White liberals, and multiculturalists of color, continue to talk about the “damaging effects of identity politics” on attempts to improve racial cooperation. And even though these groups characterize racial and ethnic politics as harmful and claim they should be universally shunned, they do not clearly define what harm those terms actually inflict. Racial and ethnic politics are, nonetheless, characterized as an anathema to be universally shunned.
Of course, these proponents of “ethnic neutrality” also minimize or deny the importance of racial and/or identity politics, and as mentioned, they have neither spelled out their objections clearly nor defined the “harm” racial/ethnic politics. This is no minor oversight, because the philosophical, moral and legal basis for improving human relations not only include, but celebrate the reality of race and ethnicity-not just for white people, but for Blacks and all others of color. However fervent the cries for downplaying race, they do nothing to alter its continuing significance in virtually every aspect of American society.
Cries for racial neutrality in a nation still anchored in racism only serve to obscure the causal factors and delay sorely needed concrete solutions. Growing problems of population shifts, diversity and immigration increase the need for viable policy and legislative alternatives, as well as new and more accountable leadership at all levels. The significance of race and ethnicity should never be understated; they are the cornerstones of successful interracial and inter-ethnic collaboration. Although seldom accorded proper weight, intra-group unity (unity within any group), is the basis for building successful cross-racial/ethnic partnerships.
Racial neutrality proponents tend to pontificate about what does not constitute a valid paradigm for ethnic cooperation. In fact, few, if any sound group, would abide leaving racial, ethnic or religious identity at the door while working with others to develop new methods of interracial and/or inter-ethnic cooperation.
Another question for proponents of racial neutrality is whether their objections to emphasizing race and ethnicity extend to white ethnic, religions, civil rights or ethnic-oriented organizations such as the NAACP, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the American Jewish Committee? Absent clear definitions of the maligned “racial and ethnic politics,” the “political” appropriateness of such established organizations can be called into question. Could it be that the white people object to Blacks and others of color advocating for racial and ethnic pride and identity because that threatens white supremacy?
Race-neutral advocates say racial/ethnic politics serve only to polarize communities. However, they do not tell us at which point a person (or group) crosses the line and becomes “racially or ethnically” unacceptable. It is virtually impossible to exclude race in any serious discussion of intergroup polarization or racial and ethnic collaboration. Proponents of ethnic neutrality, when pressed, simply cite examples of “extremist” individuals and groups, rationalizing their own self-serving extremist behavior and beliefs.
Denigrating positive value of race and ethnicity when it comes to Black people is a manifestation of a double standard—one for whites and one for people of color. For instance, few would deny that race was, and is, preeminent in the history and ongoing development of this nation. The rub is, for non-whites, color remains indelible so long as racism exists. All groups should celebrate race, as whites do; it is a source of pride and should be applauded as an means, not a barrier to racial collaboration.
Minimizing the reality of race only makes racial and ethnic cooperation and collaboration more difficult.
Suggestions that diversity and multiculturalism are obtainable without fully accounting for race and ethnicity are foolhardy. People are not stupid, they know when and where their best interests are being served, and most do not buy the wrongheaded notion that individual group strength is enhanced by denying or minimizing one’s race or ethnicity. Unfortunately, many Blacks have internalized this self-effacing notion which adds immeasurably to the difficulty of crafting sustainable solutions to the problem. Every group’s racial/ethnic pride enhances collaborative effort; minimizing race reinforces a group’s potential for maintaining, not reducing racism.
Proponents of racial and ethnic neutrality also recommend “identifying and nurturing programs that advance us beyond the basic level of racial politics.” This sounds fine but what does it actually mean? How can this approach be implemented without actually spelling out what “racial politics” is and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not. Otherwise, it is simply calculated rhetoric.
Race neutrality advocates also lament, “There is far too much emphasis on celebrating our differences.” But why must celebrating our differences be an anathema? In fact, pride and strength in one’s own racial and ethnic group are bedrock ingredients for racial healing.
The neutrality proponents’ blanket condemnation of identity politics is misguided and counterproductive. It reduces the likelihood or racial harmony, not the other way around. As long as American society continues to dole out rewards and punishment on the basis of color and class, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and others of color will continue to suffer injustice and inequities disproportionately.
Far from being xenophobic, racial pride and intragroup solidarity are avenues for creating new models of cooperation. Government, civil rights and human rights organizations, and Black people themselves, must develop new methods for ethnic collaboration. They must recognize and acknowledge the positive nature and value of race and ethnicity for successful and sustainable multiracial/ethnic collaboration.