restricted access 110 Confronting Racelessness
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110 Confronting Racelessness ELEANOR MARIE BROWN Kendall Thomas coined the phrase "we are raced"l as a race-conscious challenge to the abstract notions of citizen and state as they are conceptualized in liberal legalism. Thomas insists that our received notions of rights and duties in law are rife with racial implications. This is particularly the case given the highly charged racial context within which notions of rights and duties were developed, who they were meant to exclude, and our societal struggle to make the law"color-blind." In this context, abstract notions of citizen, government, rights, and duties do not begin to account for the relationship between people of color and their government, people of color and their fellow white citizens, and people of color among themselves, either as traced out in history or in contemporary times. Critical race theorists insist that the world is not as de-raced as the law, historically formed by members of the majority race, would have it seem. We must learn to resist the sentiment that we can somehow rid ourselves of this "race thing." Such theorizing does damage to our perceptions of social relations, as it attempts to bracket off race in formulating theories of how notions of citizen, law, and the state are constructed. We retard the educational project by failing to come to terms with the enormity of race and how it subsumes us. We standardize race without recognizing that we do it, interfering with our own efforts to fight racial subjugation. Social science tells us this is the case. "Race becomes 'common sense'-a way of comprehending, explaining and acting in the world."2 We need a formulation of race that takes account of white people's realities. It seems to me that the very fact that we confront a "raceless" paradigm, where people are unaware of how race affects their everyday lives, forces us to incorporate this" racelessness" into our theorizing. To some extent this has been done; a fundamental goal of critical race theory has been to expose the ostensibly race-neutral "masks and other disguises"3 that perpetuate racial oppression. The problem is that in attempting to strip away masks, we have written as though contemporary whites operate no differently than the dominative racists of the past. We can acknowledge that whites may indeed believe that their agendas are raceneutral and not merely a pretext for maintaining subordination. The point of the phrase "unconscious racism" is that it is unconscious. Critical race theory does often acknowledge the unconsciousness of white actions; an important goal is to expose to the law how this unconsciousness leads to acute and nasty realities in the lives of people of color. Yet, theory has yet to ask itself the much more difficult question-that is, how to communicate with people who really believe that tools that From "THE TOWER OF BABEL." Reprinted by permission of the Yale Law Journal Company and Fred B. Rothman & Company, from The Yale Law joumal, Vol. 105, pages 513-47. Copyrighted Material Confronting Racelessness 645 maintain racial subordination are race-neutral, people who were raised in paradigms of meritocracy and objectivity and who steadfastly maintain that the law is color-blind. We need to move beyond a simple recognition of the way we have been socialized to think we are "raceless" to incorporate the implications of that realization. Any formula that would move beyond the present impasse would have to account for this reality. Such a formulation would recognize that even as we are indeed raced, we are necessarily raced to varying extents. Whether or not we realize we are raced necessarily implicates the extent to which we are raced. As people of color, we have no choice but to be raced. Others have the choice to operate in a paradigm of racelessness, for their racial features constitute society's norms. The white subjects of the social science experiments differ from the critical race theorists in their fundamentally different sense of the importance of race in this world. Some of us are raced, others of us are de-raced, and there is a continuum in between. The ambivalent whites who struggle with conflicting allegiances of how to conceptualize blacks seem to be arrayed at various points along this continuum. We should approach each instance of an individual's contact with the law and include the voices of white participants. Then we should theorize about how that individual's perceptions vary depending on race. We should write...