However, the legal scholar Lani Guinier argues that race continues to be an organizing principle of the democratic nation state. Ever since I came to this country in , people always ask me: Where are you from? Where do you come from? I believe that Darwin has given that question a generic answer. On second thought, the question may be diagnosed as a symptom of the need to affirm a measure of common value in the modern milieu of alienation.
Identity politics has arrived.
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Today, the problem of cultural ethos or ethnicity has become the major site of racial conflict. Some people become problems by the simple fact of their existence.
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Structural inequality and institutional discrimination, the substantive issues raised in the sixties, have not been fully addressed. It has acquired new life in the sphere of public, especially foreign, policy whenever officials rearticulate the binary opposition between Us and Them citizens of Western civilization versus the barbaric fundamentalists, rogue states, terrorists of all kinds.
The common life or national identity rises from the rubble of differences vanquished, ostracized and erased. This century now ending thus began with, among other events, the United States seizing territories in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean inhabited by peoples with their own cultures, economies and histories.
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The imperative of modernization covered up for their loss of sovereignty. The century began with the United States becoming an imperial power that would, after World War II, displace its old European contenders and declare a pax Americana of the free market on the ruins of fascist Germany and Japan. But as historians have shown, this hegemony over nation-states especially among formerly colonized and now neocolonized countries is always already predicated on the continuation of the European narrative and vision of world domination, on white supremacy.
Liberals like Nathan Glazer and Michael Walzer condemn any talk about national autonomy, collective rights or empowerment of communities as inimical to the unity and stability of the country. Meanwhile, the theme of global ideological conflict has now been revitalized. In fact we all live in one world, where the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund occupy pride of place. We are confronted in the media with everyday scenes of ethnic cleansing, earlier in Bosnia, now Kosovo, all over what was formerly the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, in Rwanda and earlier in apartheid South Africa.
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With the propagation of the Murray-Herrnstein notion of genetically defined intelligence The Bell Curve , we are once more surrounded with ideas first synthesized by Comte Joseph de Gobineau in his book Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races and later elaborated by Social Darwinism, eugenics and pragmatic utilitarianism. But what are teachers for, asked James Baldwin, if not to disturb the peace?
The aim of the cultural literacy espoused by E.
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After all, reality is what hurts. Multiculturalism is celebrated today as the accompaniment to the fall of the Evil Empire and the triumph of liberal capitalist democracy. There is in this picture, of course, a core or consensual culture to which we add any number of diverse particulars, thus proving that our principles of liberty and tolerance can accommodate those formerly excluded or ignored.
In short, your particular is not as valuable or significant as mine. The universal swallows the particulars. And the immigrant, or border-crosser like Guillermo Gomez Pena or Coco Fusco, our most provocative performance-artists, is always reminded that to gain full citizenship, unambiguous rules must be obeyed: Proficiency in English is mandatory, assimilation of certain procedures and rituals are assumed, and so on and so forth. While the military armies of racial supremacy were defeated in World War II, the practices of the liberal nation-state continue to reproduce the domination and subordination of racialized populations in overt and subtle ways.
The highly touted concept of civic nationalism, a framework for harmonizing ethnic differences, is bound to reproduce the racialization of identity and the processes of stigmatization and marginalization witnessed in the history of the sociopolitical formation. Others who are different, inferior or subordinate to us, are constructed to define the rights-bearing subject of the liberal nation-state. In the process, a fictive ethnicity of the nation emerges to validate its legitimacy and naturalness. But how can this recognition of multiplicity be universalized?
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Not, I believe, within the existing global logic of corporate accumulation. So I am afraid the race question will be with us in the next millennium as long as the conditions that produce and reproduce it are the foundation of the prevailing social structures and institutional practices of our everyday lives.
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Today, and even though we must confront old and new forms of hegemonic struggle, it is not possible to propose any social change if it is not through the conception and application of new forms of sociability, participation, and interaction between all political actors. In the same way, these new forms of sociability can only exist through the relation and confrontation between particularisms and their capacity for agency, as an ongoing struggle in the constant reconstitution of the social.
We must understand emancipation, in the first place, as a plurality of struggles beyond the myth of the class struggle, where a unified working class is the privileged subject of world liberation. Secondly, and this being essential, emancipation is not only the urge and impulse of liberation from ideology and injustice, but also a process of building a new order in which the others are taken into account; that is how freedom can be contemplated.
Freedom, as Hannah Arendt observed, is not mere liberation, it requires the creation and consolidation of solid institutions and practices that can shape new forms of sociability, of community. In this sense, the attention to the precariousness of our lifes and bodies, the necessary hostility and resistance towards the reification of our existence, and the explicit need of manifestation against the disappearance of the borders between the public and the private can be considered today as some of the most incisive elements of political intervention and radical democracy.
Shaping a Vision for Cultural Pluralism
That is to say: through the political, understood as the moment of articulation between the particular and the universal. Thus, emancipation s can only exist in the constant rebellion of particularisms against the homogenising universal s. Although history—with its texts and narratives—determines us significantly, it is equally true that as political subjects we have the capacity to compare and interpret, and most of all, to act against predeterminisms, to rethink and transform their content.
In this order of ideas, we believe that the artistic fact presupposes a place shared between the absorption and the subversion, between the contemplative passivity and the active rupture, between the nation-state and the multi tude, between the market with its reifying pressure and the creative impulse with its critical and emancipatory essence, between the universal homogeniser and the particular resistant.
While it is true that it is difficult to think that artistic forms can abolish borders and orders, it is also true that art serves to question, to confront, and to displace them.
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