13 Darkness Made Visible: law, Metaphor, and the Racial Self
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13 Darkness Made Visible: Law, Metaphor, and the Racial Self D. MARVIN JONES Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. ... The shades of the prison-house closed round us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above1 In August 1862, Abraham Lincoln called a number of "Negro" leaders to the White House. Laboring under harsh racial assumptions, which conflicted with the moral eloquence to come at Gettysburg, Lincoln told his assembled audience, "You and we are different races.... This physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence."2 With these prefatory remarks, Lincoln proceeded to try to persuade his audience of the merits of his plan: To emancipate slaves and expatriate them to a colony in Central America. For Lincoln, race signified a natural and immovable wall between communities, a wall of difference. Homogeneity, by contrast, is the basic stuff of the social bond. By invoking the notion of race, and invoking it in a strong essentialist sense,3 Lincoln rhetorically posited that blacks and whites lacked any basic human bond upon which they could form one society . Race reverberated as a metaphor of kinship, denying that there was the requisite brotherhood between blacks and whites, and denying that blacks and whites could co-exist on the same social plane.4 Historically, this world view was most explicitly expressed in institutional structures such as de jure and de facto segregation. This bleak nineteenth century world view remains in our current constitutional jurisprudence. The idea of race as a natural, objective demarcation of difference between groups is the lens through which courts continue to view claims by blacks. Thus, in City of Richmond v. ]. A. Croson CO.,5 Justice O'Connor criticizes as fundamentally illogical the means-ends connection of a set-aside program requiring thirty percent participation by "minorities." O'Connor explains: [T]he 30% quota cannot be said to be narrowly tailored to any goal, except perhaps outright racial balancing. It rests upon the "completely unrealistic" assumption that minorities will choose a particular trade in lockstep proportion to their representation in the local population.6 82 Gw. L.j. 437 (1993). Originally published in the Georgetown Law Journal. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material Darkness Made Visible 67 On the surface, this opinion represents hostility toward using groups, rather than the individual , as the unit of social inquiry, a relentlessly particularizing perspective that denies both the problem of caste and the relevance or reality of societal discrimination. Moreover, it is a denial that group disparities between the socioeconomic situations of blacks and whites are legally meaningful. The source of this denial of meaning is a conception of race as difference . O'Connor seems to say: "Blacks and whites are different races.... Why assume they would have similar interests or display statistically similar occupational patterns?" But race, for all its rhetorical power, is an incoherent fiction. "The truth is," as Anthony Appiah notes, "there are no races. "7 Racial categories are neither objective nor natural, but ideological and constructed. In these terms race is not so much a category but a practice: people are raced. Yet conventional legal theory understands race as something that is already "there," freestanding.8 As we shall see, this conventional account ultimately collides with its own lurking objectivism. From President Lincoln to Justice O'Connor, from classical to modern American law, this specious perspective has imposed false horizons on our values and discourse. This figure of race seeks to draw its line of difference in the dialogue about democracy and equality between those who fit within and those who fit without. So long as this trope of difference remains as the dark glass through which we view the world, it will distort our vision and conceptions of law, justice, and ourselves. Law Through the Eye/I of the Other: Racial Identity as a Lens Race is a mask that grins and lies.9 Its assumptions distort our images of ourselves and close off our vision of the world. Like the doll·wood mask...