- Historic Sites
The End Of Racism?
February/March 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 1
My concern here is this: You just a few moments ago described to me, in a nuanced and empathetic way, the arguments within the conservative community. In the book, though, the arguments within the liberal community, which are ferocious on all these issues, get lost in an atmosphere of liberal bashing. Your message is that liberals caused all these problems, and they really don’t have anything to offer.
Well, there’s a lot of liberal soul-searching, but still the two basic premises of liberal race policy, proportional representation and multiculturalism, have remained relatively intact.
What I’m questioning is whether these are in fact the two basic premises of liberal race policy.
Sure. If you have a firm, the government will say, “Why are Hispanics 4 percent of your firm when they’re 8 percent of the surrounding population?” That affects people’s daily lives. Now, Christopher Jencks’s book Rethinking Social Policy had a lot of second thoughts in it, and there’s a lot or discussion now about issues like welfare reform and affirmative action, but essentially, until very recently, affirmative action was unquestioned. Even the Supreme Court is, despite all its retrenchment, basically committed to the idea that race matters. The liberal orthodoxy today is Cornel West: Race matters, race is a social reality, and we have no choice but to institutionalize it. I am downplaying liberal conflict because the liberal conflict is on one side of the divide. You have the guys who want to live in a society where race matters and race is a basis for public policy, and you have the guys who don’t believe that. That’s the dividing line.
What do you think will happen over the next ten or fifteen years in American race relations?
In the short term we are in for more problems, because many blacks are going to interpret opposition to affirmative action as a form of resurgent white racism. Black leaders are likely to see race neutrality as bigotry in disguise. Blacks are likely to misunderstand the motives of well-meaning whites who oppose race preference for good reasons as being no different from those of the old bigots. This is going to make blacks more nervous about dealing with whites, and well-meaning whites more polarized and more irritated at blacks for reacting this way. In the short term I see more problems. On the other hand, I see a much greater acceptance of social equality among young people. So I’m optimistic about the next century, but I’m not optimistic about the next ten years.