Racial Identity and Policy Making: Redefining Whiteness

By Asumah, Seth N. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Racial Identity and Policy Making: Redefining Whiteness


Asumah, Seth N., The Western Journal of Black Studies


Introduction

Racial identity presented itself as a matter of trammels and impediments, as "tightening bonds about my feet." As I looked out into my racial world, the whole thing verged on tragedy. My "way was cloudy" and the approach to its high goals by no means straight and clear. I saw the race problem was not as I conceived, a matter of clear, fair competition, for which I was ready and eager. It was rather a matter of segregation, of hindrance and inhibition.

W.E.B. DuBois (1914).

In the American polity, race has an agency in almost every policy making process. Race matters in a heterogeneous, patriarchal society such as the United States of America. Race has been used as an instrument for acquiring different forms of results, whether positive or negative. Race will continue to secure a permanent domain in both our individual and institutional patterns of interaction. Consequently, denial of racial identities and race as an irrepressible agency in the policy making process could only lead to grave public policy paralysis or policy myopia, with implications not only for subordinate races, but also for the superordinate ones.

The discourse over race and racial identities, implicitly or explicitly, runs through every public policy agenda, whether it is on the national or local levels. Racism in America did not end with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown verses the Board of Education of Topeka (1954). And fifty years after Brown, a reexamination of the United States' national ethos today, would indicate that Americans have made progress in some aspects of race relations, but metaracism, a White-dominated policy machinery that supports and sustains White privilege at the expense of people of color, still prevails. Racism and White supremacy did it end with Civil Rights legislations in 1964 either. Racism is definitely ubiquitous and has permeated the fabric of the American polity, although many people feel uncomfortable talking about it. The brutal murder of a black man in Jasper, Texas in June 1998, in which the perpetrators of the crime tied and dragged the victim on the ground with their truck until his body was dismembered, could not be termed an aberration. Nor are the numerous cases of racial profiling of Blacks, Latinos and Arab Americans by mostly White police officers and immigration officers. Nonetheless, in the Jasper case, the citizens of that town and many people across the United States, Blacks and whites alike, voiced their protestation against that act of brutality.

Yet, it is not the "Jasper-styled" racism that destroys America the most, it is metaracism, the form of racism that is very prevalent in the marketplace, socioeconomic, and political institutions of power (Asumah and Anumonwo, 2002). Iris Young (1990) asserts, "almost all traces of a commitment to race superiority have been removed, and only the grinding processes of a white--dominated economy and technology account for the continued misery of many people of color" (p. 59). What is even more devastating is an attitude of complacent optimism by some Americans that we have reached racial equality and racism is not an issue in the 21st Century.

New York Times Columnist, Anthony Lewis (1998), for instances, inculpated Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom of Harvard University and the Manhattan Institute in New York respectively of believing that "America's race problem has been substantially solved" (p. 14). Though the Thernstroms (1997) claimed that was not their position, they still write, "that the black condition, white attitudes and race relations have all improved dramatically" (p. 10). Yes, there has been progress, but the intensity and scope of racism in the United States, compared with other heterogeneous, multiracial nation states merit an ongoing dialogue on race. Ethnicity and racial heterogeneity in the United States place an irrepressible demand on policy making and the body politic, which, in turn, makes racial identity a centripetal force in most political activities. …

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