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Racial Dualism at Century's End Racial Dualism Race matters: whether we in the United States—and in many other countries as well—wish this to be the case or not. The United States: What is it? A nation built on the soil of conquest, battened on the theft of human beings. Yet it is not only this. The United States was also created out of the doctrine of natural rights, whose restrictive application was continually eroded by the struggles of the excluded: first the European "others," and then the other "others," down to our own day. Throughout U.S. history, racial conflicts continually shaped and reshaped the categories into which identities—all identities—were classified. The racial strugglesat the heart of U.S. society, the racial projects whose clash and clangor leap off the pages of today's headlines as they have for centuries, have created the politics and culture of today. Race matters: yet race today is as problematic a concept as ever. Over the past fewdecades, the waywe in the United States think of race has changed once again, as so often in the past. I shall argue in this essay that we are now in a period of universal racial dualism. Once, U.S. society was a nearly monolithic racial hierarchy, in which everyone knew "his" place; under racial dualism,however, everyone's racial identity is problematized. "How does it feel to be a problem?" Du Bois 166 Racial Dualism at Century's End 167 famously reported being asked (Du Bois 1903b). The racial dualism he discerned was, of course, that of black people, who, he argued, were forced to live simultaneously in two worlds. His insight, which at the beginning of the twentieth century addressed black experience in a society of all-encompassing white supremacy,continues to apply, but the situation he analyzed has now become considerably more complicated. Today the racial anxiety, uncertainty, conflict, and tension expressed by the term racial dualism affect everyone in the United States, albeit in different ways. Monolithic white supremacy is over, yet, white power and privilege live on. The overt politics of racial subordination has been destroyed, yet it is still very possible to "play the racial card" in the political arena. Blacks and other racially defined minorities are no longer subject to legal segregation, but they have not been relieved of the burdens of discrimination, even by laws supposedly intended to do so. Whites are no longer the official "ruling race," yet they still enjoy many of the privileges descended from the time when they were. The old recipes for racial equality, which implied creation of a "colorblind " society, have been transformed into formulas for the maintenance of racial inequality. The old programs for eliminating white racial privilege are now accused of creating nonwhite racial privilege. The welfare state, once seen as the instrument for overcoming poverty and social injustice,is now accused of fomenting these very ills. What racial dualism means today is that there are now, so to speak, two ways of looking at race, where previously there wasonly one. In the past, let us say the pre-World War II era, everyone agreed that racial subordination existed; the debate was about whether it was justified. Theodore Bilbo and Thurgood Marshall—to pick two emblematic figures—shared the same paradigm , perhaps disagreeing politically and morally,perhaps even representing the forces of evil and good respectively,but nevertheless looking at the same social world. But today agreement about the continuing existence of racial subordination has vanished. The meaning of race has been deeply problematized. Indeed, the very idea that "race matters" is something that today must be argued, something that isnot self-evident. This in itself attests to the transformation that racial dualism has undergone from the time of Souls to our own time. On the one hand, the world Du Bois analyzed is still very much with us. We live in a racializedsociety, a society in which racial meaning is engraved 168 Racial Dualism at Century's End upon all our experiences. Racial identity shapes not only "life chances," but social life, taste, place of residence. Indeed, the meaning of race, the racial interpretation of everyday life and of the larger culture, polity, and economy, has been so finely tuned for so long and has become so ingrained that it is now "second nature," a "common sense" that rarely requires acknowledgement. As our racial antennae are tuned and retuned, race becomes "naturalized ." As an element...


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