Antiracism as a Neoliberal Alternative to the Left

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* Article: Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left. By Adolph Reed Jr. Dialectical Anthropology volume 42, pages105–1152, 2018



Adolph Reed:

"Antiracist activism and scholarship proceed from the view that statistical disparities in the distribution by race of goods and bads in the society in which blacks appear worse off categorically (e.g., less wealth, higher rates of unemployment, greater incidence of hypertensive and cardiovascular disease) amount to evidence that “race” remains fundamentally determinative of black Americans’ lives. As Merlin Chowkwanyun and I argue, however, disparity is an outcome, not an explanation, and deducing cause simplistically from outcome (e.g., treating racially disparate outcomes as ipso facto evidence of racially invidious causation) seems sufficient only if one has already stacked the interpretive deck in favor of a particular causal account (Reed and Chowkwanyun 2012, 167–168). We also discuss a garbage in, garbage out effect in studies that rely on large-scale aggregate data analysis; gross categories like race may mask significant micro-level dynamics that could present more complex and nuanced understandings of causality. Put another way, if you go out looking for racial effects in data sets that are organized by race as gross categories, you will be likely to find them, but that will not necessarily lead to sound interpretations of the factors that actually produce the inequalities. As likely as not that purblind approach can lead to missing “the extent to which particular inequalities that appear statistically as ‘racial’ disparities are in fact embedded in multiple social relations” (Reed and Chowkwanyun 2012, 150–151, 158–159). This issue is not a concern for antiracist politics because its fundamental goal is propagation of the view that inequalities or injustices suffered by black Americans should be understood as resulting from generic white racism. Its objective, that is, is rhetorical and ideological, not political and programmatic.

Antiracist discourse posits White Supremacy/racism as a totalizing phenomenon, a force impervious to changing institutional circumstances—a primordial foundation of being, just as the White League contended in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The thrust of the Take ‘Em Down NOLA argument, for example, is that: (1) the monuments were erected to celebrate white supremacist power, which was the foundation of slavery, lynching and brutalization of black New Orleanians, disfranchisement, imposition of Jim Crow, and denial of blacks’ basic civil rights. (2) The fact that they remain on display in the present underscores the continuity of White Supremacy’s power. (3) That continuity indicates that, as in the past, contemporary racial inequalities most meaningfully result from white supremacy, which therefore must be the primary target of struggles for social and racial justice.

But adducing a causal dynamic that underlay a political conjuncture in the past to support a claim about causality in the present presumes that the same dynamics operated in the past and present. That is, the race-reductionist formulation advanced to validate the claim of white supremacy’s overarching power presumes what it needs to demonstrate. Sociologist Mara Loveman follows Rogers Brubaker, Pierre Bourdieu, and others in arguing that this interpretive problem and the confusions that generate it can be addressed by “abandoning ‘race’ as a category of analysis to gain analytical leverage to study ‘race’ as a category of practice” (Loveman 1999, 895–896; Brubaker and Cooper 2000; Bourdieu 1991). She embraces historian Barbara J. Fields’s assessment that “attempts to explain ‘racial phenomena’ in terms of ‘race’ are no more than definitional statements” and argues that “Rejection of ‘race’ as an analytical concept facilitates analysis of the historical construction of ‘race’ as a practical category without reification, and thus provides a degree of analytical leverage that tends to be foreclosed when race is used analytically”" (