Anti-racist public intellectual (and all-around fascinating guy) Tim Wise is beginning research for a new book scheduled for release in the summer of 2010. He plans to analyze colorblindness and the rhetoric of "post-racial" America on three levels: public policy, private practice, and personal aspirations. While much has been written on the Conservative embrace of colorblind rhetoric, Wise is specifically gunning for mainstream liberals that have avoided discussions of explicit racism in their analyses of racial inequality. He will posit an argument that "universal" policies—such as college affordability or job training programs that target all races—do little to offset racial inequalities. Instead, Wise will argue that a universalistic framework merely perpetuates inequality by failing to address the underlying racism embedded in American institutions.
Here's a description, lifted from his Facebook page:
In April 2009, in his first full press conference, President Barack Obama was asked what, if anything, he planned to do to address the particular hardships being faced by African Americans as a result of widespread economic downturn. In response, the President answered that his economic recovery efforts—such as expanded unemployment insurance and health care coverage, as well as stimulus dollars flowing to job creation and retention—would disproportionately assist people of color, as they are to be found in larger numbers and percentages among the poor and struggling. [...]As usual, Tim Wise provides some thought provoking and provocative arguments. I actually discussed the highlighted portion of this passage with Tim yesterday over email. In Wilson's new book, More Than Just Race, he does in fact argue for racially-targeted public policy-i.e. policy aimed at a specific racial group, such as better healthcare options in minority communities. Moreover, he has never "steered clear" of race; in fact, he has always taken racial inequality head on. Where Tim and Wilson differ is in their respective diagnoses of contemporary inequality: Wilson argues that impersonal changes in the economy and political institutions has further marginalized vulnerable minority populations, whereas Tim points to latent racism inherent in many public policies. Wilson also points to the ecological components of racial inequality (such as spatially concentrated poverty), whereas Wise focuses more on overarching white supremacy and racist ideology. The main thrust of the book, then, is to push folks like Wilson (and me) further, forcing us all to take a close look at the racist underpinnings of racial inequality. In his own words, Tim plans "to go off on mainstream liberals this time out." This should be interesting.
While some were shocked at the President’s apparent dodging of the race-specific injury experienced by people of color in general and African Americans in particular, others saw his comments as careful political posturing, reminiscent of his campaign, during which he had deftly avoided racism as a persistent national issue, and sought to build cross-racial unity by “transcending race,” personally and politically. Yet in truth, the President’s position is neither a new, nor merely political calculation. Instead, it is part of a longstanding tradition within mainstream American liberalism; a tradition that has been given new voice and strength by this President precisely because he is a man of color; and a tradition that, unless critiqued forcefully, may only worsen racial disparities and race relations in the United States.
For over thirty years (and really going back even further, to the New Deal) certain voices on the liberal-left have advocated a retreat from color-conscious public policies (such as affirmative action), and even from open discussion of racism as a key factor in the perpetuation of racial inequity in the United States. Rather, they have argued that the barriers faced by black and brown Americans are largely divorced from racism, and that these stem, instead, from economic factors such as deindustrialization, capital flight from the cities, spiraling health care costs and inadequate funding for education, jobs programs and other programs of social uplift. From this starting point, they contend that “universal” programs intended to uplift the poor and working class, are the best means for narrowing the racial inequalities with which the nation is still plagued.
Beginning with William Julius Wilson in the late 1970s, and continuing to the present, otherwise liberal commentators, scholars, and politicians have sought to steer clear of race—as an explanation for deep inequalities in the nation, and as a category to which we must attend in order to eliminate those inequalities—in the hopes that the public (read, the white public) would be more inclined to support progressive policy if it were first divorced from an anti-racist rationale.
Yet in truth, universalism, or what could be called the post-racial public policy consensus, has not markedly impacted public support for liberal efforts. In large measure this is because such efforts have been so thoroughly racialized already—and thus linked in the white imagination with race-targeted uplift for the black and brown—that decoupling them now without a direct challenge to the racist thinking behind the linkage is nearly impossible. Likewise, historically, universal programs of economic uplift have failed to improve the station of persons of color dramatically, or when they have, they have only done so at a slower pace than for whites in the lower economic strata: thus, such efforts have tended to widen racial inequity, even as they may provide some improvement in the absolute status of blacks, Latinos and others of color.
Today, attempts to improve health care availability, public education, housing and job opportunities for all—though clearly warranted and necessary—cannot possibly lessen the racial divide as some claim, for reasons this volume explores. First, the injuries suffered by persons of color in these various realms are not themselves race-neutral. Rather, they are directly related to racism, both in the past and present. To address race-specific injury without addressing the racial motivator or cause for the injury is to misdiagnose the disease, so to speak, and fail in our efforts to cure it. In this volume, I will lay out the evidence of race-specific injury, and explain why it requires a race-targeted response. [...]
It wouldn't be fair for me to comment on this synopsis, but I certainly have quite a few thoughts on these issues. Regardless of any quibbles I may have with his ultimate analysis, Tim provides a vital voice in our continued battle against racial inequality. Even when we differ, I firmly believe that these are healthy conversations to have.