Friday, August 21, 2009

A Conversation about Race

Black Studies, I was mentioning to our crew yesterday, is a serious possibility in the ongoing struggle to have a truly productive conversation about race in America.

Orlando Patterson's recent article Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama makes a useful contribution to such conversations by highlighting some key factors concerning the "ethno-racial landscape" in the U.S. Patterson raises several important points, too many to discuss at the moment here; however, his observations about assimilation are especially pertinent.
the present wave of immigrants and their children are rapidly assimilating into an ever-vibrant American mainstream culture, and at a pace greater than the Europeans who came during the previous large wave. The assumption that the current wave should find adjustment harder because they come from different “races” rests on a hopeless misconception. At the time of their arrival, Jews, Italians and other Eastern and Southern Europeans — and even the Catholic Irish — were viewed by native whites as belonging to very different (and inferior) races. In fact, they did not assimilate because they were white; they became “white” because they assimilated.
Patterson notes that research shows "that for nonblacks, assimilation is alive and well in America" and that assimilation is "not passive integration into a static, Anglo-Protestant mainstream (which was always a sociological fiction anyway), but an endlessly dynamic two-way cultural process."

According to Patterson, "The great exception to this process of social incorporation is black Americans," mainly because of black poverty and African American's "chronic hypersegregation." That hypersegregation is the result of "persisting covert racism" and "black racial preferences abetted by identity politics."

Patterson explains that "The United States has worked harder and gone farther than any other advanced majority-white nation in confronting and righting the wrongs of its racist past," and he closes with what he views as "the crucial questions that the country now faces:"
How can white citizens, who publicly embrace black citizens as athletic heroes, matinee idols, pop-music kings, talk-show queens, senators, governors and now president, continue to shun them in their neighborhoods, schools and private lives? In their insistent celebration of racial identity, how complicit are black Americans in their own social isolation? And will Barack Obama, who delicately straddles both worlds of immigrant success and black identity, be able to broaden the inclusion of African-Americans? We watch and wait.

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