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Preface This small book of essays has a large goal: to reconceptualize race at the end of the twentieth century. It is now ninety years since W E. B. Du Bois, the nation's preeminent thinker on racial matters, formulated his famous maxim that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line" (1989 [1903]: 13). His words were prophetic, for race did emerge over the course of this bloody century as a crucial issue of culture and politics, as a defining dimension of social order and conflictall around the globe. But the world Du Bois saw was very different from our own. Atthe turn of the twentieth century,the globe was carved up into the colonial empires of European powers. The United States—and practically every other multiracial society on earth—was a rigid caste society, a virtual racial dictatorship , a herrenvolk democracy. The nearly universal view of race was that it was a "natural" phenomenon, a biological essence, an immutable determinant of social distance and hierarchy. Eugenics was in full flower—the term had been coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin—and not only the halls of government but also the groves of academe resounded with debate on the most effective ways of preserving and extending the unquestioned superior traits of the white race. Atthe beginning of the twentieth century, only a few voices cried out in a seeming wilderness against the white supremacy so generally taken for granted. Thus, in identifying race as the problem of the age, Du Bois foretold dramatic changes indeed. Nearly one hundred years later the situation has changed quite drastically The far-flung colonial empires are gone, and their once haughty "mother countries" are declining powers. The twentieth century, despite xi xii Preface its rivers of blood and orgies of hatred—racial and otherwise —has seen the rise of race to world center stage. Biologistic theories of race no longer retain even minimalcredibility.Racial inequality, far from being perceived as "natural," is generally recognized as a form of injustice. Even the "ignoble and unhappy regime" (Marley 1976) of apartheid in South Africa— where racial difference was heretofore enshrined as the fundamental mark of caste—has been forced to undertake massive reforms. In the United States, a powerful movement for racial justice destroyed the system of racial segregation in the years after WorldWar II, leaving a far more open—if still ambiguous and conflictual—political situation in its wake. So, are things getting better or worse? The tremendous racial transformations of this century, I argue here, cannot be understood in the usual terms of plus and minus.Is race increasing or decreasing in significance on a world scale?Is countryXmore or less egalitarian than itwas twenty years ago? Have the "life chances" of a black or indigenous person improved in country Y?In general, such questions cannot be answered with great assurance , because they do not address the contemporary complexities of race, the conflictingmeanings and fragmented identities that characterize it today. In contrast to a centuryago, the world today is more aware of race, more respectful of difference, even marginally more egalitarian.Yet how those putative improvements play in the streets of Sao Paulo or Detroit, and'how they compare to the overall progress made since Du Bois penned The Souls of Black Folk—such questions remain open. Thus, to understand race as a "problem" today means something very different than it did in 1903. When Du Bois wrote that famous line, he was appealing for the world's attention and demanding justice. Today, to speak of race as a "problem" is not to call attention to injustice but to propose to transcend race, to get beyond it, to eliminate it or at least drasticallyreduce its importance in sociopolitical terms. It is to seek a "solution"—intellectual , moral, or political—to the supposed incongruities of racialdifference and inequalityin ostensibly democratic and egalitarian societies. What is wrong with "solving" the race "problem"? Whyshouldn't we try to "get beyond" race? When a full account of the complexities of race remains far beyond our reach, such objectives are either foolish or dangerous , or both. Is it not rather disingenuousto contemplate "getting beyond" race when in almost every corner of the globe, dark skin still correlates with inequality? Since when has it been possible to make large-scale conflicts "go away"? What other major forms of human difference have been transcended recently?Class? Gender? Nationality? When we...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780816685660
Related ISBN
9780816623877
MARC Record
OCLC
560385760
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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