Social Movements, the Rise of Colorblind Conservativism, and What Comes Naturally

By Garcia, Matt | Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Movements, the Rise of Colorblind Conservativism, and What Comes Naturally


Garcia, Matt, Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies


EUGENE, OREGON: APRIL 2009

Last spring I spoke at a University of Oregon symposium commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Michael Omi and Howard Winant's Racial Formation in the United States. (1) Emerging from the presentations was equal admiration for another book, Peggy Pascoe's What Comes Naturally. In the presentation "Challenges to the Social Constructionist View of Race in the Post-Genomic Era," for example, sociologist Catherine Lee used Pascoe's work to explain how the social constructionist view of race had evolved and how the emergence of interracial relations and multiracial children had stoked research on the origins of race among biologists. Others talked about the importance of Pascoe's just-released book, and Pascoe's presence at most of the sessions and receptions influenced the discussions that shaped the weekend. It might be easy to attribute this appreciation of Pascoe to the fact that we were on a campus that has long benefited from her wisdom as Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History and professor of ethnic studies, though I think the praise from reviewers and the many awards that What Comes Naturally has won are a testament to the influence she has had beyond Eugene and will continue to have for years to come. (2)

RECONSTITUTING (AND EMPLOYING) COLORBLINDNESS

What Comes Naturally makes so many contributions to the study of race and American law that we as contributors to this Frontiers discussion can only rely on each other to convey a fraction of its importance. In my contribution I would like to share how Pascoe's study of interracial marriage--in her book and in her award-winning Journal of American History article of 1996--has influenced my own work as a teacher and a writer, improving my grasp of how the "resolution" of the miscegenation problem in the landmark 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia has had dramatic consequences in the realm of social movements. (3)

Pascoe's discussion of how the decision in the Loving case contributed to the emergence of colorblindness as an ideology breaks this history out of the singular celebratory interpretation many of my students and media sources want to apply to the case. From my experience teaching a course on miscegenation and interracial relations for more than a decade now, I have noticed an increase in the percentage of students coming from interracial marriages and an even greater number of students who want to see the act of interracial love as an extension of the Civil Rights agenda of the 1960s. At Brown University, for example, the most active "identity-based" student organization on campus is the Brown Organization of Multi-Racial and Bi-Racial Students, or "BOMBS." BOMBS hosts a series of events throughout the year, including the "Interracial Dating Symposium" during "Multiracial Week" which I have been invited to several times and which I avoid like the swine flu. I stay away not only because I do not see myself as a couples' counselor, and because I don't relish discussing my private life with students, but because, invariably, many students cast their relationships or their own identities as bi- or multiracial as the salvation of the nation. Their perspectives remind me of my Mexican father's speeches to me as a teenager after one of my numerous conflicts with my white family members over what I perceived as their "off-color" comments. My father loved to remind me that my dual heritage gave me special insight into both worlds, and he used to tell me, "Don't you know, with your perspective, you could be president of the United Slates!" When one of my students' fathers, working for the Baltimore Sun, wrote an article about my class on interracial relations, Robin Young, host of the NPR program Here & Now, invited me on her program to talk about the attitudes and opinions of my students. In our conversation Young repeatedly reached for the interpretation of Barack Obama's ascendancy (then as candidate Obama) as evidence that we had reached a "postracial" moment. …

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