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Sami C. Nighaoui

Sami C. Nighaoui, The Color of Post-ethnicity: The Civic Ideology and The Persistence of Anti-Black Racism, 20 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 349 (Spring, 2017)


For nearly two centuries, racial integration has been contingent upon successful Americanization--a policy of mainstreaming norms of conduct and codes of behavior enforced upon ethnic and racial minorities. Americanization is considered to be in line with the spirit of what the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal calls “American Creed.” “American Creed” is based upon the belief that the ideal of a democratic society is where citizens--without regard to race, religion, or national origin--abide by the civic codes and enjoy, in return, freedom, equality, and justice. “American Creed” has also meant that, to be considered a “true” American, one needs to renounce his ethnic culture and unconditionally embrace that of white Anglo-Americans. Similar to most other ethnic and racial minorities, African Americans were encouraged to abandon their ethnic histories and cultures to achieve effective integration. Although several *350 groups have facilitated their integration into the mainstream, successful integration for a sizeable section of the African American community remains one more dream deferred. The failure of the Americanization mode of integration is a major cause of this community's disillusionment with integrationist ideology. Despite this, several conservative scholars of race believe that all types of social and economic adversities from which this community suffers are of its own making. It is typical of such conservative scholars to recommend that blacks “cease viewing themselves as victims of white racism, [and] accept responsibility for their own fortunes .... Rather than place their hope in politics and government, they should emulate other ethnic groups ... who achieved success through their own strengths.” This is specifically the kind of victim-blaming denounced by several other contemporary scholars of race. Americanization-style integration, as advocated by many influential scholars of race such as Thomas Sowell, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., David Hollinger, and Ronald Dworkin, postulates that the free-market system is the sole guarantor of socioeconomic advancement since economic institutions are supposed to have every reason not to discriminate. This article finds that the argument for black self-help suffers from a serious logical fallacy given that it may not be applicable beyond a hypothetical situation where no ethnic and racial stereotyping and categorizing are involved. Yet, while it can be difficult to ignore the existence of specific patterns of anti-social behavior among members of the *351 black underclass, it is quite safe to assume that much of their resistance and dissent is a reaction to denial and marginalization rather than a planned conspiracy against American civic republican traditions. The notion of the African American as “anti-citizen” is criticized in this article for reinforcing anti-black stereotypes that are widely shared by working and middle-class white Americans.

A second major argument in this article is that popular white perceptions of blackness run counter to efficient integration because they emanate specifically from real, time-honored psychological and cultural representations of the “black other” that simply do not wither, despite the increased white tolerance towards blacks in the post-civil rights era. The persistence of anti-black racism is explained by the tension inherent in specific patterns of black-white relations that have a strong bearing on the very universalistic values and moral premises of American liberal nationalism. It follows that the claim that the free-market system is a better guarantee against anti-black racism is questionable because the absence of de jure discrimination does not necessarily entail its demise. Rather, more subtle forms of anti-black racism have taken shape, and so, the black-white divide is even more difficult to cro