Producing Discourses of Certainty with Official Antiracisms
Represent and Destroy presents a new theory of U.S. racial formation and of world-embracing racial systems after World War II, as well as a new historical-materialist understanding of U.S. literary studies as a critical site of geopolitical struggle around the meaning and significance of race. It argues that as white supremacy gradually became residual after World War II, it was replaced by a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity whose driving force has been a series of successive official or state-recognized U.S. antiracisms: racial liberalism (1940s to 1960s), liberal multiculturalism (1980s to 1990s), and neoliberal multiculturalism (2000s). These antiracisms have functioned as unifying discourses for U.S. state, society, and global ascendancy and as material forces for postwar global capitalist expansion. This book focuses on the material politics of antiracist knowledges, particularly on how official antiracisms have established control over the discourses of rationality regarding the practices that impact the constitution of successive state-capital formations, from state-oriented Cold War expansionism to post-Keynesian market-oriented transnational capitalism to contemporary neoliberalism. Represent and Destroy identifies the incorporation of antiracism into postwar U.S. governmentality as decisive. It has limited sanctioned antiracist discourses to those that take for granted the benevolence of U.S. global ascendancy and integrate the knowledge architecture of state-capital formations (e.g., property rights, free markets, and financial deregulation) into what racial equality may signify, and what may signify as racial equality. In contrast to antiracist struggles led by social movements, official U.S. antiracisms since World War II have disconnected racism from material conditions, even as they have detrimentally limited the horizon for overcoming racism to U.S. global capitalism.
Represent and Destroy further identifies official or state-recognized antiracisms as liberal modes of instituting normative and rationalizing power. It attributes the efficacy of antiracisms in this regard to the trick of racialization, a process that constitutes differential relations of human value and valuelessness according to specific material circumstances and geopolitical conditions while appearing to be (and being) a rationally inevitable normative system that merely sorts human beings into categories of difference. In other words, racialization displaces its differential value making into world-ordering systems of difference, concealing its performative work with its constantive work. As official antiracisms validate some orders of difference and make others illegible, they exert their strongest influence in a viral fashion by shaping the content of modern knowledge systems (e.g., law, politics, and economy) and delimiting permissible expressions of personhood. Racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism have innovated racial procedures beyond color lines, often incorporating antiracist terms of value, so that new terms of racialized privilege emerge (liberal, multicultural, global citizen), along with new terms of racialized stigma (unpatriotic, monocultural, illegal). Flexible privilege/stigma divides precipitate out of the conditions for which they provide sense making; symptomatic and descriptive, racialization naturalizes the privileges of those who benefit from present socioeconomic arrangements and makes the dispossessions of those cut off from wealth and institutional power appear fair.
Throughout, Represent and Destroy stresses the importance of literary studies for producing, transmitting, and implanting race-liberal orders. This importance follows from the postwar institutionalization of literature as the most efficacious tool for Americans to use to get to know difference—to describe, teach, learn about, and situate themselves with respect to racial difference and to know the truth about the difference that racial difference makes (or does not make). Represent and Destroy examines the importance of specific literary studies discourses for the active historical-material production of successive official antiracisms. It examines how race novels were key for disseminating racial liberalism throughout Cold War national culture and for consolidating a powerful historical bloc of race relation philanthropies, social scientists, culture and publishing industries, and federal government agencies. It investigates literary multiculturalism as a powerful cultural technology for generating liberal multiculturalism, with U.S. universities serving as a prominent institutional base for managing minoritized difference in post-Keynesian times. Finally, it considers how discourses of global literature function within a network of globalized information industries (including universities) to circulate information bits that accord with neoliberal policy and agendas by passing them off as literary knowledge. In sum, Represent and Destroy offers an antiracist critique of U.S.-led global capitalism and an anticapitalist critique of dominant forms of U.S. racism, attentive to the material politics of antiracist knowledges and, especially, to the prominent role of literary studies in disseminating racial discourse. Conversely, it unearths a strong and vital race-radical tradition of materialist antiracisms—a consistent opposition to official antiracisms—that has used literary texts and other cultural forms to make visible the violences of race-liberal orders and to impel desire for something better.
This critical introduction has three parts. The first provides the historical premise and theoretical foundations for my investigation of the material politics of antiracist knowledges in liberal-capitalist modernity. It includes a discussion of what Howard Winant has called the racial break as setting the conditions for a sea change in world racial orders and for the eventual consolidation of official U.S. antiracisms. It then examines features of liberal race hegemony in general: how official antiracisms have operated as modes of normative and rationalizing power, how they have extended racialization procedures beyond color lines, and how and why literary studies has become a primary cultural technology for producing official antiracisms. The second part provides a genealogy of race-liberal orders. For each phase—racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism—the genealogy considers the following: its conditions of emergence, its historical-material production, its regulative narratives for knowing race matters, its prominent racializing terms and criteria, its articulation of race and capitalism, and the forms of literary studies that have disseminated it. Though the book’s chapters investigate each phase in greater detail, the genealogy allows for a comprehensive look at how knowledges about racial difference have been made to work for postwar U.S. ascendancy and U.S.-led capitalist globalization. It also draws attention to the crises within, transitions between, and continuities among official antiracist formations. The third and final part of the introduction discusses a strongly concatenated system of resistances to official antiracisms—a race-radical tradition of materialist antiracisms—whose roots are readily found in literary texts themselves (in contrast to literary studies discourses).
The Material Politics of Antiracist Knowledges
In his recent scholarship Howard Winant, the preeminent sociologist of race in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, offers a historical account and theory of the post–World War II racial break. I take Winant’s historical description of the racial break as a key premise of my study. Yet in theorizing racial formation after the racial break, I part ways with Winant and consider the break to be more productive of an epochal shift—a sea change in racial orders—than Winant allows. Although I agree with Winant that the racial projects of white supremacist modernity have continued after the racial break, I argue that the break itself instantiated a new worldwide racial project that complexly supplemented and displaced its predecessor: a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity articulated under conditions of U.S. global ascendancy. I examine how it was precisely the entrance of nonredistributive antiracism into the administrative and rational apparatuses of the U.S. state and into the social and political relations of global capitalism that decisively produced racial hegemony after the break (and signaled white supremacy’s partial deactivation). Furthermore, I recognize the racial break as a fundamental transition because it corresponded to a shift in the nature of power that Roderick Ferguson and others describe as an intensification of normative power (or the power of the normative), whereby legitimate violence has been increasingly exercised through norms that impose legibility and illegibility and attach punishments to transgressions of norms. Indeed, I propose that official antiracisms—the freedoms they have guaranteed, the state capacities they have invented, the subjects they have recognized, and even the rights they have secured—have enabled the normalizing violences of political and economic modernity to advance and expand.
Winant describes the post–World War II racial break as “a global accumulation of sociopolitical forces—demographic, experiential, institutional, and ideological—that combined to discredit and finally undo the old world racial system.”1 Its ruptural force derived from the unprecedented “centrality of race in all the major social upheavals” of the period, which began with World War II, extended to the decolonization struggles and conflicts of the early Cold War, and engulfed metropoles, colonies, and ex-colonies alike.2 The events of World War II politicized the historical violences of white supremacy and allowed antiracist activists to link the horror the world expressed at the Nazi genocide of European Jews to racisms existing throughout the world, demonstrating affinities between European fascism, racial segregation, and colonial rule. After the war anticolonial and antiracist movements were able to draw upon the experiences of millions of war veterans who were returning to the Jim Crow U.S. South and colonial homelands with a broader perspective of racial oppression as a global issue. Massive migrations from the world’s rural South to its metropolitan North, ignited by postwar labor demands, also laid the demographic foundations for racially based social movements seeking inclusion in the metropoles and independence in the colonies. Moreover, the ideological Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union made race a prominent issue. At stake in the Soviet Union’s propaganda highlighting racial violence in the United States was whether capitalist relations could be separated from white supremacy and whether political systems in the West could accommodate postcolonial nations and people of color as equal states and citizens.
Under such conditions, as Winant describes, massive mobilizations of racially based social movements were able to draw on transnational resources, ideas, and political leverage. Overlapping, interconnected, and forceful, the challenges that antiracist and anticolonial movements launched against the institutions and ideologies of the old world racial order produced the racial break, a rupture profoundly resituating, both symbolically and politically. They exposed white supremacy to be a hollow ideology of force used to dominate nonwhites and appropriate global resources. And they won expansions of democracy beyond racial exclusions, including decolonization and political independence, new civil rights laws, desegregation, enfranchisement, and the adoption of state policies to recognize and value subjugated cultures. Yet despite the undoing of stark racial dictatorship, the racial break, according to Winant, was incomplete: “[F]or all their achievements, insurgent movements of the break period were unable to realize a full-scale repudiation of the past.” Rather, “the product of all this struggle and conflict was ‘merely’ reform—incorporative, hegemonic reform.”3
For Winant the partial and incomplete racial break has passed into a period of racial interregnum. His theory of racial formation after World War II is one of racial dualism where “two openly contradictory world-historical racial projects co-exist”: white supremacy (adapted for postcolonial conditions and the end of legal inequality) and “partially institutionalized legal and social commitments to racial justice, universalism, pluralism, and democracy.”4 His important theory of racial hegemony developed out of this idea of racial dualism. Though his position cannot be adequately summarized here, for Winant the hegemonic racial common sense that has developed is an incorporation of some elements of recurring mobilizations for robust racial democracy and the neutralization of others. His understanding of the contemporary world racial order is one in which newly mobilized commitments to substantive racial justice continually confront new adaptations of essentially white supremacist social stratifications, initiating further hegemonic adjustment and negotiation.5
The genealogy of U.S. racial formation I offer proceeds from an alternative premise. Rather than an incomplete racial break leading to an extended period of racial dualism, I theorize the racial break as complete in the sense that its contradictions and tensions have given rise to a new worldwide racial project, a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity that revises, partners with, and exceeds the capacities of white supremacy without replacing or ending it. My account of racial hegemony in the United States is organized by the three successive phases I identify for it: racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism. These officially antiracist racial orders have faced (and sometimes failed to manage) a spectrum of challenges from more radical (e.g., noncapitalist, feminist, and indigenous) antiracisms and from resurgences of white supremacy. The introduction’s second section examines the historical-material production and the racial logics of each of these three phases.
First, though, let us look in greater detail at the advance of a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity over a white supremacist modernity. The contemporary analysis of modernity as a racial project comes out of a long and deep intellectual tradition that appeared aboveground in the 1940s in seminal texts such as Eric Williams’s Capitalism and Slavery and W. E. B. Du Bois’s The World and Africa and developed into a modern critical discourse in scholarship by C. L. R. James, Cedric Robinson, Charles Mills, David Theo Goldberg, Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Lisa Lowe, Étienne Balibar, and others. To summarize, the emergence of a global order through a world-embracing system of capitalism, nation-states, colonies, and imperial rule was able to constitute itself as a global social structure only to the extent that it was racialized. By representing and assigning meaning to human identities, white supremacy made it possible to locate all human individuals and collectives within an emerging world social order. White supremacy also allowed for an overarching and unequal system of capital accumulation by inscribing race on bodies as a marker of their relative value or valuelessness. As white supremacist codes and references entered into modernity’s cultural and epistemic systems—creating distinct repertoires of interpretation, representation, evaluation, and description—they racialized Western knowledges, making the constitution of modernity as much a knowledge-based racial project as it was an economically and politically based one.
Cedric Robinson’s theory of racial capitalism clarifies the economic dimension, explaining that because “the development, organization, and expansion of capitalist relations [have] pursued essentially racial directions [in modernity],” racialism is to be considered a “material force” and a “historical agency” of capitalism, with no outside between the two.6 Stuart Hall’s theory of a “valorized ideological domain” clarifies the political dimension by helping us to understand white supremacy (before the racial break) as the metapolitical discourse of modernity,7 a “unifying discourse … wired up very directly to … a particular structure of power” with “very strong ‘lines of tendential force’ articulating [race] to political, economic, and ideological structures.”8
Using Hall’s terms, the post–World War II racial break can be thought of as rupturing the “lines of tendential force” that articulated together and coconstituted white supremacy, colonial capitalism, imperial geopolitical rule, and the nation-state pattern. Yet the rupture did not—indeed could not—displace race as a valorized ideological domain. Rather, the antiracist and anticolonial movements of the break period politicized race, heightened its contradictions, and demanded resolution also in terms of race, namely the end of white supremacy and its global order. As white supremacy was called into question, racial inequality was finally recognized not only as a problem but as the problem, the crux of everything wrong and unequal in governance, economy, and politics.
The reorderings of the world that antiracist and anticolonial movements had envisioned, as they contested the white supremacist structuring of modernity, were multiple and diverse. Many foresaw decolonization as ending the dominance of white nations over colored ones (to paraphrase Du Bois). They hoped dismantling white supremacy would end capitalist exploitation, and they predicted that the demise of Eurocentrism would invigorate stagnated cultural systems and compromised patterns of peoplehood.
Yet the dominant reordering that came to pass was the inauguration of a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity under the management of U.S. global ascendancy. The result of the process was a new and old role for race as a unifying discourse. Limited and nonredistributive official antiracisms, wired up to particular structures of power, together articulated political, economic, and ideological structures. No longer was it the mesmerizing narratives of the white man’s burden but those of liberal antiracisms—of reform, of color blindness, of diversity in a postracial world—that explained (away) the inequalities of a still-racialized capitalism. The genealogy in the following section considers how successive regimes of official antiracism have organized and placed human beings within world-embracing systems of rule, accumulation, and rationality while naturalizing uneven distributions of power and resources as fair, temporary, or just. I consider the enormous productivity of successive liberal antiracisms as they have structured the production and the multiplication of the freedoms, identities, rights, institutions, and knowledges required by new versions of racial capitalism and suprastate complexes of effective governance.
The United States was in a good position to manage a transformation in the world racial system after World War II because its own internal dynamics mirrored those of the historical juncture, and both had become combustible.9 The United States was at once a recognized colonial power and the archetype of a postcolonial state, having undergone an anticolonial revolution against a European power. As Mary Dudziak and Penny Von Eschen document, the United States achieved hegemony after World War II by linking its national racial crisis to global convulsions against white supremacy. America’s ability to resolve its highly visible Negro problem—in other words, to secure the appearance of African American equality—was to legitimate the United States as a providential nation with the capacity to lead a new world postcolonial order. Meanwhile, Soviet claims during the ideological Cold War that white supremacy suffused Western-style political democracy and transnational capitalism put the future of both at stake. Responding to such pressures required the United States to develop a framework for race matters that portrayed race as a contradiction to modernity rather than one of its structuring conditions. It had to signify that racial domination (past and present) was not constitutive of liberal freedoms but in contradiction with them. Racial liberalism, the first official U.S. antiracism, achieved this through a framework that conceived of racism as prejudice and promised to release liberal freedoms from racial restrictions by extending equal opportunity, possessive individualism, and cultural citizenship to African Americans. Insofar as racial liberalism successfully managed internal racial dynamics for U.S. Cold War leadership, it became an organizing discourse of the U.S. state and society. Insofar as the United States became a hegemonic global power, racial liberalism came to structure its fields of global intervention.
From this account of the transition from white supremacist modernity to a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity, we see that liberal antiracism first entered U.S. governmentality during the early Cold War specifically as a geopolitical racial project that associated Americanism with the benefits of capitalism. This constitutive condition has had broad consequences for antiracism in the United States since World War II. I discuss these consequences in detail for racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism in the following section, but here it is useful to outline some general attributes of postwar race-liberal orders. Whereas placing the United States in the history of European colonialism had energized earlier antiracisms led by people of color, after the victory of racial liberalism official antiracisms in the United States have remained under the injunction to take U.S. ascendancy for granted and to stay blind to global capitalism as a racial-political matter. Liberal antiracisms have both disconnected race from material conditions and linked antiracism to the expansion of U.S.-led global capitalism. Whereas in the 1940s political economic critiques of racism made race appear as an index for the inequalities of capitalist modernity, after the racial break official antiracisms have not only have suppressed this reference but also lent antiracist codes to the pursuit of new forms of capitalist development. Furthermore, official antiracisms create conditions that have required the health and the security of the U.S. state to be one of the primary goals of antiracism. These constitutive tendencies have composed a field of racial politics in the U.S. that compels antiracist discourses to validate culturally powerful notions of the U.S. nation. Conversely, state-sanctioned antiracisms have repressed counternationalisms and deflected criticisms of U.S. global power.
The most important feature of U.S. racial formation after the racial break has been the productivity of antiracist knowledges for (and as) normative modes of power. Social theorist Max Weber posits that Western states began to operate their monopoly on legitimate violence through the proliferation of social norms in the early twentieth century, when mass citizenship became their operative ontology.10 From a critical race studies perspective, however, the shift away from white supremacy toward formal antiracism has enabled liberal modes of instituting power to expand and intensify as putatively antiracist social norms have saturated more domains of social life and interpellated racialized subjects previously disciplined primarily through overt applications of force. Tropes such as race reform, racial progress, racial integration, ending racism, bringing in excluded voices, and living in a postracial society have become the touchstones for racial projects that recalibrate state apparatuses, expand the reach of normative power, and implant norms during the performative constitution of human subjectivities. By controlling what counts as a race matter, an antiracist goal, or a truism about racial difference, official antiracisms have structured legitimate knowledges in the domains of law, public policy, economy, and culture. In a society in which normative power is pervasive, control over the means of rationality is as important as, if not more important than, control over other social forces. Thus, liberal antiracisms, which institutionally validate some forms of difference and make others illegible, have exerted their strongest influence in a viral fashion through the knowledge systems of liberal-capitalist modernity.
Why do these state antiracisms function so well as modes of normative and rationalizing power? The power of racialization lies in its constituting differential relations of value and valuelessness according to reigning orders while appearing to be (and being) a normative system that merely sorts human beings according to categories of difference. Racialization converts the effects of differential value-making processes into categories of difference that make it possible to order, analyze, describe, and evaluate what emerges out of force relations as the permissible content of other domains of U.S. modernity (e.g., law, politics, and economy). Critical race theorist Nikhil Singh describes a similar process of value making’s displacing itself into systems of difference when he defines racialization as “historic repertoires and cultural and signifying systems that stigmatize and depreciate one form of humanity for the purposes of another’s health, development, safety, profit or pleasure.”11
Racialization does not function, therefore, only at the level of ideology, attaching positive or negative meanings or narratives to preexisting forms of humanity. Rather, racial knowledges are materially produced discourses that both constitute and are determined by the historically specific material circumstances and geohistorical conditions for which they offer comprehension and sense making. They do not just arrange human beings along a pregiven scale of value. Instead, they are at once productive and symptomatic of the total value making (such as political value and economic value) that secures specific historical configurations of personhood, human organization, and relations to the natural world as possible, imaginable, and sustainable. Differently stated, racialization’s trick of displacing and disguising differential value making within world-ordering systems of difference reifies and ensures a baseline for social possibility and legitimate violence.
For white supremacist modernity (which does not cease to exist), racialization procedures constructed orders of difference around a color line that symbolically collapsed into phenotype other categories of privilege and stigma (rich and poor, advanced and backwards, moral and immoral). Such stark color-line racialization was especially productive for a world system organized by colonial capitalism, imperial rule, and Herrenvolk nation-states and that disciplined the people it devalued or exploited through physical force (warfare, imprisonment, starvation) and exclusion. In a formally antiracist, liberal-capitalist modernity, racialization procedures have become unevenly detached from color lines. To organize racialized privilege and stigma, they have independently and flexibly employed the criteria that white supremacy historically has collapsed with color, and they have innovated new criteria, often using nationalist and antiracist terms of value. Racialization beyond color lines coheres with the flexibility and needs of complexes of effective governance and economy in post-Keynesian times, which have increasingly exercised legitimate violence through proliferating norms that render some forms of humanity and their social imaginaries rational and others irrational, some legal and others illegal, some criminal and others law-abiding, and so on.
To understand racialization beyond color lines in liberal-capitalist modernity, Singh’s definition of race, “historic repertoires and cultural and signifying systems that stigmatize and depreciate one form of humanity for the purposes of another’s health, development, safety, profit or pleasure,” is useful for two reasons. First, it reminds us that before and after the racial break the primary function of racialization has been to make structural inequality appear fair. Second, it shows that racialized privilege and stigma need not reference phenotype. Rather, after the break categories of privilege and stigma determined by ideological, economic, and cultural criteria have overlaid older, conventional racial categories to the extent that traditionally recognized racial identities—black, Asian, white, Arab—occupy both sides of the privilege/stigma divide. This divide itself is always on the move, precipitating out of the material circumstances it rationalizes (i.e., makes available for reason and portrays as necessary).
Codes of racialized privilege and stigma after World War II have been overlapping and diverse and have included an intensification of codes of patriotism, heteronormativity, and cultural normativity and of those signifying class or professional status. Importantly, official antiracisms have conferred privilege or stigma according to conformity with limited repertoires of antiracist value, which themselves have normalized and stabilized contemporary political and economic arrangements. Thus, during periods of racial-liberal, liberal-multicultural, and neoliberal-multicultural predominance, newly privileged racial subjects have emerged—the white liberal, the multicultural American, and the multicultural global citizen, respectively—along with newly stigmatized racial subjects, including the un-American, the overly race conscious, the monocultural, and the illegal. Using such terms, official antiracisms have made inequalities appear fair, and they have represented people exploited for or cut off from distributions of wealth and institutional power as outsiders to antiracist liberal subjectivity—or multicultural subjectivity—for whom life can be disallowed, even to the point of death.
Since World War II, the material politics of antiracist knowledges have had a singular influence over fields of social possibility in the United States and beyond. By securing normative orders of difference and allowing legitimate violence to be exercised upon norm violators, the knowledge systems of official antiracisms have articulated together to a high degree of rational and biopolitical orders. Racialization has coded human beings into regimes of social value precipitating out of suprastate complexes of governance (e.g., the U.S. Cold War state and its leadership for state-oriented transnational capitalism or neoliberal sovereignty in the era of George W. Bush). At the same time, official antiracist discourses, incited by metanarratives of race reform (in which racism constantly appears to be disappearing), have produced permissible narratives of difference that disseminate into and condition knowledge systems. Under such constraining conditions, forms of humanity win their rights, enter into representation, or achieve a voice at the same moment that the normative model captures and incorporates them as Negro American (racial liberalism), Asian American (liberal multiculturalism), diversity (neoliberal multiculturalism), and so on. And much more is at stake than purely ideological or cultural incorporation. Rather, for each of these historical junctures the terms of entrance into liberal-capitalist modernity, which official antiracist knowledges police, has secured the prepolitical conditions required for normal politics and the extraeconomic conditions required for continuing material relations of production.
In this light, Chandan Reddy’s recent discussion of the material politics of modern Western knowledges is especially salient for antiracist knowledges. According to Reddy:
[M]odern Western knowledges … have been productive of certain expressions of personhood, experience, historical process, materialism, and so forth, while foreclosing other historical, material and epistemic organizations of subjectivity, historical process, and the so-called natural world. … Moreover to the degree that these knowledges have a universalizing [and thus incorporative] scope, they reproduce the relations of violence, uneven personhood, and non-equivalency for which they were originally productive and symptomatic as the prerequisite for their continued use and coherent and integrative functioning in our present political modernity.12
Along these lines official antiracist knowledges have reproduced normality as a changing same: the faces and qualities ascribed to the beneficiaries and the dispossessed have changed up, but the nongeneraliz-ability of capitalist wealth has remained the same.
Literary studies has been a foremost cultural technology for producing, transmitting, and implanting official antiracist knowledges. In this role literary studies has come to play a uniquely powerful part in producing commonsense notions about race in the United States after World War II, for better or worse. It is important to stress that literary texts themselves are not at issue here, rather literary studies as materially produced discourses. The specific literary studies discourses in mind—ones that describe what, how, and why literature has participated in the work of antiracism—are not to be thought of as mere vehicles or mediums for liberal antiracism. Instead, the relationship is one of a part to a whole, with literary studies discourses (e.g., race novels) networked into and participating in the totality of discourses and practices that have constituted a specific antiracism (e.g., racial liberalism). In fact, one of the processes through which liberal antiracisms have achieved and managed hegemony has been the designating of a privileged relationship between literature and difference. Liberal antiracisms have had to repeatedly institutionalize a notion of literary texts as practical and effective tools that Americans can use to get to know difference. This privileged literary register has been consistent with liberal antiracist frameworks that portray race as a cultural, psychological, or social problem—as a matter of ignorance, irrationality, feeling, or habit—to be corrected in the name of liberal-capitalist modernity rather than as internal to its political and economic structures. Important to note is that liberal antiracisms have not theorized literature or reading. Instead, they have simply presumed that the antiracist values ascribed to literature are immanent in literary texts themselves. In this way liberal antiracisms have manufactured their own transparency. Such displacement and transparency may be thought of as characteristic of liberal modes of instituting power, where norms confer legibility and illegibility and seem to operate uncoercively, apolitically, and in private.
The genealogy in the following section alienates historical forms of literary studies, including race novels, multicultural literature, and literatures of global diversity, from their conventional representation within race-liberal orders. It instead analyzes these forms as uniquely potent modes of official antiracist knowledges that in the manner already described, have articulated together the biopolitical and the rational in a way that makes systemic nonequivalences appear temporary, inevitable, or benevolent. The potency of race novels, multicultural literature, and other forms of literary studies has come from their capacity to compel reading practices and to teach and transmit epistemic habits that forcefully encode the readers’ social and material world by using liberal-antiracist terms of difference so that the evaluations of racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism appear to be the whole truth of the matter in terms of reason, experience, and self-identification. The epistemological work of literary modes of antiracist knowledges can be broken down into three functions that are not independent of one another but can be separated for analytical purposes.
First, notions about literature and race have helped liberal antiracisms produce and police national culture, its terms of social solidarity, and the requirements for cultural citizenship. Second, they have trained readers, especially those destined to play professional and managerial roles in social orders, to internalize liberal-antiracist norms as part of their sense of identity and social mission. Third, by privileging reading literature as a way for dominant classes to come to know racialized others intimately (racialized because dispossessed by economic orders), liberal antiracisms have made it possible to disseminate highly ideological truths and information bits as authentic and substantive knowledge. As shown in the following section, literary studies has operated on all three levels for each phase of official antiracism. Yet different tasks for literary studies have taken precedence at different times, with race novels focusing on reconstituting U.S. cultural citizenship; literary multiculturalism, on nationwide projects of socialization and education; and literatures of global diversity, on transmitting information bits that account for neoliberal policy and agendas.
The following genealogy identifies the concrete mechanisms by which literary studies have been incorporated into official racial orders, bringing into high relief the shifting role and importance of U.S. universities, literary studies at U.S. universities, and more informal or popular literary studies outside of universities. For racial liberalism sociology departments at institutions such as the University of Chicago and Fisk University played a key part in disseminating an understanding of literature as a tool for antiracist social transformations, as did powerful race relations philanthropies and publishing and culture industries. For liberal multiculturalism English departments at U.S. universities performed the anchoring role, disseminating liberal multiculturalism into other university departments and officializing multiculturalist categories in extraliterary and extra-academic domains, such as post-Keynesian economic and public policy. For neoliberal multiculturalism U.S. universities and university-based literary studies have acted in a supporting role because discourses of difference are increasingly produced by globalized information and culture industries, by institutions of international civil society (e.g., the United Nations, international NGOs, think tanks, and global media), and by global economic regulatory and global security agencies (e.g., international regulatory agencies, multistate alliances, and multinational corporate entities).
A Genealogy of Postwar Race-Liberal Orders
For each phase of official antiracism, this genealogy briefly considers its conditions of emergence (the political and economic imperatives that shaped it and that it stabilized), its regulative narratives for knowing race matters, its total historical-material production (the primary institutional complexes that produced and circulated its meanings), the forms of literary studies that generated and transmitted it, its racializing schemas of privilege and stigma, how it naturalized global capitalist development and inequality, and how it can be thought of as a normative mode of power. The book’s chapters discuss these procedures at greater length for each specific juncture (racial liberalism in chapter 1, liberal multiculturalism in chapter 2, and neoliberal multiculturalism in chapters 3 and 4). This genealogy comprehensively systematizes the development of official antiracisms in the United States from the postwar period to the first decade of the twenty-first century, giving attention to transitions and continuities between phases, where some of the most important developments have taken place.
The racial break comprised the geohistorical conditions that gave rise to racial liberalism. Yet racial liberalism has a history before it became the first state-recognized antiracism that is instructive to consider because it set the conditions for postbreak racial liberalism’s regulative framework for knowing race matters.
Prebreak racial liberalism first coalesced in the mid-1930s out of a web of alliances between Southern race liberals, Northern philanthropists, liberal sociologists, and African American intellectuals. Dismayed at the incapacity of New Deal programs to alleviate African American serfdom in the South and what this revealed about Jim Crow racial despotism, powerful Northern philanthropies hitherto working mostly in the field of education—the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Julius Rosenwald Foundation—refocused their efforts to target Southern racial discrimination. During the mid-1930s and early 1940s, their work was redirected into three channels. First, Northern philanthropies gave considerable financial resources and political backing to white Southern liberals in an attempt to mainstream their participation in Southern culture and politics. In turn, Northern philanthropies essentially adopted the white Southern liberal platform of accommodating segregation while seeking to make good the equal aspirations of Plessy v. Ferguson’s separate but equal ruling. Second, Northern philanthropies sought to strengthen a black intelligentsia. Influenced by Duboisian ideas of a leadership role for a Talented Tenth and by New Negro Renaissance philosophies positing art as a means to represent black self-determination and virtuosity, foundations directed patronage to poets, writers, artists, and intellectuals. The emphasis on building a black cultural leadership was consistent with an overall strategy favoring social development over directly confronting Jim Crow laws and institutions. Third, Northern philanthropies funded the rise of the liberal social sciences and thereby the dissemination of knowledges framing racial inequality through the rubric of the Negro problem. Philanthropy thus put its faith in social engineering, the idea that the gradual adjustment of white Southern beliefs and attitudes was the most effective method for improving racial conditions.
At the onset of the crises of the racial break, as global conflicts came to be coded in terms of race and it became imperative for U.S. leadership to demonstrate a movement toward greater equality, the networks of racial liberalism were well positioned to nationalize, to absorb new ideological content, and to develop new capacities to administrate emerging racial orders. In the federal government, philanthropies such as the Rosenwald Fund, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Rockefeller Foundation had had a place at the table, when it came to race issues, since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and their sponsorship of his Black Cabinet. As it became necessary for the federal government to centralize race issues, the government could draw from a pool of talented black and white leaders whose careers early racial-liberal philanthropy had nurtured, including W. W. Alexander, Ralph Bunche, and Robert Weaver. After the racial break, race relations professionalized. The liberal social sciences, now with the backing of the academy and the federal government, as well as philanthropies, envisioned social engineering on a national scale to create a racially inclusive U.S. national culture and an unprejudiced citizenry.
Postbreak racial liberalism’s watershed text was an epic social-scientific study of midcentury U.S. racial conditions. Entitled An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944), it was commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation in 1937 under racial liberalism’s earlier dispensation. The strength and reach of its influence testified to the sway that racial liberalism held over multiple domains of U.S. postwar life and society. For nearly two decades after its publication, An American Dilemma dominated popular and scientific understandings of race. It was a national bestseller, a handbook used by members of Congress, an authoritative text within the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, and psychology, and a guide for U.S. foreign policy.
The primary tenets of An American Dilemma illustrated the controlling propositions that qualified knowledge and thinking about race and antiracism as relevant and actionable in racial-liberal postwar orders. First, An American Dilemma framed its study of America’s “race problem” as a geopolitical issue. Specifically, it characterized “the Negro” as “America’s Opportunity” to legitimate itself as leader of a decolonizing world.13 The study rhetorically linked liberal antiracism to U.S. postwar global ascendancy in the register of nationalism and manifest destiny by, for example, describing a providential purpose for antiracist transformation in which “America, saving itself [from its racial dilemma], becomes the Savior of the world.”14 Second, the study declared racism to be, at base, a psychological and moral issue, a problem of white attitude or prejudice. As the introduction stated, “The Negro problem is a moral dilemma … a problem in the heart of the American.”15 Thus racial liberalism consigned all other racialized domains and procedures—political, economic, ideological—to obscurity as marginal or epiphenomenal. Third, An American Dilemma described racism as a historical contradiction to rather than historically compatible with liberal freedoms, especially the American Creed, a national social ethos for which “the main norms … are centered in the belief in universal equality and rights to liberty.”16 It thus valorized a set of altruistic Americanisms—abstract equality, individual rights, and market liberties—as the substantive content of antiracism. Along with the social reengineering of white attitudes, achieving racial justice for An American Dilemma meant including African Americans in the community of the American Creed.
In An American Dilemma the changes between prebreak and postbreak racial liberalism can be tracked, and the emergence of new schemas of racialized privilege and stigma that matured with postbreak racial liberalism can be identified. Here, privilege shifts from white Southern liberals, who were to be responsible for correcting white Southern attitudes in the prebreak period, to all white liberal Americans, who in the postbreak period were to become moral heroes by ridding themselves of racial prejudice and skewed beliefs. As antiracism was absorbed into U.S. nationalism, liberal white Americans became felicitous national citizens and privileged racial subjects, which preserved a form of white privilege beyond the permanent crisis in white supremacy, whereas other whites were racially stigmatized as prejudiced or intolerant and scapegoated as the cause of continuing structural inequality.
The concept of African American culture as an index of racial progress was also revised. Prebreak racial liberalism focused on proving black excellence through black arts and culture, but postbreak racial liberalism used African American success in all fields to prove that America was making strides in freeing itself from the corrosive effects of white supremacy. The indexical use of black success had an enforcing function in that it incorporated African American personhood within racial-liberal orders under conditions that demanded conformity with U.S. nationalism and cultural normativity. Under Cold War conditions that idealized American national culture and under which a cultural model of race replaced a biological one, African American culture formations were evaluated as healthy or pathological on the basis of whether they matched normative American patterns. According to An American Dilemma, the “Negro” was to be judged either “thoroughly American in his whole outlook and perception of the world” or ridden with pathologies caused by racism. As the study stated, “In practically all its divergences, American Negro culture is not something independent of the general American culture. It is a distorted development, or a pathological condition, of the general American culture [italics in original].”17 As with liberal or prejudiced white racial formations, here racial-liberal repertoires conferred privilege or stigma according to conformity with limited repertories of antiracist value. Racial-liberal racialization made racism appear to be disappearing by esteeming presumptive healthy African American formations, even as it devalued formations that did not accord with U.S. national cultural normativity—from pan-Africanists to gay and lesbian persons—and permitted these to be disallowed or punished as pathological. Thus racial-liberal terms of difference depoliticized and secured in advance the differential value-making processes inherent to Cold War Americanism and state-oriented transnational capitalism.
Finally, whereas prebreak racial liberalism concentrated on changing white Southern attitudes, postbreak racial liberalism envisioned a national project of social engineering. Its goal was to remake U.S. culture as a whole so that white Americans would lose their habit of prejudice and African Americans would be seen as culturally embodying the U.S. nation. Racial liberalism’s governing narrative of race reform was to institute a massive and multifaceted program of national education designed to dispel prejudiced belief, replace it with accurate knowledge about African American lives and conditions, and popularize new images, histories, and narratives attesting to the racially inclusive nature of U.S. citizenship. The historical-material production of racial liberalism included networks of institutions dedicated to national reform, including civic organizations, philanthropies, federal government initiatives, culture industries, schooling and university initiatives, and the newly minted field of race relations.
Although social scientists often presumed that U.S. national culture was to be fixed by the interventions of sociology, racial liberals actually put more faith in a literary form, the race novel, as a means to transform white America’s attitudes. They defined literature as a tool for social engineering that was able to communicate the truth of black consciousness and conditions to white Americans with more emotional power than that of mere sociological case studies. Racial-liberal philanthropies, such as the Julius Rosenwald and Guggenheim foundations, awarded authors grants to write novels designed to improve racial understanding. Major publishing houses, such as Doubleday and Harper Brothers, defined race novel as a publishing category. They relied on liberal philanthropies to bring them authors and gave out awards for the best literature on race relations. The national media publicized literary awards, turning race novels into national best sellers. At the same time, the educative and diplomatic apparatuses of the federal government disseminated discourse about race novels, recommending their integration into the nation’s public schools and publicizing them to European and decolonizing nations as proof of racial progress. During the period of racial liberalism’s ascendancy, literary texts by Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Ralph Ellison, Willard Motley, Lillian Smith, Laura Hobson, Ann Petry, John Griffith, and Harper Lee were processed through these networks and produced as race novels.
Creating a circular feedback loop that mutually reinforced the symbolic, cultural, and ideological value of both race novels and racial liberalism, race novel discourse, in defining race novels as a privileged mode for getting to know difference, forcefully ratified racial-liberal regulative narratives and orders of difference. And none of this reinforcement depended on acts of reading or the rhetorical performances of literary texts. Rather, the circulation of race novel discourse alone functioned (1) to unify racial-liberal ideology; (2) to direct habits of interpretation, thus controlling what counted as a race matter and constituting and validating information about race; and (3) to influence subject formation by creating the conditions for people to self-identify with racial-liberal identity categories. It is important to note that racial-liberal discourse never theorized what it was to read but rather assumed the transformative power it attributed to race novels resided within the texts themselves.
Race novels were presumed to concretize racial liberalism’s ideologemes, including the power of sympathy, liberal whites as heroic agents of reform, and the moral hazards of racial prejudice. Though these motifs could be found in texts designated as race novels (especially those written by white authors, notably Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit, John Griffith’s Black Like Me, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird), they were mostly found in discourses about race novels circulating in popular culture, the media, the social sciences, and the race relations industries. In narrating the heroic white liberal as a privileged national and racial subject, racial-liberal discourse simultaneously recruited whites for nationalist agendas, justified white privilege, and provided a protagonist for narratives that made the case for U.S. global leadership. In addition, race novel discourse taught interpretative habits and reading practices that could be applied beyond literature to the social text itself. These restrained what was intended to be taken as true about race (from racial conditions to African American identity) to what could arouse white benevolence or sympathy, making attitude a litmus test for what counted as racial knowledge. Racial-liberal reading practices, which conceived reading literature to be information retrieval of the most intimate and immediate kind, made it possible to portray racial-liberal terms of difference as the whole truth of the matter. At the same time, race novel discourse encouraged whites to internalize affective dispositions and to cultivate a race-liberal political identity. Thus, race novel discourse stabilized a field of social and moral value that made it possible for white Americans to comprehend the act of reading a novel as (and as a substitute for) an active politics of social transformation.
Racial-liberal reformism evaded recognition of the collective responsibility of white Americans for material and institutional inequity by blaming racial prejudice on inadequate knowledge, flawed reasoning, and the isolation of whites from blacks. Consistent with the new will to know that racial liberalism implanted in U.S. national culture, race novel discourse provided fitting objects of knowledge. Its representations of African Americans identified the fitness of some to culturally embody the nation and appeared to provide evidence for new categories of racialized privilege and stigma. Under the aegis of using literature as an advanced system for information retrieval, race novel discourse performatively constituted certain representations of blackness as facts. First, race novel discourse secured the enduring trope of the damaged Black psyche, of African Americans as victims psychically wounded by racism. The character of Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s Native Son exemplified the truth of this trope for racial liberals.18 Second, for racial liberals race novels testified to the Americanness of African Americans and their underlying cultural sameness with white Americans. This was, for example, the message of James Baldwin’s writing for the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Finally, racial liberals praised the evidence of African American patriotism that race novels supposedly provided. (In fact, representations of black patriotism were to be found mostly in race novels written by white authors, such as Bucklin Moon’s Darker Brother.)
Race novel discourse figured African Americans as objects of knowledge, not as readers, yet its implicit ideological address to African American readers was a regulative one, providing normative models of personhood as the representational terms of existence offered to African Americans in exchange for incorporation into U.S. political modernity. Along with these normative models, African Americans were directed to internalize limits for acceptable antiracist politics that are referred to as the Cold War civil rights compromise.
Thus racial liberalism gave the U.S. state the capacity to define new rights, freedoms, and identities, along with new socially permissible violences. It put all sanctioned antiracist discourses and initiatives under the injunction to take U.S. ascendancy for granted and to remain blind to global capitalism as a political or racial issue. In particular, the content of the American Creed—equal opportunity, abstract equality, possessive individualism, and market liberties—came to define the substantive meaning of antiracism, thereby naturalizing racialized capitalism. As racial liberalism presented the United States as the universal model for a racially integrated nation, it also universalized U.S.-style capitalism as an antiracist good. It made the market economy nonpolitical (for race matters) by making African American entrance into it the basis of antiracism. It provided a valorized ideology that explained increasing class inequality within African American racial formation, the rise of a black professional and managerial class, and U.S. capital investments in postcolonial nations.
If racial liberalism is considered as a mode of normative power that articulated together the biopolitical and the rational, its orders of difference can be seen as having assigned legibility and illegibility to domains ranging from the economy to personal identity. Its regulative narratives, such as the American Creed, wove a web of interconnections between political economic normativity, cultural normativity, and sex and gender normativity, so that black cultural assimilation and heteronormativity reinforced U.S. Cold War positions and the latter impelled the former. Thus the real victories that came from official, state-recognized antiracism in Cold War America—the breaking of Jim Crow, support for integration, civil rights acts—also stabilized political limits, interpretative tendencies, and economic forces that readjusted and inevitably extended U.S. and transnational capitalist structures of racial domination.
By the mid-1960s racial liberalism’s hegemony broke apart and collapsed under the pressure of its own contradictions, opposition from alternative antiracisms, and changing material conditions and geopolitical circumstances. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became increasingly clear that the Cold War civil rights platform, which stressed desegregation, symbolic equality, and the goodwill of tolerant whites, was inadequate for addressing egregious economic and social inequality, especially in urban centers increasingly impoverished by white flight. The radical impulses of the long civil rights era, not beginning, ending, nor contained by racial liberalism, resurfaced strongly in race-based social movements that actively rejected the cultural normativity, Americanism, and settlements on liberal political terrains that both shaped and were determined by Cold War racial-liberal orders. Although diverse and nonanalogous, these movements—Black Power, black feminism, Chicano nationalism, Asian American civil rights, American Indian sovereignty, queer, third worldist, women of color, the New Left—sought psychic decolonization, nonexploitative ethico-economic orders, an internationalism aligned with the third world, and new powers for new collectivities. In addition, the metanarrative of the United States as the antiracist savior of the free world could no longer successfully rationalize U.S. global power in an era of lessening Cold War tensions and transnational capitalist development targetting the global South.
Following the stagflation of the early 1970s and the dismantling of Keynesian policy in favor of a free market economy and a state reoriented to stimulate capital growth (rather than to secure the full employment and welfare of citizens), new terms of social solidarity were needed to disguise the disunities of post-Keynesian downsizing at home, capital flight abroad, and the growing class power of elites. At the same time, racial liberalism’s black/white racializing schema and criteria for privilege and stigma could not encompass a multiracial population (including large numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Asia after the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act) nor provide a formal understanding of post-Keynesian crises and terms for state-capital management. Circumstances in the late 1960s and 1970s opened up how race could be politically mobilized beyond the limits set by racial liberalism. By the early 1980s and into the 1990s, however, liberal multiculturalism had reinstated such limits. In the same way that racial liberalism became an official antiracism by incorporating and defusing the more radical anticolonial antiracisms of the racial break period, liberal multiculturalism incorporated and abstracted the materialist antiracisms of the new race-based movements. Liberal multiculturalism likewise deployed literary discourse as a cultural technology to make antiracist knowledges productive for the next phases of capitalism’s development.
Scholars of the period’s race-based social movements have remarked upon the high degree to which they fused cultural and political activism. James Smethhurst has argued, for example, that the distinction between Black Power and Black Arts “is moot” because, for the former, “artistic activity [was] made an absolute political priority and linked to the equally emphatic drive for the development and exercise of black self-determination.”19 I contend that such fusion proceeded from a materialist definition of culture and an antiracist materialism. For radical antiracisms, cultural and political activism, alike, were seen to be the practice of liberation—of bringing a transformed world into concrete being by performatively (re)constituting communal life: its institutional and social structures, everyday experiences, and expressions of personhood. The point was to create art, culture, and politics that were functional, committed, collective making, and symbolically and materially resituating. The focus on culture as a materializing process followed from a rejection of the cultural normativity that racial liberalism imposed in the name of antiracism. It was in step with global decolonization and the charge to make culture work for psychic, political, and economic decolonization of both postcolonies and internal colonies. It followed from the resources that race-based movements found in their own communities of origin, including the heterogeneous and nonanalogous cultural practices of internally diverse American Indian, Caribbean, African, African American, Asian, Latino, Chicano, lesbian and gay, and immigrant, refugee, and diasporic communities. In addition to the still-existing forms of the old Left—the pan-Africanists, the Socialists and Communists, the trade unionists of color, the mother and grandmother foot soldiers of the Southern civil rights movement, the earlier migrants to the United States who came across borders or oceans or from reservations to the cities—race-based social movements made their own bases of support in their own communities in grassroots activism, in schools and universities, in neighborhood block associations, on reservations, in youth groups, in community theater and arts organizations, in self-defense leagues, in religious groups, in women’s clubs, in political action committees, in street gatherings, in writing workshops, in feminist collectives, and in fraternal organizations.
While all the race-based social movements of the era contradicted some of the regulative positions of the Cold War U.S. state, the contradictions were sharpest in the case of black lesbian feminism and women-of-color feminism. As Roderick Ferguson has discussed, revolutionary and cultural nationalisms intersected with liberal U.S. state ideologies in their investment in heteropatriarchal discourses and their call for the regulation of nonheteronormative formations. Black lesbian and women-of-color feminism arose, however, out of an intersectional analysis of interlocking systems of oppression, including the relations between gender and sex regulation and the exploitative forces of global capitalism. In the words of the Combahee River Collective Statement: “We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of an integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.”20
Because of concern with how structural social and material processes subjectified women of color—that is, how aggregative and exploitative procedures of race, class, gender, and sexual regulation were experienced as the concrete realties of life—black lesbian and women-of-color feminism were strongly committed to culture as a site of material struggle. As Grace Hong has put it, women-of-color feminism “seized upon the imaginative function of literature and culture for different ends [than did the nation-state], revealing and intervening into the dynamics of power that subtend the production of knowledge.”21 The seminal anthology that launched the most studied version of women-of-color feminism, This Bridge Called My Back, was thus an expression of women-of-color feminism as a political movement by virtue of its having been an act of the writerly imagination conceived as social practice.22 Beginning from the recognition of the dynamic interrelation between the epistemological and the empirical, Moraga’s statement about the anthology’s authors, that “the materialism in this book lives in the flesh of these women,” described collective writing as collectivity making in the vein of manifesting “something else to be.”23 This sense of the materiality of culture allowed an experiential analysis of women’s lives to be the basis of a politics, even as women-of-color feminism remained fundamentally anti-identitarian (disorganized notions of a stable identity) and understood coalitions of difference as at once relational and contestatory.
The insurgencies that took place on college campus in the late 1960s and 1970s can be viewed as profoundly materialist antiracist activism. Demands for third-world colleges, black and ethnic studies departments, La Raza studies, Asian American studies, and Native American studies were attempts to seize the authorizing power of massive racializing institutions and the material power to produce, validate, and bind knowledge to multiracial, democratized power. Such demands were made through protests, boycotts, and community street rallies and under the blows of police batons, first in California and then throughout the country. The transformation of universities was seen as key to liberation struggles as “students revolted against an education designed to create in them a pliant workforce and demanded a third-world college attentive to their working-class, raced communities.”24 Seeking to radically democratize universities, students demanded open admissions for nonwhite students and an education relevant to the concerns of exploited communities. Demonstrating a savviness to the power relations subtending knowledge production, they demanded autonomy for black and ethnic studies faculty and community review boards. Even with the defusal/refusal of the students’ most radical demands, the insurgency was unstoppable to the extent that more than five hundred black and ethnic studies programs had been founded on university campuses by the early 1970s.
Between the 1970s and the early 1990s, universities, especially public universities, were extremely contestatory institutions. On the one hand, through the 1970s and into the 1980s, universities were still charged, at least rhetorically, with working toward the goals of Keynesian times: to prepare the largest possible number of students for participatory democracy and full employment. Ironically, the institutionalization of black and ethnic studies in the mid-1970s can be seen as a radical, more inclusive vision of the Keynesian mission.25 Between 1970 and 1980, enrollment increased from 8.5 to 12 million and, by 1992, stood at 14.2 million. The vast majority of such increases occurred at public universities; for example, in 1986, with a total college population of 12.3 million, 77 percent of all students were enrolled in public institutions.26 Black enrollment experienced its greatest expansion at institutions other than historically black colleges and universities between 1960 and 1980, with enrollments nearly doubling.27
On the other hand, the economic downturn of 1973 to 1975 was also the beginning of the massive transformation of U.S. universities into one of the central institutions for recalibrating the state, capital, and the citizenry for post-Keynesian times. Increasingly throughout the 1980s, universities changed their human and knowledge outputs by producing professional-managerial classes required for the new economy (free markets, multinational corporations, and development) and producing knowledge and research that were capitalizable for globalizing industrial, financial, and information economies. No longer an institutional base for middle-class power, universities were incorporated into the stratification and assault on the middle and lower classes as a college degree increasingly became the dividing line between success and failure in a postindustrial economy.28 While universities prepared the members of marginalized groups that they had deemed the most valuable for incorporation into multiracial managerial classes, they abandoned large majorities to the devastating consequences of deindustrialization and resegregation and the accelerating control of the economic prerogatives of private capital over black and brown lives. Although enrollment in public universities grew, there was a whitening at the top of an increasingly status-stratified system, while racial enrollment gaps increased and overall black enrollment declined from 1980 onwards.29 Ironically, the rising popularity of diversity in university management and business administration proceeded from the same consensus that accepted severe and permanent racialized economic inequality as unproblematic, seeing it to be the result of fair competition.30
Although the alternative knowledges and the transformative material goals of radically antiracist social movements never gave up their tenuous hold at universities (and today have developed critical new forms and projects), knowledge about minoritized difference—especially racial and cultural difference—was made to work for post-Keynesian social and economic policies. To this end, U.S. universities used their capacity to adapt and produce knowledges symptomatic of and productive for the new circumstances of the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, as Ferguson has argued, an essential function of the academy in this period was to manage minoritized difference—to run difference through its machinery of validation, certification, and legibility to generate forms that augmented, enhanced, and developed hegemony rather than disrupted it.31 For the purposes of this study, the many components of the management of racial difference at U.S. universities in the 1980s and 1990s—from socializing students as multicultural subjects, to commodifying racialized cultures, to setting the terms of social solidarity, to generating orders of difference that explained the differential valuation of some forms of humanity over others—revealed the importance of U.S. universities for actively producing liberal multi-culturalism as the second phase of postwar official antiracisms.
The counterinsurgency against the materialist cultural activism of radical antiracist movements and the incorporation of racial difference into the knowledge architecture that reconsolidated race-liberal hegemony happened simultaneously and began with the restrictive affirmation of Black and ethnic studies programs. In the case of Black studies, as Noliwe Rooks has documented, the Ford Foundation played a leading role by providing generous support to programs “that viewed Black Studies as a means to diversify a predominantly white curriculum and institution and to promote integration” while “avoiding supporting” programs committed to community activism or Black Power/black nationalist approaches.32 The greater support for Black studies programs was concentrated on restructuring curricula for mostly white students, which led to more knowledge produced to teach tolerance and augment traditional disciplines and less knowledge produced from below to create new horizons of social possibility.
English departments and discourses of literary multiculturalism did, however, the lion’s share of the university’s work of activating minority difference for post-Keynesian times. Previously, racial liberalism had defined literature as a privileged tool for Americans to use to describe, teach, learn about, and situate themselves with respect to racial difference. The idea had been articulated mainly in popular culture, but in the 1980s the idea of literature as a privileged tool for getting to know difference definitively entered U.S. universities. There, it was fused with a preexisting imperative for literary studies to socialize citizens by teaching them a national cultural tradition presumably embodied in canonical American literature. This call was expanded for transnational times into a charge for literary studies to inculcate in large numbers of young people the appropriate sensibilities for a multiracial, multicultural professional-managerial class.
The cultural processes of the canon wars of the 1980s and 1990s shaped U.S. literary studies into an effective technology for producing liberal multiculturalism as the second official, state-recognized antiracism. Indeed, the productiveness of concepts of literature and literary value for the racial projects of liberal multiculturalism, as well as the importance of universities for conditioning large numbers of young people into the dominant racial order of things, explains the otherwise baffling amount of national attention given to the canon wars. As Bethany Bryson noted in Making Multiculturalism: Boundaries and Meaning in U.S. English Departments, “the Cultural Left and Cultural Right … shared an extraordinary premise: that every time an English teacher put together a reading list, the future of the nation hung in balance.”33 The nation on the whole seemed to agree. During Reagan’s second term in office, Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987) became a national best seller and a neoconservative manifesto; the national media reported incessantly on the controversy surrounding Stanford University’s attempt to replace its required Western Culture program with the Culture, Ideas, and Values program (1988); and a Newsweek cover story alerted the nation to the dangers of a new form of brainwashing called “political correctness” being imposed on college campuses (1990).
The canon wars were a political battle conducted in the register of academe. They staked out positions that allowed neoconservative and liberal-democratic politicians alike to bond with their constituencies. Yet inside the academy, the main result of the canon wars was to enable liberal multiculturalism to defeat critical multiculturalism. Debates about literature misrepresented the new knowledges produced by social movements, clearing the way for sanctioned knowledges about racial difference that precipitated out of and were felicitous for post-Keynesian state-capital relations to expand into extraliterary domains, including other academic disciplines and university policies on admissions and hiring.
The canon wars have generally been narrated as a battle between irreconcilable antagonists. In one corner Great Books advocates defended excellence against mediocrity and national unity against cultural relativism. In another corner those who advocated for diversifying curricula argued that our common culture was a multicultural one with all constituencies deserving representation. Yet from another angle both of these positions can be seen as competing visions within pluralism, with canon defenders advocating for an assimilative pluralism and canon integrationists for a positive pluralism. Their common pluralism was what most foreclosed the radical cultural materialism of oppositional antiracist movements. Pluralism as the horizon for thinking on race matters restricted permissible antiracism to forms that assented to U.S. nationalism and normal politics and prioritized individual and property rights over collective social goals. It reduced culture to aesthetics and then overvalorized aesthetic culture by ascribing agencies to aesthetic culture all by itself, apart from social and material forces. Thus liberal multiculturalism’s stress on representation and cultural recognition screened off differential power, dematerialized conceptions of race, and marginalized antiracisms that addressed material disparities in racial outcomes.
The canon wars were one kind of counterinsurgency against 1970s social movements, but it must be remembered that the full complement included police violence, COINTELPRO repression, and the figuring of grassroots communities as criminal, burdensome, and disposable. The legacies of these social movements are alive, however, and universities remain contestatory spaces where conditions occasionally allow for the flourishing of fields such as critical ethnic studies or projects like Norma Alarcon’s Third Woman Press. Yet the success of the canon wars in shoring up liberal multiculturalism, aestheticizing race issues, and thus deflating the materialist antiracisms is apparent from the fact that during the 1980s “the word ‘multiculturalism’ became a pseudonym for canon expansion.”34 Likewise, the fact that of the 92 percent of universities that made curricular changes to accommodate multiculturalism during this period, the changes “were more likely to happen in English than any other discipline” further affirms that literary studies was the university’s chief producer and transmitter of liberal-multicultural ideology.35
As a regime of official antiracism, liberal multiculturalism worked as a mode of normative power in the 1980s and 1990s chiefly through nationwide projects of socialization and education based in the greatly expanded system of two-and four-year colleges. In particular, it trained students destined to play the roles of professionals, managers, and technocrats in government or corporate bureaucracies to internalize liberal-multicultural antiracism as a part of their sense of identity and social mission. Additionally, liberal-multicultural knowledges articulated the biopolitical and rational together to a high degree to explain the simultaneous upward (for a very few) and downward expansion (for most) of life chances in African American communities, on American Indian reservations, in urban Indian country, in the traditional and new locations of Chicano/a and Latino/a life, and amid diverse and increasingly class-stratified Asian American and Asian immigrant populations. By providing the understanding that made the erosion of a racially diverse middle class permissible (along with neoconservative color blindness), liberal multiculturalism allowed for both the post-Keynesian downsizing of minimally redistributive government programs at home and the expansion of transnational capitalism abroad.
Liberal multiculturalism provided weak terms of social solidarity, enjoining Americans to affirm a positive cultural pluralism by recognizing that “we are the world.” This multicultural nationalism was a development of the prior thesis that the United States was a nation of immigrants, which had unified modern American whiteness a generation before. With the inclusion of people of color, the thesis could then be reworked to describe the United States as an internalized model of global diversity. Its logic justified applying the ethnic model of immigrant social mobility to people of color (dissimulating race as the same thing as ethnicity in the post–civil rights era) and disguised U.S. expansionism as merely a universal nation fulfilling its destiny. “We are the world” also structured the new economy. U.S. multiculturalism became the cultural model in which capitalist social relations were arranged and exported, inserted, or infiltrated into other locations. At home liberal-multicultural ideology persuaded Americans to accept capital flight abroad in the name of being antiracist and cosmopolitan. Abroad, it indicated to the countries of the global South that development was not a revival of civilizationist imperialism but a path to a just, pluralistic world system where neutral free markets would enrich culturally diverse nations.
Literary studies at U.S. universities socialized future members of the professional-managerial class, whether white, of color, or international, into progressive constituencies for regressive public policies and a grossly unequal system of global capital accumulation. That is, it taught them to perceive themselves as antiracist and multicultural, which was in line with the period’s corporate humanism, in a manner that allowed the material conditions for a new apartheid between haves and have nots to flourish. Students received pastoral care that integrated liberal-multicultural concepts into their sense of self-actualization and prepared them to manage populations abandoned to the punitive effects of post-Keynesian policies.
In identifying literary studies as a means of producing, disseminating, and implanting liberal-multicultural ideology, I refer to such things as literary anthologies, diversity courses, and multicultural literature as objects of discourse within the field of liberal multiculturalism. As objects of discourse, their effects did not depend on real reading experiences or classroom teaching, nor did such reading and teaching necessarily correspond to how reading and teaching were described by liberal multiculturalism, although the unifying force of liberal-multicultural antiracism did sometimes produce correspondences.
The protocols that liberal-multicultural antiracism defined for multicultural literature can be summarized as follows: (1) As with race novels, liberal multiculturalism identified literature as a means for information retrieval. However, whereas the identity of the author of race novels was secondary for racial liberalism, for liberal multiculturalism the author’s racialized identity was of utmost importance because information retrieval for liberal multiculturalism was tied to ideologemes of representativeness, authenticity, and gaining voice. (2) Literature was to testify to and teach about the race-differentiated history and present of the American experience, multiculturally developed. The story was to stay within the bounds of a master narrative about the civil rights movement that described the triumph of formerly oppressed minorities (symbolically African Americans) in defeating racism and gaining individual fulfillment and group dignity through full inclusion in American democracy. (3) A work of multicultural literature was understood to be an example of the value of different racialized cultures and a commodified form of racialized cultural property. The idea of culture as property owned by people of color functioned within a consumer economy in which antiracism could be expressed by a desire for diversity, which consuming racialized cultural property presumptively fulfilled.
Literary studies discourses interpellated white students as multicultural subjects within the productive constraints of liberal-multicultural antiracist thinking. Because multicultural literature was presumed to be authentic, intimate, and representative, white students with minimal knowledge of or contact with racialized communities could nonetheless presume enough familiarity to legitimate their managerial-class position. The capacity of books (and other cultural commodities) to stand in for people was useful considering the gap between the commitment of colleges and universities to diversity and the general decline in African American enrollment. As multicultural literary canons became emblematic of the post–civil rights era, reading them became a rite of passage for white students, a means for them to honor and participate in (the spirit of) antiracist activism as consumers in a way that did not antagonize but furthered racial capitalism.
All of this cohered with the institutionalizing of white privilege as the new form of preferred racial whiteness (replacing racial liberalism’s white liberal). Liberal multiculturalism socialized whites to see themselves as good antiracists by virtue of their antiracist feeling and desire for diversity, even as whites continued to accrue unearned benefits from material and social arrangements that favored them. At the same time, the cultural pluralism at the base of liberal-multicultural orders made any rebalancing of the free market or individual rights toward more even racial outcomes appear as an affront against basic fairness. The conditions of the new market in racialized cultural property created a situation where antiracist whites felt bereft. They saw themselves as either having no culture or, at best, being a multiculture-embracing American. College-educated whites saw themselves as more racially enlightened than other classes, whose residual racism was blamed for social ills, even as a tendency to blame racial minorities developed among economically insecure whites. Neither class of whites had a racial understanding able to illuminate the mass impoverishment of the working class in general following from the dismantling of the Keynesian bargain.
Literary studies discourses also interpellated racialized and non-Western students as multicultural subjects within the productive constraints of officialized liberal-multicultural antiracism. It instituted upon racialized students the capacity to get representation as hyphenated Americans (African-American, Asian-American, and so on) under terms requiring the acceptance of literary multiculturalism as authentic and representative of racialized communities. This affirmation implied a host of normative requirements, including the recognition of diversity as an asset to new economic orders and the endorsement of permissible articulations of racialized histories, racial consciousness, and how to live and put forward one’s African Americanness, Asian Americanness, and so forth. As it did for white Americans, liberal-multicultural antiracism promoted an aestheticized version of material conflict, racialized violence, and cultural activism.
Liberal-multicultural terms were thus incorporated into the production of racialized privilege and stigma bifurcating communities of color. Within racialized communities and according to the dictates of liberal multiculturalism, responsible and representative community members were identified as good over and against those who were identified as bad, while relational judgments were made about minoritized communities as a whole, with model minorities—primarily Asian racial formations—being elevated over and against African American racial formations that came to signify intractability in the face of liberal-multicultural mores. Liberal-antiracist terms of privilege and stigma also policed the bounds of acceptable racial discourse, and so it became difficult for African Americans to discuss African American impoverishment, for example, without being judged ad hominem as having played the victim or the race card. The terms of racialized stigma recycled those of previous eras and included the criminalizing of urban communities. Yet marginalized majorities of minoritized people were now as much dematerialized as stigmatized. Isolated and replaced with racialized cultural products, such communities were made illegible to the nation as the actual roots of grassroots democracy (in part) because they were not represented as such in dominant antiracist discourses, except in a stereotypical and enervating manner.
By the mid-1990s global capitalism had fully developed the features of a neoliberal economy: free trade and open markets, financial liberalization, deregulated corporate and financial sectors, priority given to speculative capitalism (profit through asset leveraging, stock markets, and credit baiting), privatization of lands and resources, and international financial and regulatory institutions (e.g., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization) with the power to force nation-states to comply with free-market policies and ideologies. The diminishing power of national governments, including the United States, in the face of such economic processes has been called the rise of neoliberal sovereignty.36 Neoliberal sovereignty has weakened the capacity of liberal-multicultural racial orders to unify political, economic, and social structures, both inside the United States and within domains of U.S. global power.
The concept neoliberal sovereignty emphasizes that neoliberalism, far more than a purely economic system, is also a world-historical configuration of governance and biological and social life, premised on the belief that the market is better than the state at distributing resources and managing human life. The term not only indicates a constellation in which governments function in the interest of capital maximization but also signifies that neoliberal calculations have come to govern biopolitical life, to rationalize, engineer, and organize forms of humanity. In particular, neoliberal sovereignty has produced what Aihwa Ong has called “differentiated citizenship”—a differentiated experience of citizenship that ensures governments protect those who are valuable to capital, whether formally citizens or not, and devalue and render vulnerable those who are not valuable within circuits of capital, whether formally citizens or not. Given liberal multiculturalism’s pluralist and nationalist orientation, its racializing schemas were insufficient for coding racialized privilege and stigma in the context of neoliberalism’s differentiated citizenship. In addition, with the supersession of the Development phase of U.S.-led transnational capitalism, liberal-multicultural terms could no longer attach antiracist value to global capitalist expansion as they did previously, by portraying the world as gradually maturing through transnational capitalist development into a multicultural community of coequal nations.
Concurrently, the middle 1990s and the turn of the twenty-first century saw the rise of social movements savvy to the weakened power of national governments and the growing effective power of finance capitalism and international regulatory bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These were social movements organized around diverse issues and constituencies, including labor rights, environmentalism, antitrafficking, indigenous rights, economic colonialism, the global dimensions of gender oppression, and violence against gay, lesbian, and transgender persons. Despite their diversity, such social movements can be collectively recognized as a resurgence of antiracist materialisms to the degree that each identifies the hand of neoliberalism’s grossly uneven system of capital accumulation in the processes securing the subjugation, repression, impoverishment, and devaluation they protest. Some of the most emblematic movements have included the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, the Latin American revolts against IMF structural adjustment policies and World Bank–mandated privatization (e.g., the Cochabamba water protests in Bolivia in 2000), the founding of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, and the rise of international indigenous peoples’ movements, signaled by the passage of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Official liberal-multicultural procedures have been insufficient to disguise or sublate the differential exploitation these social movements have exposed.
Neoliberal sovereignty requires knowledge systems that rationalize (in the sense of making available for reason and validating) its biopolitics. As has every hegemony in modernity, neoliberal sovereignty needs to “conduct not just a monopoly of force, but also a monopoly over the rationality for the comprehension of the social practices that impact its very constitution.”37 These include but are not limited (1) to practices that facilitate required extractions of resources, such as eminent domain, dispossession of marginalized populations, and the building of roads, electricity lines, and other infrastructure and (2) to practices that secure the profitability of speculative capitalism, such as lending, the financialization of new sectors, and privatization.
Neoliberal multiculturalism is my term for the unifying discourse that neoliberalism has used to exert a monopoly of rationality over the practices that impact its constitution. I also identify neoliberal multi-culturalism as the third phase of race-liberal hegemony. Whereas in the previous two phases official antiracisms were sutured to U.S. governmentality and leadership for global capitalism, in this third phase official antiracism has attached to neoliberal sovereignty, which increasingly incorporates segments of U.S. governmentality and economic activity.
Neoliberal multiculturalism is still an effect of the conditions produced by the World War II racial break. Although white supremacy went into permanent crisis after the break, race has remained, in the form of liberal antiracism, a valorized ideological domain. Its procedures, which convert the effects of differential value-making systems into normative orders of difference, continue to explain and make acceptable inherent and systemic inequalities within historical formations of U.S. global ascendancy and capitalist development. In contrast to earlier official antiracisms, which were in the weave of nationalist discourses that dissimulated capitalist development as part of racial equality for people, in neoliberal multiculturalism a multicultural formalism has been abstracted from anything but an ideal relationship with concrete human groups and, instead, has directly coded an economic order of things. In short, neoliberal multiculturalism has portrayed an ethic of multiculturalism to be the spirit of neoliberalism.38
As a unifying discourse, neoliberal multiculturalism has disguised the reality that neoliberalism remains a form of racial capitalism. Even as diversity has been cast as the essence of neoliberal exchange (e.g., Wal-Mart calls itself “the world’s most multicultural employer”), updated forms of conventional racial domination have continued, from the catastrophic rates of African American male imprisonment to free trade and export processing zones, sometimes called “new slave zones” for their brutal, deadly labor conditions. Race has continued to permeate capitalism’s economic and social processes, organizing the hyper-extraction of surplus value from racialized bodies and naturalizing a system of capital accumulation that grossly favor the global North over the global South. Yet multiculturalism has portrayed neoliberal policy as the key to a postracist world of freedom and opportunity. Neoliberal policy has engendered new racial subjects while creating and distinguishing between newly privileged and stigmatized collectivities, yet multiculturalism has coded the wealth, mobility, and political power of neoliberalism’s beneficiaries as the just desserts of multicultural global citizens while representing those neoliberalism has dispossessed as handicapped by their own monoculturalism or other historico-cultural deficiencies.
Neoliberal multiculturalism is the apotheosis of liberal-antiracist discourses, which have valorized specific economic arrangements. Whereas racial liberalism and liberal multiculturalism advocated equal opportunity as a necessary precondition for racial equality, thereby restricting meanings of racial justice to those that could exist in the same discursive formation as private property and market economies, in neoliberal multiculturalism matters of the economy themselves express what is meant by freedom from racism, conceived of as an unfair, restricted, or exclusive use. Thus, antiracist discourse has leapt from coding social policy in order to endorse certain economic arrangements to being an attribute of global capitalism itself. To arrange this condition, neoliberal multiculturalism has deracialized antiracist reference to an unprecedented degree. Concepts previously associated with 1980s and 1990s liberal multiculturalism, such as openness, diversity, and freedom, have been recycled, and now open societies and economic freedoms (shibboleths for neoliberal measures) and consumerist diversity signify multicultural rights for individuals and for corporations.
With the ascent of neoliberal multiculturalism, there has been a concurrent retooling of the material politics of dominant antiracist knowledges. In fact, there has been a move away from using antiracist discourse to infiltrate and shape the archeology (objects, unities, discourses) of knowledge systems (law, history, public policy) to substituting highly ideological information bits for knowledge. Racial liberalism and liberal multiculturalism relied on literary studies to aestheticize material conditions and to prevent the constitutive conditions of politics and economy from being recognized as race matters. Neoliberal-multicultural discourse has abstracted race issues to such a greater degree, however, that sometimes, as in the ubiquitous discussions of diversity, the racial context is more residual than overt. In place of direct reference to race, neoliberal multiculturalism has more often spoken of difference. It has been, in fact, a kind of multicultural formalism that is able to circumvent traditional knowledge systems by placing their objects within a system of rationality that calculates with formalized and ideological representations of difference. A large degree of formalism has been irreducible for the tasks of neoliberal restructuring, which has had to code incalculably diverse peoples, cultures, economies, things, and relations for insertion into neoliberalism. Neoliberalism’s normal operations have also required massive exchanges of formalized knowledge and information, so that financial capitalism can cross borders, goods and services can be sold globally, and multinational professionals and technocrats can act in concert from widely diverse locations. Neoliberal-multicultural formalism has facilitated these conditions by producing difference as a valorized domain of knowledge and then ideologically correlating ethical, moral, technical, and political stances toward difference with what benefits neoliberal agendas. For example, upper-class women in Arab and Muslim countries who have welcomed and consumed luxury goods identified with modernity have been coded as global multicultural citizens, whereas women who do not share these resources or dispositions have been coded as insufficiently modern for global citizenship.
The institutional complexes that produce neoliberal-multicultural discourse have been as diffuse as the operations of neoliberal sovereignty. Though U.S. universities and university-based literary studies have continued to play a supporting role, discourses of difference (and the difference it makes) have been increasingly produced in so-called global universities by globalized information and culture industries, by the institutions of international civil society (the United Nations, international NGOs, think tanks, and global media), and by those of global economy and security (international regulatory agencies, multistate alliances, and multinational corporate entities).39 Though each institutional domain has been subject to a multiplicity of force relations, certain concatenations of meaning can be found in each that, as they support and reflect one another, coalesce into a force for neoliberal multiculturalism as an official antiracism for neoliberal times.
U.S. universities have assumed even greater importance as racializing institutions in neoliberal multiculturalism. This state of affairs has followed from the context of differentiated citizenship, in which governments subject their populations to different treatment according to their worth within neoliberal circuits of value. Mobile individuals with human capital can exercise citizenship-like claims in diverse locations, whereas other citizens are devalued and made vulnerable, in practice unable to exercise many rights and subject to the state’s disciplining and civilizing/disqualifying regimes rather than the pastoral care bestowed on its more worthy citizens. Neoliberal-multicultural racialization has made this disparity appear fair by ascribing racialized privilege to neoliberalism’s beneficiaries and racialized stigma to its dispossessed. In particular, it has valued its beneficiaries as multicultural, reasonable, law-abiding, and good global citizens and devalued the dispossessed as monocultural, backward, weak, and irrational—unfit for global citizenship because they lack the proper neoliberal subjectivity.
As multicultural global citizen has become the name for a privileged racial formation, U.S. universities have become valuable for certifying and racializing individuals as such. U.S. universities have also trained students to recognize the codes of racialized privilege and stigma that naturalize contemporary biopolitics. As Aihwa Ong has noted, “American universities have attracted a multicultural, multinational and mobile population, the very kind of educated, multilingual and self-reflexive subjects now considered to be the most worthy individuals.”40 According to Ong, under the aegis of self-care, university training has inculcated individuals with attributes that render them fit to bear the agency of neoliberal capitalism: egoistic individualism, self-enterprise, and certain calculative practices. These traits are now perceived as the distinguishing qualities of global citizens. Students learn the racializing codes for vulnerable or exploited groups through so-called leadership training and discourses of service, mission, benevolence, and reform. As students learn to do good, to feed the poor, to uplift women, and to presume responsibility for near and distant others, they learn to play their parts in the civilizing/disqualifying regimes that target populations disconnected from circuits of neoliberal wealth and value.
Literary studies at U.S. universities has played a powerful role in fitting neoliberalism’s biopolitics to its rational system in that it both interpellates elites as multicultural global citizens and provides them with information bits about global difference in the register of multi-culturalism. To do so, it has built upon the previous functions that racial-liberal and liberal-multicultural orders ascribed to literary texts, including assumptions about the transparency of literature, the close and intimate access it offers to racialized others, its authenticity and representativeness, and its power to transform attitudes in a way that guarantees social progress. The idea that literature has something to do with antiracism and being a good person has entered into the self-care of elites, who have learned to see themselves as part of a multinational group of enlightened multicultural global citizens. Literary sensibility, redefined as an appreciation for the literature of other cultures, distinguishes multicultural global citizens from others. Literature has also acquainted elites with representations of dispossessed populations, preparing them for their role in global civilizing/disqualifying regimes. In addition, the fact that global literatures now appears frequently on syllabi outside English and foreign-language departments—in, for example, business schools, political science departments, and nursing colleges—indicates that reading literature has become an easy way for disciplines to add a global component to their curriculum, one that does not seem to require too much specialized knowledge. Azar Nafisi’s Reading “Lolita” in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is one example of a popular, nonfiction literary text that has incorporated neoliberal multiculturalism into its protocol. In representing itself as a memoir in books, in which the author steps forward as a diasporic female literary scholar, it putatively testifies to the power of great literature to nurture women’s freedom of imagination in the face of the totalitarianism of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The readings of works by Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Austen, and James that it offers make it possible for highly ideological truisms about the republic to appear to be legitimate knowledge, doubly guaranteed by the universality of great literature and Nafisi’s social identity. It also represents Nafisi and her favored female students as worthy potential members of a global multicultural public.
Although the recent global financial collapse has called into question some of the tenets of economic neoliberalism, the political, cultural, and social structures of neoliberal sovereignty are still very much intact. Ironically, the (restricted) goals of earlier official antiracisms in the United States—for people of color to be able to buy homes and go to college—have been used to fuel the fire of speculative capitalism globally. In the bust that followed the boom, it was the material well-being of racialized communities that was most diminished in the United States.41
Race Radicalism and Literary Texts
Though the postwar race-liberal hegemony has prevailed, it should not be viewed as complete or seamless. We avoid a monolithic sense of the power of official antiracism by recalling that power is everywhere contradictory, necessarily producing the conditions of its own undoing, with alternatives constantly being produced out of the same conditions that produce dominant arrangements of power. Indeed, the demand that racialized subjects and social phenomenon adhere to official antiracist narratives about their incorporability has produced resistances, noncorrespondences, recalcitrances, and other general mis-fits because that demand is often intrinsically and structurally impossible.42 The universalizing imperatives of race-liberal orders and the reality of continually shifting material and geopolitical conditions have inevitably given rise to subjects, epistemes, and cultural formations that race-liberal orders are unable to transact, differences that they fail to incorporate, and resistances that they are incapable of assimilating, abstracting, or formalizing.43
Among all of these contradictions, resistances, and non-fits, my research brings to light a strongly concatenated system that has constituted a continuous yet constantly undone opposition to and persistent critique of official U.S. antiracisms since World War II. I call this system race radicalism. I use the term to refer to antiracist thinking, struggle, and politics that reckon precisely with those aspects of racialization that official liberal antiracisms screen off: the differential and racialized violences that inevitably follow from the insufficiency and nongeneralizability of human value under U.S.-led transnational capitalism and neoliberal globalization. Race radicalisms are materialist antiracisms that prioritize the unevennesses of global capitalism as primary race matters. In the following chapters, I demonstrate that racial-liberal, liberal-multicultural, and neoliberal-multicultural antiracisms have all had to work to obscure, marginalize, and misrepresent the meanings and acts of race-radical antiracisms and that at times they have all failed to do so.
These points of resistance, which in historical moments have concatenated into race-radical antiracist expressions and politics, include pre–racial break antiracist codes and institutional bases that racial liberalism could not incorporate, including anticolonialism, pan-Africanism, and popular front ideas and activism. All of these tendencies have continued to develop into new, worldly, and materially focused antiracisms, from aspects of the race-based self-determination-oriented social movements of the 1960s and 1970s to contemporary counterglobalization, indigenous, labor, and migrant movements. At the same time, the consolidation of liberal-antiracist frameworks has produced new points of resistance—fractures within the national–racial consensus in which race-radical alternatives have taken shape.44 No hard-and-fast distinction exists between those institutional–discursive complexes that have supported official liberal antiracisms and those that have enabled race radicalisms. Rather, all domains have remained contestatory. In fact, in a given period some of the most powerful and effective materialist antiracisms have emerged out of the same institutions and networks that most actively produce state antiracisms.
Clearly, race-radical antiracisms have not been internally uniform, neither as social movements nor as knowledge formations. They have often conflicted with one another, and sometimes one has emerged in reaction to another, as was the case with women-of-color feminism and Black Arts/Black Power. Calling them all race radical risks missing their antagonisms and reducing their complexity, yet it enables examination of them together in their aspect as materialist antiracisms pitched against the dematerializations of official antiracisms.
The closest cognate to my sense of race radicalism may be black radicalism, as theorized by Cedric Robinson in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition.45 For Robinson, black radicalism includes cultural-analytical processes and individual and collective acts of resistance grounded in black cultural matrices and struggles for liberation. The black radical tradition for Robinson has been an explicitly materialist antiracism because it has sought to make comprehensible and occupiable intellectual, ethical, and political positions antagonistic to contemporaneous configurations of racial capitalism. I use the term race radicalism because critical activity and epistemes similar to those Robinson has described have arisen not only from African American cultural matrices, historical experiences, and transactions with racial capitalism but also from other and diverse racial contexts, histories, and transactions. The expanded category of race radicalism also acknowledges the importance for my work of scholars working in the fields of postcolonial studies, indigenous studies, and ethnic studies, including scholars for whom the post-1965 changes in immigration laws and consequent influx of Asian and Latina/o groups to the United States has been decisive. For my purposes, what unifies the category of race radicalism is the attempt to rupture how race as a sign has been consolidated with the cultural, ideological, political, and material forces of official antiracisms and to reconsolidate race as a sign with the cultural, ideological, political, and material forces of worldly and radical antiracist movements, which have crucially analyzed race within the genealogy of global capitalism.
Whereas official antiracisms have made use of literary studies to marginalize radical antiracisms and to make easy their misrecognization, the roots of radical antiracisms can readily be found in literary texts themselves. In fact, as radical antiracisms have worked to reveal the conditions of violence that official antiracisms sustain and disguise (as they organize contemporary knowledges and social forms), they have often turned to literary texts. Because literature has been a form in which it is theoretically possible to say anything—that is, a discourse with a bracketed truth imperative—literature may be seen as particularly well suited to challenging the adequacy of sanctioned antiracist knowledges. The same lack of a truth imperative has allowed literary texts to figure (and sometimes prefigure) materialisms relatively unbound from historically dominant expressions of economic and political value.
It should not be possible to be antiracist without being against oppression. Yet race-liberal hegemony has been so effective that today in the United States everyone is antiracist, and yet oppression is banal and ubiquitous. We live with it, accepting the idea of racialized no-go zones in cities and new vulnerabilities to premature death for disposable classes; we eat it, consuming bananas harvested by dispossessed Indians in Honduras who work under the threat of gunfire and grapes picked by migrant laborers who are hunted by the same people who enjoy the literal fruits of their labor; we pay for it, supporting militias in Iraq that stake their territorial claims on women’s bodies; we study it, publishing research showing that human trafficking (slavery) is more pervasive than ever and that under the current system blacks will never gain wealth equality with whites—findings that receive scant hearing and generate less uproar. The unifying power of state antiracisms has become our stumbling block. Although they put white supremacy into permanent crisis and immensely expanded liberal freedoms, official liberal antiracisms, having been made to work for U.S. global ascendancy and, now, neoliberal sovereignty, have dematerialized antiracism to the degree that dematerialized antiracism is now disintegrating the collectivity of social life. Once, civil rights activists were red-baited as communists for trying to desegregate lunch counters and schools, and today the accusation of socialism is launched against the concept of the public good itself. I concentrate on understanding how literary studies has participated in official race-liberal orders not to undermine English departments but to bring home the hard consequences of doing the easy good thing. My goal is to help manifest the grounds for a new materialist antiracism—a radically antiracist materialism—for the times. Racialization procedures must turn around, so that instead of legitimizing processes of accumulation so extremely uneven that the lives of some must appear without value, racialization—in the sense of the differential worth of human beings—will signal the necessity of altering material conditions. In order to accomplish this two-way rearticulation of the empirical and the epistemological, the materializing cultural power of reading, teaching, and the humanities must be harnessed. “Otherwise,” to quote Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “who crawls into the place of the ‘human’ of ‘humanism’ at the end of the day, even [or, now, precisely] in the name of diversity?”46