"The New International Dynamics of Race,"by Howard Winant July/August 1995 issue of Poverty & Race
The new world order, such as it is, is increasingly and complexly a racial order, and we ought to work on understanding its dynamics better. Let me begin by summarizing my argument:
· In the last quarter century migration to the Northern societies has reached the point where de facto plural societies are in place just about everywhere.
· Racial heterogeneity is linked with other forms of economic and social crisis; furthermore, it calls into question previous concepts of national identity and the role of the state.
· The centrist elites in power in the North do not possess the strategic resources or vision required to deal with this expanded (and in many cases, quite racialized and already politicized) social heterogeneity.
· The traditional Left oppositions also are not equipped to address the new racial dynamics; their failure is due in pan to their susceptibility to economic crisis, and in pan to their own complicity with racism.
· In this situation, the Right is ascendant, because it can express the anxieties and reiterate the familiar national-popular themes, which the center and Left cannot so easily assert.
· The ascendance of the Right also involves some modifications or rearticulations of its traditional racial ideology; new forms of racism have emerged to incorporate elements of past "egalitarian" positions, and fascism is again a real threat.
· Recognizing these dynamics can help us mobilize against the resurgent Right, against the rising tide of a renovated and newly diversified racism, and against the specter of fascism.
The Empire Strikes Back
Today, plural societies are in place just about everywhere. This pluralized and heterogeneous situation, this multiplication of group identities, furthermore, is racialized throughout the developed world. In the Americas, of course, racialized social heterogeneity is a millennial phenomenon, dating back to the conquest and the inception of African slavery. But in Europe, with the notable and significant exception of anti-semitism, this phenomenon of a pluralized and racialized population is actually quite new. Though a few colonial subjects were always present in the European metropolis, the influx of substantial numbers in the post-war, post-colonial period has deeply altered a dynamic in which the racial order and the imperial order had been one, in which the "other" was by and large kept outside the gates of the "mother country." Those days are now gone forever.
The challenges posed by this new and often racialized heterogeneity reach around the globe. They extend, for example, to Japan, where Yamoto hegemony is coming in for renewed questioning. They apply to Australia, where Asian populations are expanding and native peoples are more organized than ever. They resonate in countries that have long histories of eurocentric orientation and white supremacy, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mexico or Brazil.
Of course, there are enormous variations in the local situations I am describing: the degree to which minorities are racialized varies; in fact, the meaning of race varies among and indeed within the various societies I've mentioned. As always, the meaning of race has to be understood as a prime theme of political contestation. But the main point stands: that throughout the world, and especially in the North, a new and politicized racial heterogeneity is the norm, and that this is going to remain the case for the foreseeable future.
Racial Heterogeneity Is Linked With Other Forms of Crisis
At present, world population is growing at about 100 million/year. While population growth is quite modest in the North, it is very rapid in the South, where the "demographic transition" is still an outcome devoutly to be wished. Since there is no appreciable improvement in Southern "life chances" with a few well-known exceptions the "push" pressures for migration to the North can hardly be expected to abate.
Meanwhile, the earlier, post-war "pull" factors which existed in the North have largely evaporated. These arose in the earlier postwar period from relative labor shortages and from the high growth rates which permitted various pacts (or tacit agreements for cooperation) between capital and labor. European "guestworker" programs, the repeal of restrictive (and racist) US immigration laws in 1965 (leading to extensive inflows of Latin American, Caribbean and Asian immigrants), the active British recruitment of labor in the West Indies from the late 1940s into the 1960s, and French absorption of widespread numbers of Maghrebines in the wake of the Algerian defeat, the creation of a large Korean community in Japan all these took shape at a time when "pull" strategies were organized and administered by Northern governments. Today, all this is in the past.
Proposition 187 in California, restrictions on so-called extra communitarios in Italy, Margaret Thatcher's famous speech about the "swamping" of the English by aliens (persons who only a few years before had been entitled, as Commonwealth citizens, to full rights under British law) all these developments highlight the disappearance of official support for immigration towards the North. More yet: they reveal the confusion and conflict which ex-imperialist states face when con-fronted by the mobility of their former subjects, and by the claims of those whose political rights were only recently restricted by racial caste systems that have now lost their grip.
The Center Cannot Hold
The political center cannot hold against this tide of racialized plurality. To the extent that all the Northern countries are under the rule of technocratic state elites whose chief objective is to keep the bow of the ship of state pointed smartly into the economic wind, the presence of ex-colonials, as citizens, as permanent residents or as increasingly expensive and demanding erstwhile peasants and subproletarians, is not a happy prospect. It threatens or even obliterates a whole range of formerly stability-oriented policies, transforming them into openly conflicting and contradictory policy imperatives.
Therefore, faced not only with a rising tide of immigration, but also with a far more developed and politicized heterogeneity among their populations (sometimes true even in the US), governments have sought to reframe social policies in a host of related areas: to organize labor supplies; to control immigration flows; to distinguish among desirable and undesirable migrant workers; to handle social problems such as housing, education and public health; to orient and restrict welfare outlays to impoverished minority groups; to integrate them into social and political institutions (or to set up parallel institutions, or to handle the disruption costs of failing to achieve this integration); and finally, to reconceptualize themes of national identity and the logic of the nation state.
In the real world of today, where the tides which lift all boats have been out for 20 years, these tasks are beyond the capabilities of the centrist and technocratic elites that hold power throughout the developed North. After all: to maintain a labor force divided by race into high- and low-wage sectors may depress wages, but will certainly also fuel social conflict. To handle social problems like housing and education shortfalls means taxing established residents to pay for newcomers. Yet to restrict social wel-fare programs means fostering crime and social antagonism. To integrate minorities is either to problematize their identities, or to problematize the identities of established residents, as we can see in the English-only movement in the US, the general fear of Muslims throughout the North, etc. In general, these tasks are simply too difficult for any of the present Northern governments to carry out.
The Left Is Not up to the Task
Just as the center cannot hold, the traditional Lefts are not up to the task of mobilizing these heterogeneous populations for change, either reformist or radical, precisely because of the narrowness of their social base.
The Northern Lefts have always been suspicious of transformations in the composition of the labor force. Often in the past they have resisted the incursions of freedmen, immigrants, women, ex-colonials and various combinations thereof. Always fearful of low-wage competition, the Left is threatened everywhere by the emergence of a 'lean and mean" capitalism which is less dependent on the "mass worker" than ever before. It is less inclined, therefore, not only to hire and train workers, but also to support the welfare state, which working-class reformist movements had secured in the past as a price for their submission to capitalist discipline.
Native (more accurately, white) workers everywhere in the North are thus more subject than ever to the blandishments of nativism and exclusionary politics. This is the home turf of the Right, which presents the welfare state and the low-income (racialized) strata as the enemies of the "salt of the earth" types who "play by the rules," "go to work each day," "pay their taxes" and end up "getting screwed" by the 'freeloaders" who "don't even belong in this country."
Many examples attest to the bankruptcy of the Left in the face of racism and nativism: the British Labor Party's resistance to the black sections; the anti-immigrant compromises of the German and French Socialists (not to mention the French Communists); and the complicity of the Clinton Democrats in welfare "reform," to name but a few. In most of the developed countries, there is a significant current of hostility and racism built into the Left.
The Right Is Ascendant
In the Northern countries, the Right has been the chief beneficiary of the conflicts framed by the increasing racialization of politics. The Right today is the repository of nationalism, whose core concepts of autonomy, unity, identity" marked the rise and consolidation of nation-states through-out the early modern period. These concepts are put in question by the racialized heterogeneity I am discussing here.
The racialized challenge to national identity takes various forms. It reflects the shrinking and knitting together of the contemporary world. It mirrors the ever-greater internationalization of the movement of capital and labor and the transnational phenomena of diaspora, with its globalization of various identities: Jewish, Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Greek, Palestinian, as well as African.
We can see these challenges to the established Northern nationalism framed by immigration, to be sure, but also by egalitarianism, by affirmative action (however called), by feminism and gay liberation (sexuality and race are deeply linked in nationalism) and by all forms of transnational identification that compete for loyalty with the national-patriotic.
Today, in all the advanced countries, the established working classes are fearful and resentful. In the US, this is the "angry white male" phenomenon; elsewhere, it focuses more particularly on immigration, or on Islam, but these are largely superficial differences. The "angry white males," the nativists, believed for a long time that their race, their gender, their religion more or less guaranteed them a middle-class standard of living, a well-paying job, a secure home in a safe neighborhood, access to quality education and health care, paid vacations, a comfortable retirement.
These prospects are slipping away. Children are worse off than their parents were. The policies of the welfare state no longer appear able to fend off the unease in the heartland. Thus, they look for someone to blame. In the tradition of American nativism and European colonialism, racialized minorities and immigrants furnish the ready scapegoat.
It hardly seems necessary to repeat that the real culprit in this situation is not the racialized "other"; rather, it is large-scape capital, which since the 1970s has openly declared its intention to redistribute income regressively, to maintain higher levels of unemployment, to break unions, to dismantle the welfare states and to increase levels of repression, both political and "criminal." The turn to the political Right, then, and to the nationalism this turn entails, is in many respects a clear political consequence of the capitalist-class program in many of the developed countries.
But in other respects what has been characterized in the US context as "white racial nationalism" is a much broader phenomenon. It is a vision or an ideology of community, of an imagined community" which emerges from revulsion at late modernity and which seeks to turn back the clock toward the white supremacy of the past.
The Right still sees the nation as a "white man's country." Its patriotism is identified with "blood": with whiteness, with imperialism, with masculinity and with heterosexuality.
The Right thus attempts to hold pluralistic and heterogeneous concepts of national identity, or of internationalism, at bay, but this is a difficult task to carry out in a democratic polity. Therefore, there's an uneasy tension on the Right between the "people" and the citizenry. This is one of the central conflicts, perhaps the central conflict, that race poses for the Right. At its core it is a conflict between democracy and fascism. The identification of the nation as the primary collective entity involves an emphasis on homogeneity, on national frontiers actually dividing putatively "different" peoples. It therefore assumes that there is a basic distinctiveness among groups, which is always potentially available for racialization.
In short, both in the US and elsewhere, right-wing currents are being pushed further to the right by the racialization of national politics.
Racism Takes on New Forms; Fascism Is a Real Threat
New forms of racism are developing as these racialized political dynamics work themselves out. In the US, we have a lot of experience by now with "egalitarian racism." The "colorblind" politics that have characterized neo-conservative appeals are by now so familiar that they have become "grass roots" ideologies, "common sense." A comfortable if shallow veneer of egalitarianism can thus be maintained over the deep structures of racial privilege; one can convince oneself, with the help of endless assertions of the point in the media and the halls of power, that one has overcome racism. Indeed, from such a perspective, the true racists are those often racialized minorities themselves who "bring up race all the time" and who "inject it into everything."
Another form of racism is "differentialist," not egalitarian. More common in Europe than in the U.S., it asserts that, while certainly all peoples are equal, it is "natural" for every group to prefer its own kind, to be averse to those who are different and to prefer to stay separate from them. In contrast with traditional forms of racism which claimed that there were fundamental inequalities among human groups, "differentialist racism" adopts and rearticulates egalitarian notions of difference. In this perspective, it is not racial equality but "race mixing" that is the supreme mistake.
In short, throughout the North, in a complex response to the heterogeneity I have discussed, there is a new variety of racism(s). The older, discriminatory, hierarchized racism still flourishes, retaining its commitment to biologism and notions of racial superiority and inferiority. Alongside this, coexisting more or less harmoniously for decades in the US, there has been neo-conservatism, which operates as a "soft" racism, advocating a "colorblind," individualistic, conservative approach to race. Its egalitarian claims consist at best in its preferred combination of racial policies: sanctions for active discrimination and laissez-faire with respect to the results. It often adopts a "blame the victim" strategy, which also has the advantage of justifying ongoing white privilege.
Counterarguments need to be posed to both these "streamlined" and "rationalized" forms of racism, but neither in the US nor in Europe can they be decisive. What will determine the long-term success of these "new racisms" (or "neo-racism") is the extent to which they can be implanted as the "common sense" or hegemonic discourses of race in the various countries with which we are concerned. And this in turn depends on the degree of political momentum that can be mobilized in favor or against this or that articulation of the meaning of race in each national setting.
Some Political Conclusions
At present, lamentably, very little popular mobilization is underway against the racial nationalism of the Right. Given the analysis I have made, it is quite understandable why this is so: the center and the Left do not have the tools to carry out the job, and racially defined minorities must confront the high degree of racial chauvinism which the Northern "democratic" national cultures still contain.
Racial minorities often find it difficult to reinterpret national identity and national culture in a progressive, "multicultural" way (although that term has been somewhat debased). From the standpoint of racialized minorities, it is not so easy to embrace what is still in many ways a "white man's country." This remains true in the US, even for those who have been here for centuries. It is especially true for more recent arrivals: the immigrant Pakistani or 2nd generation Trinidadian in England, the French Muslim, the Korean or Salvadoran newly settled in Los Angeles.
For this reason among many others, anti-racist opposition, for a long time to come, will probably take on a "nationalist" and diasporic character. Consciousness of the world-historical nature of white supremacy is not a relic of the post-war anti-colonial struggles or of an earlier pan-Africanism, but a well established and likely permanent feature of the new international racial dynamics.
On the other side of the equation, at a certain point racism also involves the Right in internal conflicts and divisions. These are the divisions between a "softer," conservative, democratic Right, one that perhaps believes in civic duty and firm patriarchal authority, but which doesn't necessarily capitulate to the irrational politics of fascism. That's on the one hand.
On the other hand, developing throughout the North, there's a "hard" Right, which has serious proto-fascist tendencies. This "hard" Right includes people who are armed and dangerous. It includes militant and millenarian religious sects (more so in the US). And it includes groups that survived the debacle of European fascism and re-grouped (more so in Europe).
There are potentially some major conflicts on the Right, but for the present they have been far more suc-cessfully papered over than have con-flicts on the Left. We (racially-defined minorities, progressive workers, intel-lectuals and artists, feminists, gays. students, etc. that's crudely who "we" are) must learn how to exploit the divisions and antagonisms that persist on the Right, particularly where race is concerned.
For example, in the US the Right confronts a significant secular-religious conflict in its own ranks. Capital in general is secular, is not so anti-Immigrant and in fact requires a low-wage workforce, which it expects to be multi-racial and to include women. Capital is often explicitly multicultural. On the other hand, authoritarian, populist and religious rightism, "grass roots" rightism, is often more explicitly racist, prone to violence and "workerist." It represents threatened sectors of labor, small farmers and vulnerable middle-class sectors, the traditional fascist base.
Any mobilization against the Right will necessarily take on different forms in different countries.
In the US, where the welfare state is far less advanced, struggles over racism will focus on drawing the line between productive and unproductive members of society. There will be comparatively less focus on "differentialist racism," and more on individualism, merit-ocracy, equality of opportunity vs. equality of result (i.e., neo-conservatism). The "soft" Right will deny its racism by stressing absolute individualism, color blindness, secularism and the primacy of market forces. It will be at pains to deny not only racism but anti-semitism. In contrast, the "hard" Right will in-creasingly avow a biologistic form of racism that harks back to eugenics, that stresses old-fashioned beliefs about superiority and inferiority, that em-braces the authority of a "righteous" nation rather than of a "soulless" marketplace, that emphasizes sexual racism, that accommodates, if it does not actively promote, anti-semitism, and that explicitly links itself to reli-gious fanaticism and fascism.
In Europe, where the welfare state is far more entrenched and European unity is a powerful (if embattled) trend, struggles over racism will focus on citi-zenship and immigration, on "Europe and its others." The "soft" Right will stress the impossibility of assimilation and the need for secure borders. It will deny its racism by emphasizing the necessity of unified national-cultural identities. The "hard" Right will in-creasingly work to recuperate fascist tendencies, anti-semitism and hardcore nationalism.
Race splits "us"; class splits "them." We do not need to be class reductionists to see that a progressive racial politics must address the dynamics of class. We must understand the struggle for racial justice as central to the struggle for social justice, as central to any resis-tance to capital's drive to dominate, to discipline, to control not only labor, but society as a whole. We must understand that logic in order to resist it.
Howard Winant is the author of Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons (1994) and co-author (with Michael O,ni) of Racial Forma-tion in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (1994). He has also written a book on economic policy, Stalemate: Political Economic Origins of Supply-Side Policy
Howard Winant Howard Winant is Professor of Sociology at Temple University (713 Gladfelter Hall, Phila., PA 19122). He is the author of Racial Formation in the United States and Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons.
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