of class historically.

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