Become a Patron


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

II. The Integrationist Illusion and the Myth of Racial Comity

The African American community's gains from the Civil Rights Movement are indisputably significant. The community transitioned away from second-class citizenship and political disenfranchisement in merely four decades. Substantial improvements were made amidst the frenzy of the racial mayhem of the sixties and early seventies where African American radical activists and leaders constantly decried--with all the force and vehemence that come with *352 embitterment and disillusionment--the evil white communities. There was first optimism that postwar prosperity would trickle down to the bottom ranks of the African American community--that the day when this community would be liberated from the shackles of poverty and marginalization had finally come. The integrationist movement was growing full-fledged, allured by the liberal discourse of black and white mainstream politicians and by the concrete material assets spread across class and racial lines in a new age of “equal opportunity” for all, regardless of race and ethnicity. The struggle to desegregate schools, colleges, and public facilities finally paid dividends when, enticed by a new generation of enthusiastic young liberals, the federal government started its long-term crusade against racism, discrimination, and poverty. Even by contemporary standards, the legal and legislative gains of the mid-sixties were profoundly sweeping and revolutionary, and yet landmark legislations such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act were only a stepping-stone for further legislation and policies that marked the evolution of race relations in the United States for decades to come. Early integrationists' optimism was nonetheless short-lived, and black social mobility over the next forty years significantly slowed. By 2013, for example, the unemployment rate among African Americans was about twice as high as that among white Americans. All that the racial riots of the late sixties and early seventies did was question the ability of politics to change a social and cultural *353 reality that African Americans suspected from the outset was irredeemable. The relative socioeconomic progress achieved by this community during the second half of the 1970s was not sufficiently reassuring, and other minority activists and intellectuals started to question the basis of white power structure from an academic, political, and activist's perspective. Minority intellectuals and activists' denunciation of the methods by which knowledge was produced and transmitted focused on schools and colleges, the classic bastions of white knowledge systems. This movement was later referred to as multiculturalism. What is important to note, however, is that the latter helped organize and channel the disparate discontented voices from among the portions of the African American community that failed to take advantage of the expanding economic opportunities of the age.

The revival of black radicalism in the 1980s and 1990s was, therefore, preconditioned by the gradual erosion of the previous socioeconomic gains and the increasing popularity of the multicultural movement. The recurring racial incidents--the best known of which were the 1992 Los Angeles riots following the acquittal of the officers who had beaten Rodney King, a black taxi driver who allegedly resisted arrest--gave second thoughts to several former, moderate black leaders who began to gravitate toward Black Nationalism, which continues to benefit from the support of substantial numbers of intellectuals, students, and *354 activists up to this day. This time, the critique of white racism took on better organized forms. Easier access to information and the diversification of the mass media gave African Americans the opportunity to publicize racist and discriminatory practices, while an influential academic elite began speaking on their behalf. They started refining the earlier Afrocentric theories which a scholarly and political framework within which African Americans grounded their expressions of separateness. The final outcome is that, today, the call for a separate identity and a common destiny for African Americans has become all the more legitimate and better structured theoretically and methodologically than it used to be in Malcolm X's time.

A. The Psychology of Anti-Black Racism

In 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois, then embittered by the increasing social pathologies and economic deprivation among the black migrants of the northern ghettos, prophesized that the race issue (or “Color Line”) would become a dynamic constituent of public opinion in the twentieth century. In the early fifties, at the dawn of an era of prosperity and abundance, the black residents of the northern and northeastern ghettos still suffered economic deprivation and social marginalization. At the turn of that decade, Ralph Ellison deplored the social and economic condition of this “invisible man,”--this dark-skinned man who was not so much invisible after all, as he stood out “damned” because he was black and “damned” again if he tried to integrate. Today, as author and journalist Farai Chideya argues, we still continue to depict the United States as black and *355 white, despite the fact that its racial composition is constantly changing and that it is projected that whites will become a minority in less than forty years. Just as the racial geography of the United States has not changed much in decades, the psychology of anti-black racism--meaning the attitudes and perceptions that have fostered white negative judgments about blacks and black culture--has remained essentially the same, perpetuating a “thought system accenting white superiority and black inferiority,” a “slavery [that is] unwilling to die.” And it is unlikely that it will change, as long as the inner fears, distrust, and suspicions that have previously bred prejudices and misjudgments about blacks persist. The main focus here is not so much on the reasons why anti-black racism has not ceased--despite the fact that the debate on race and racism in mainstream media has lately decreased--as it is on the psychological roots and motivations that sustain this old hostility toward dark-skinned individuals in general.

Notwithstanding some common systemic and cultural accounts of anti-black racism, the rejection--or loathing--of those with a darker skin seems to be grounded in psychic conflict, betraying an innate fear and anxiety about the potential evilness of the self. While darkness stands for the unknown recesses of this potentially vicious self from which the white individual incessantly tries to evade, anti-black racism is a projection onto individuals who are different in appearance form one's “white self” of that fear which the individual must live through his entire life. It is an evasion from oneself, or from what one could have been. From the perspective of the Cress theory of Color-Confrontation, the alienation from the self has eventually developed into alienation towards others--in this case, it is directed against blacks. For as Frances Wesling puts it, “[t]he destructive and aggressive behavioral patterns displayed throughout the world by white peoples towards all non-white peoples is the evidence of the inner hate, hostility and rejection they feel towards themselves and of the deep self-alienation that has evolved from their genetic inadequacy.” The projection of the white individual's assumed evilness onto individuals from the darker races is supposed to relieve him from his own anxiety--itself connected to a common core of alienation and narcissism--and serve as a constant reminder of “what” he should *356 not be. The black man, a host for the most reviled images and reflections, becomes the white man's alter-ego and must endure hatred and abhorrence in order for the white man to live in peace with himself.

Anti-black racism (and certainly racism in general) is by definition misanthropic, since it sacrifices a section of the society for the other section to surmount its debasing perceptions about itself. Also, it is only a provisional escape from the self as it just postpones white anti-white racism, for, as Lewis R. Gordon has argued in his influential work Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (1999), white Americans would have considered Europeans black if there had been no Africans. Blackness then becomes a psychological construct, a reinvention of the white self, and an image of it that is purposefully distorted and disfigured in such a way as to look as different as possible from the “original.” This depreciation of blackness has affected the whole African American community, which explains the disaffection of the better-off fringes of the community which often turned to black cultural nationalism for self-identification, specifically because of the resistance they faced in their progress toward integration. Today, white expectation that African Americans will not be able to “make it on their own” is in itself a racist message, a self-fulfilling prophecy which suggests that the latter lack the cultural and ethical requisites (the work ethic, commitment, integrity, etc.) likely to help them climb the socioeconomic pyramid. For example, the idea that President Barack Obama, an African American man, could serve in the highest executive position in the United States came as a surprise to many; indeed, the 2008 election marked a significant *357 demographic change in the United States towards a greater recognition of diversity. Newspaper headlines nationwide celebrated America's entry into a new era of racial comity and social justice, when even a black man was able to climb up the most prestigious career paths if he had the necessary credentials to do so. On the front page of The New York Times, for example, one could read that “Obama [was] Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls.” This could be either an extremely naïve statement or simply a deluding assumption about a long-wished-for condition of racial equality. When one learns that, a few weeks before, an article by a prominent columnist in the same newspaper strongly argued that, in the process of choosing a president, racial considerations could not be ignored, and that substantial numbers of white voters were not yet prepared to support a black candidate, one's skepticism only increases. As he put it, white voters in Ohio and West Virginia, for example, “were wary of a black president even if he might be better for them economically.” The same journalist reported that a Republican voter from Wheeling, West Virginia stated “[w]hat you hear around here is, would you rather have a black friend in the White House, or a white enemy?” An additional statement in the same article explains how the race issue of the election was, according to this journalist, decisive for a great number of white voters. The journalist reports Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, as saying that “the fact of the matter is that some voters--we can't know yet how many--will not get past [Barack Obama's] race. And [that he] very much believe[s] that the McCain-Palin ticket is tapping into that.” A more sincere headline appeared on the first page of The Boston Globe, another mainstream newspaper, reading “Among blacks, joy and tears, at journey's end.” This may be a more realistic description of the way a majority of African Americans felt. The only question, then, is what are the tears supposed to convey? Those were definitely tears of non-belief and puzzlement about something that many African Americans expected would perhaps never happen, at least during their lifetime. The man who was referred to at the Republican rallies a few weeks before his election as “not one of us,” and who was called, *358 according to The New York Times columnist Patrick Healy, “Arab, Muslim, traitor, terrorist, friend of terrorists, Barack Hussein Obama,” finally became the first African American president. If anything, such reactions on the part of many African Americans speak to their awareness that anti-black racism is deep-seated in a large number of white people's psyche and that much remains yet to be done to help reduce racial prejudice.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama, in turn, was aware of the importance of the racial factor in the election process. Speaking of the psychological and cultural legacy of centuries of human bondage and the persistence of anti-black racism and hostility, he once admitted that “[he] ha [s] never been so naïve as to believe that [Americans] can get beyond [their] racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy, particularly [with] a candidacy as imperfect as [his] own.” If, with the election of Obama, the black/white divide seemed to come down suddenly, it was not because white perception of African Americans and their culture changed. The former has certainly improved; otherwise, one would not witness the election of an African American to the White House. It was specifically because, among other things, the political and economic conjuncture of the late 1990s and 2000s determined this drastic change in public attitude toward federal politics. Candidate Barack Obama's election catchphrase “Change We Can Believe In” appealed to a large majority of disaffected youths and educated whites, and, as the serious economic recession worsened, Obama won even more votes from working-class whites in several states. But the largest votes came from the black community, and here is where racial politics come to the fore. Eight in every ten black voters gave their voices to Obama, while this particular election saw a black turnout that was unequalled in history. In brief, Mr. Obama's election was rather a personal odyssey, an individual achievement, and was no way a sign that anti-black racism *359 has completely disappeared. It was an exceptional achievement by an upper-middle class, Harvard graduate, biracial politician.

The importance of Mr. Obama's racial background for large numbers of voters, as revealed by the 2008 election, reflected the persistence of anti-black racism in contemporary America. Many voters, as noted earlier, expressed their distrust of a black candidate and even gave him offensive names. Others, especially politicians and public figures at both local and national levels, were particularly cautious when they discussed Mr. Obama's racial background, reminding us that race remains a taboo, an uncharted territory to stay away from. The fact that, today, if you are a politician and want to pursue a successful political career, you need to avoid bringing up racialist topics, may in itself be solid evidence of the precariousness of interracial relations and, more specifically, black/white relations. For fear of being charged of anti-black racism, whites can sometimes be quite watchful of their language in the presence of black colleagues. Incidents where whites are accused of being racist because they use words judged inappropriate by their black colleagues, employees, or teammates are quite common. When, for example, the white ombudsman to the newly elected mayor of Washington D.C., Anthony Williams, used the word “niggardly” to mean “thrifty” when talking about his plan to manage the funds at his disposal, he was accused by a black co-worker of racism and was eventually compelled to resign. Whether the word was used unwittingly or on purpose, no such incident was ever likely to turn into a scandal in the first place if the relations between blacks and whites were not weighed down by suspicion and mistrust.

*360 The above incident with Williams occurred in 1999, but many more incidents where black employees accused their white colleagues or employers of using language that had racist overtones have been reported throughout the national media. The point, however, is that the improvement in black/white relations observed over the past decade should not downplay the fact that anti-black racism has often played a role in determining white identity and culture, as opposed to black or African American identity and culture. It is eventually structured along old beliefs and values that have transformed over time into cultural symbols and that have become difficult to dismantle.

B. The Culture of Anti-Black Racism

It can be quite difficult to dissociate the cultural framework within which anti-black racism develops from the purely psychological motives that are likely to promote the latter's growth. In other terms, one cannot comfortably argue for a cultural basis for anti-black racism without referencing the personal experience(s) of the individual(s) who engage, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the practice of discriminating against dark-skinned people. One common description of culture is that it consists of a set of attitudes, values, and beliefs which allow individuals to identify with a given community. An individual's experience with racism is, therefore, theoretically part of the larger group experience. If, in the minds of many whites, “blackness” is a compelling reason why blacks should be treated differently, then anti-black racism should be considered a cultural phenomenon. It should also be considered a cultural phenomenon for blacks to consider being white a reason to perceive someone as evil-minded and racist. In either case, “difference” (both in essence and treatment) is a shared perception. Sharing roughly the same perceptions about something with members of the community to which one belongs is one of the basic characteristics of culture. In this particular case, whites and blacks have systematically opposing views about one another's ethnicity, race, and culture--views that are shared by whites (in general) about blacks (in general) and vice-versa. The negative stereotypes that many whites have about blacks are likely *361 based on the latter's personal interaction with blacks, but such stereotypes are part of a wider structure of symbols, connotations, assumptions, and beliefs that can be referred to as a culture, since it affects whole groups of people. As repeatedly demonstrated throughout the history of race in the United States, this (anti-black) culture has had disparate influence on the behaviors and attitudes of people, depending on location, culture, socioeconomic status, and personal history.

As noted earlier in the discussion of the 2008 presidential election, many whites still feel little embarrassment in expressing in public their apprehension about having an African American president. Such an apprehension, or uneasiness, is quite common among small-town, working-class white Americans, while a better acceptance of an African American president was clearly observed in the cities, where people have access to better education, better employment opportunities, and are accustomed to racial and ethnic diversity. This apprehension bears out two key assumptions about race and racism in contemporary America. First, the geography of race has not significantly changed since the civil rights era. More than four decades after the passage of the civil rights legislation of the sixties, the traditionally conservative regions of the south and west remain incontrovertible bastions of racism. These regions are where African Americans tend to have the lowest average annual income per household. The regions with the lowest annual income per household (including African American households) are those known for hostility toward African American presence, namely the south and west. Secondly, the personal profile of an individual counts for much in determining his racial attitudes and behavior, independent of the larger community culture with which he might identify *362 himself. Younger and more educated individuals tend to be more tolerant of people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. The negative stereotypes about the black community arise from the dogmatic representations of blacks as an inferior race. Being the product of repeated distortions of African history and civilization, they reproduce themselves and gradually gain acceptance among the least educated, conservative fringes of the white community. Time all but helps consolidate such misconceptions as deviant patterns of behavior, made almost inevitable by the lack of genuine opportunities for blacks to integrate, become tantamount with black culture. In the collective memory of white society, blackness is then more than just a symbol for the nonstandard and the odd; mystification ultimately gives way to an organized structure of beliefs and attitudes meant to perpetuate the perceived cultural differences between black and white communities. Anti-black racism, which originates from the negative stereotyping of black culture, therefore becomes a world-view--a whole way of life in which fantasies about difference and otherness combine with the historical and contemporary realities of black/white relations. Images of past white subjugation of blacks further reinforce anti-black sentiments as racism is more than just a “simple delusion of a bigoted and ignorant minority,” as race historian Joel Kovel points out. It is “a set of beliefs whose structure arises from the deepest levels of our lives--from the fabric of assumptions we make about the world, ourselves, and others, and from the patterns of our fundamental social activities.” This fabric of assumptions about the world is specifically what makes racism a cultural phenomenon that is deeply anchored in the individual's personal experience. The fantasies and images about blackness that white society transmits to the family are systematically bequeathed to the younger generations and are *363 then assimilated and reproduced in the form of anti-black prejudice. This is obviously a highly complex psychological process where memories of infancy build on social and cultural experience to finally give shape to the particular way an individual perceives the color distinctions around him. Blackness and whiteness are projections of the white individual's internal fear from a possible blurring of the demarcation line that separates the self from the other and the known from the unknown. Yet, from being a promising way of self-definition, the distinction between black and white soon turns into a source of anxiety, as the white individual becomes obsessed with keeping images of “blackness” down the color scale.

Blackness comes to connote shadow and darkness in the mind of the white individual in early childhood, as the negative stereotypes about it are transmitted through stories and tales. A toddler, scared by the glimpse of dark shadows in his room who runs up to his father saying that he saw “black people” in his room, definitely has no idea why the dark shadows should be “black people” in the first place. The frightening glimpse that the child caught could as well be of anything from a toy to “a pair of black shoes.” The reason why he should assume that the shadows were those of black people has to do with the negative images with which culture has filled his imagination. The cultural association between “black” and “dark” (as opposed to “white” vs. “light”) is thus “inculcated” in the child's subconscious and is later consolidated through social experience.

The negative stereotypes about blacks in general have often proved to be particularly difficult to obliterate from the collective consciousness of white Americans. As recently as 2008, jokes about African Americans were still those about the latter being prone to decadent behavior, licentiousness, and extravagance. White comedians did not often articulate such stereotypes. Instead, they often pass through African American comedians especially in ceremonies, movies, and news shows, reflecting what black feminist bell hooks *364 describes as “internalized racism.” Some of the best known African American comedians with whom Americans tend to associate controversial racial jokes are Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock. Commenting on President-Elect Barak Obama's proposed Affordable Care Bill, comedian D.L. Hughley, who hosts a weekly show on CNN called “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News,” joked that the plan was going to “provide ‘grills,’ or metal teeth caps for all.” While the joke was certainly not meant to hurt, and despite Mr. Hughley being an African American himself, he was severely criticized by bloggers from his own community, for whom the joke all but reinforced the old stereotype about the African American as a “thug” (or gangster) with gold-capped teeth and eerie tattoos. A popular culture icon, the African American gangster, in turn, epitomizes the “delinquent [African American] culture” with which he is associated and for which he is a metaphor. Finally, the psychological processes involved in the negative representations and perceptions of blacks and blackness are not exclusively detectable in the media. The stereotyping of blacks as members of a “deviant” culture can be observed even in the way black students are treated in class. A recent Stanford University study conducted on the race-based disparities in school discipline found that black students were perceived by their non-black teachers as needing tougher disciplinary treatment “if led to believe [an infraction] was committed by a Black student than if they thought it was committed by a white student.” The study, whose findings invoke the research results of a 2002 study by Skiba et al., concludes that such disparities in school discipline can be explained in terms of the “racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal [ ... ] encounters.” *365

III. African American Identity and U.S. Universalism: Denial and Dissent

The Black Nationalist project, which is fundamentally concerned with creating a common cultural, economic and political space for the black community, is in large part a reaction to the degrading treatment and debasing representations to which blacks have long been subject. The Afrocentric movement, on the other hand, was initially framed as an ideological response to these very hostile attitudes toward blacks and blackness. Both movements, however, attempt to create alternative discourses expected to promote black self-esteem and improve the community's view of itself, its past, and its future. In fact, one can safely place the Afrocentric discourse within the larger Black Nationalist movement as the kind of theoretical mold that gives it form and structure, while revolving essentially around African and African American histories and cultures. This is specifically what Black Nationalism and Afrocentrism have in common--a relationship built upon cross-fertilization and complementation.

This brief reminder of the main goals of these two central movements within the larger struggle of African Americans to achieve a better socioeconomic standing may serve us as a gateway to discuss the identitarian crisis of the community in question. This crisis no doubt borrows many of its features from similar ones experienced by communities and nations throughout the postcolonial world; the most typical of such features is a characteristic rage and a pungent expression of anger and protest. The cost of identity reinvention for African Americans, however, has been a more serious form of alienation and denial, as it implies a struggle against the very ideals and values that the community has been struggling to protect.

American liberal nationalism has, in theory, set up the framework for a participatory, inclusive social model, where racial and ethnic minorities are expected to give antecedence to the civic principles of the republic as they put aside the narrow interests of their communities for the common good of society *366 at large. It was essentially a civic philosophy, constructed around right, duty, and shared responsibility, reinforced by the set of democratic ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. However, what finally emerged was a completely different sociocultural construct from the one its early theorists, such as Cr‚vecoeur, initially conceived. For the universals generated in the process of nation-making were essentially exclusionary, as they associated Americanness--or being American--with whiteness, creating an enduring paradox that continues to fuel interracial antagonisms: how is it possible to be American, and yet feel comfortable in one's colored skin? American Universalists, including some prominent integrationists such as Thomas Sowell, claim that the democratic values upon which the nation was founded have always constituted a type of guiding rules applied indiscriminately to all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin, despite the episodic crises in interracial relations. Sowell is only one among several other thinkers representative of this integrationist trend in contemporary scholarship on race and ethnicity. Together with other prominent integrationists, such as David Hollinger and Arthur M. Schlesinger, he supports the idea that American Universalism has always provided a defensive line against racism and that this particular system of values and principles still works, despite the past and current injustices done to the black community. But history teaches us a different lesson. The spearhead values of American Universalism, namely freedom, equality and justice were, and still are, constantly challenged by white supremacy and the cultural narratives associated with it.

*367 Of all the racial and ethnic groups that make up American society, the African American community has been the only one to be denied the right to maintain a cultural identity, foster supportive networks of relationships among its individuals, or claim uniquely ethnic values and be proud of them. On one hand, if large numbers of African Americans are still on the margins of the socioeconomic mainstream, all the blame is put on the “degenerative” habits and patterns of behavior, whose bedrock is the ghetto culture. On the other hand, attempts to integrate into the mainstream are countered by deeply-entrenched prejudices against the community at large, creating a double-bind where even meritorious individuals can have difficulty improving their socioeconomic conditions. This situation is, of course, reminiscent of Ralph Ellison's antanaclasis where the black man is “damned” twice, once for wanting to integrate and once for wanting to “separate.” The deceitful discursive practices of Universalists (and of many integrationists, for that matter) trap the African American in an unsolvable paradoxical situation where, for many individuals, only ethnocentric monoculturalism appears to provide a way out. Ethnocentric monoculturalism, which, in the context of our discussion, refers to any type of community-centered ideology seeking to support identitarian values by attempting to avert external cultural influences, has served as a means to protest against the structural barriers erected by social practice and tradition to hinder the integration of the African American community. Both Afrocentrism and Black Nationalism have played a key role in fostering a uniquely African American identity by, first, regenerating old African cultural values and symbols, and then, by popularizing them. The tasks of “regenerating” and “popularizing” such ethnocentric values and symbols have been facilitated by influential black thinkers such as Ron Karenga, Baraka, and Molefi Kete Asante, to mention but a few. yet, some of them have been considered “not radical enough” to help promote real African American autonomy by certain cultural Nationalist groups, such as the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense *368 (NBPP), which has recently engaged in designing an even more radical discourse. Against the backdrop of a rebelliously antisocial and anti-white discourse, one witnesses the emergence of a dissent movement that questions the very principles and values around which the liberal republican system revolves. When, in the view of several Black Nationalists, such long-cherished dogmas as color-blindness and equal opportunity come to be associated with whiteness, then the whole integrationist movement is put in serious jeopardy. It follows that the African American community at large would suffer even more serious divisions and controversies on how best to preserve a common identity while seeking a better socioeconomic standing. It is this very ideological polarization that made Thomas Sowell, among other classical liberals, correlate the “Negro community” with “social pathology” throughout all his works. It may be for that same reason that Gunnar Myrdal, well before Sowell, had associated the black community with a serious “cultural lag” and argued for immediate integration. Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans have been grappling with a knotty dichotomy. This may be one possible description to depict the enduring friction which has typified African American “position” on integration. But, regardless of which ideology one may consider to better serve the interests of the community, one fact remains obvious to the critic of liberal nationalism--namely that blackness has often been reputed antithetical to Americanness, and therefore, as Etienne Balibar argues, has been “replaced” by a “fictive ethnicity” (Americanness) for the sole purpose of obliterating any remaining vestiges of its early existence. Substituting “blackness” for “Americanness” and accepting this new “configuration of values” as an alternative to true blackness (as an ethnicity and a world-view) defeats the very soul and spirit of democracy, of which even would-be “total integrationists” can be accused. Again, this thesis postulates that maintaining a black ethnic identity *369 remains an important component of the community's search for a better position in American society, a postulate counter to Sowell's constant denunciation of ethnic identification.

With African Americans accounting for about 38% of the prison inmate population, despite comprising only 13.3% of the U.S. population, there is reason enough to expect a resurgence of old anti-integrationist sentiment inside the community. In effect, this higher frequency of incarceration within the black community, compared proportionally to other groups, gives reason for Black Nationalist and separatist groups to criticize the judicial system for allegedly victimizing blacks. An unusually large prison population also provides them with a sizeable pool of potential adherents, which has specifically been a focus of the Nation of Islam over the past few years, as it recruited many of its “revolutionary nationalists” from this particular category of blacks. This resulted in a rising threat to the integrationist heritage of the civil rights movement, which generations of black moderates have painstakingly attempted to preserve.

A. The African American as Anti-Citizen

That African Americans should renounce their ethnic culture as a prerequisite for efficient integration is not an exclusively integrationist demand. This was the same old claim put forth by American Universalists, both black and white, which was later reformulated and theorized by contemporary classical liberals such as Thomas Sowell. Thus starting from a closely related premise, namely the conception of Americanness as inevitably exclusive of ethnic identity, the latter can be described as a typical representative of American Universalism. But, as African Americans' commitment to a common ethnic identity and cultural authenticity has often been represented as anti-American, African American intellectuals like Sowell, who pretend to be seeking a better predicament for their community, only reinforce the stereotypes and biases against it. One such widely- *370 shared stereotype is the African American as a transgressive citizen (or anti-citizen).

Anti-citizenship, which refers to the condition of non-conformity to, or rejection of, the civic norms and principles of a particular democracy, is probably one of the worst insults that the African American has endured over the past few decades. After the quasi-deception of the late sixties, when African Americans started to realize that the racial divide was most likely to get even wider, and therefore began to resist the integrationist efforts of moderate black organizations, they had to take all the blame for impeding the progress toward a post-ethnic society. In light of the Constitution, American society was meant to be capable of transcending group-centered interests through what came to be referred to as a “creed,” namely the ideal of living up to the democratic values of freedom, equality, and justice, despite its disparate racial, ethnic, and religious composition. But, as has already been argued, minorities were constantly forced to acculturate so as to be considered true Americans. And yet, certain minorities, such as Italians or Jews, have, to this day, retained some core cultural specificities through community-centered associations and networks, and are, nevertheless, accepted as they are--Italians and Jews, but essentially Americans. When African Americans, often against their wishes, tried to keep up a measure of group solidarity--through churches, for example--they have been accused of perpetuating racial and ethnic divisions. There is as much irony in this kind of double-dealing as there is hypocrisy with the concept of post-ethnicity. By designing the norms and standards by which Americanness is to be measured, white Anglo-Saxons have reserved the right to be the exclusive holders of truth and the sole dispensers of judgments and decisions. Thus, while white ethnic associations are accepted as sources of civic and cultural enrichment, respective black associations have been shunned as citadels of separatist ideology. Early German, Swedish and French parochial schools and associations, for example, were publicly criticized but nonetheless accepted as part of the American cultural mosaic. If tolerated, similar all-black *371 institutions were part of systems and social practices that encouraged them in the first place, such as racial segregation during and after Reconstruction. After the collapse of official segregation, several progressive African American movements and organizations were accused of spreading anti-white sentiment and therefore came to be deemed racist and anti-American. Note that, today, white Anglo-Saxons tolerate the use of languages other than English (Spanish for example) in public institutions but deny African Americans the right to maintain a separate cultural identity, despite the fact that language and cultural identity are two sides of the same coin. Post-ethnicity can be a highly misleading concept when it comes to describing contemporary American society. In contrast with multi-ethnic identities which are primarily the by-product of total or partial commitment to ethnic culture, post-ethnic identity takes shape through absolute compliance with the prevailing system of civic ideals and values. In this particular sense, a post-ethnic American identity corresponds exactly to the original hypothetical identity that the Universalists of the mid-nineteenth century thought they were creating. It was supposed to illustrate the commitment of a whole nation to a common and unique set of beliefs that transcended ethnicity, religion, and national origin. Centuries of immigration have only deferred this dream, as identification with the original cultural group has proven to be a common pattern that white nativism repeatedly failed to reverse. But when absolute compliance with the civic culture implied complete repudiation of the original culture for some groups, while others were exempted, the attempts by the groups forced to comply to achieve freedom of choice were bound to be depicted as anti-American.

Post-ethnicity is a nostalgic concept that attempts, in vain, to recapture an image that was never really fulfilled. For how can one possibly explain the systematic exclusion of African Americans from private and public mainstream institutions for centuries, except by admitting that the United States, as Harold *372 Cruse argues, remains a nation of minorities that is “ruled by a minority of one”? This “minority of one” is the same minority that is struggling today to reclaim its authority after losing it to the multicultural revolution of the late eighties. Its goals have remained the same, but its plans have certainly changed. Adopting an ostensibly liberal discourse based on a better acceptance of cultural diversity, this elite (of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) has redefined its priorities in light of the new demographic realities, namely the increasing size of immigrant communities, and allowed for a “‘pluralistic society in which a variety of subcultures and racial and ethnic identities coexist.”’ If it finally conceded that America's destiny was to be a multi-ethnic and multicultural society--that Americanization should no longer be equated with assimilation--then it was solely to impose the civic culture as a common denominator for all this diversity. But the problem is, if you turn liberal and tolerate cultural differences, then you should also tolerate ethnic identities as agents of minority subcultures. Integrationists, such as Thomas Sowell, continue to consider ethnic identities in general, and African American identity in particular, as representation of a delinquent--or deviant-- culture. Caught in a perpetual cycle of denial and censure, the African American has had to prove that his quest for an autonomous identity, one that is not anchored in shallow civism, is a legitimate quest. He has also had to prove that possession of an authentic African American identity taking pride in its African past does not cancel out his ability to be a good American citizen. Dealing successfully with this major challenge will determine the whole course of integration for a large section of the African American community.

B. African Americans and the Civic Ideology: Subverting White Cultural Supremacy

After the multicultural revolution of the late twentieth century, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture ceased to be the hallmark of American identity and the means to differentiate Americans from peoples around the world. The emergence of subnational identities anchored in diverse immigrant and native cultural backgrounds gave fresh impetus to the original ideals of American democracy (the “American Creed”) and a new liberal nationalism that was, in *373 theory, more tolerant of ethnic and cultural diversity. However, many of the expected benefits of this liberalization of the American cultural arena have been postponed, as the promises of a civic-based, market-oriented mentality failed to change many of the old biases and discriminatory practices against specific minorities and, more particularly, against African Americans. The failure of the nation to live up to its liberal credo is, thus, the most serious challenge that it has lately had to face.

The whole rationale behind civic nationalism is that dedication to the liberal principles of American democracy should play down ethnic and cultural differences for the common good of the nation at large. The civic/nationalistic credo is supposed to provide an ideological framework for a reinvention of the American identity in light of the demographic transformations that the nation has witnessed since the end of the First World War. However, the shift from the fixed paradigm of a nation held together by a common core culture, language, and religion to a nation of multiple national, ethnic, and language groups has not passed without generating a great deal of resistance from conservative nationalists who still see no better alternative to the Anglo-Saxon cultural mold for an American identity. Huntington refers to this ideological clash as a “deconstruction war,” where the civic/nationalistic agenda has yet to overcome further resistance to finally contain the purist, classical liberal resurgence. The cost incurred upon ethnic minorities as a result of the return to civic nationalism as a marker of American identity has been higher than that incurred upon the white majority. The truth about civic nationalism is that it, in fact, implies a compromise between ethnic minorities and the white majority revolving around one basic priority: the renunciation of ethnic identity in return for integration and the material gains and benefits that come with full citizenship. It is important to note that, in theory, this compromise equally compels the white majority to give antecedence to the liberal democratic principles of civic republicanism over its Eurocentric values and ideals. More specifically, it is expected to acknowledge the right of ethnic minorities to have access to an open market where the chances of self-improvement and progress through education and employment are equal for everyone. The ideal of equal partnership between ethnic minorities and the white majority was, of course, disregarded for centuries, *374 as full citizenship, the concept around which civic nationalism revolves, was granted based on the degree of assimilation into the Anglo-Saxon world. The persistence of discrimination against specific groups and communities in the various areas of social and economic life, however, proves that the terms of the compromise have been constantly violated. The afore-discussed African American underachievement in education and the economy is a case in point, but, when combined with blame and denial, underachievement can only further weaken this community's commitment to the civic credo. One can also argue that the terms of the compromise have not been fair to this community from the very beginning because, as observed earlier, specific discriminatory practices can be quite difficult to prove, especially when the “burden of proof,” as the Supreme Court has decided, should be laid on the party claiming to be discriminated against. Thus, the representation of the African American as an anti-citizen is again highly misleading, since it describes only part of the larger picture, the end result, and not the whole ideological and sociocultural context. African Americans have been led to expect more of the civic ideology than the latter was truly capable of offering them. In other words, they were deceived, regardless of whether that was the original intention of the theorists of civic nationalism. Let us not forget here that Sowell, as an unconditional integrationist, has been one of the most fervent advocates of this new civic credo and that he never misses an opportunity to stress the need for African Americans adherence if they really aspire for socioeconomic advancement. Putting Sowell's honesty in question is, of course, not the purpose of this argument. But when a theorist of his caliber fails to explain the actual reasons behind African American recalcitrance, one is left guessing as to the validity of his assessment. It may be also for this very reason that he is called an “apologist” by many reviewers, and an “apologist” is not expected to find fault with the party he is apologizing for. *375 In contrast with what Sowell and several other integrationists maintain about African Americans, rebelliousness is hardly a choice and by no means a characteristic cultural feature of this community. It has quite often been part of its response to continual disillusionment in a nation that is supposed to be based on a political contract but which acts as a white cultural monolith. On the other hand, the difficulty with achieving a post-ethnic society lies in this very disillusionment with the “American Creed,” or America's failure to live up to her political ideals. The assumed African American anti-citizenship is, again, a function of this community's reaction against the status quo. One should perhaps recognize it as an expression of disenchantment of a group caught in a vicious circle of promises and deceptions, of perpetual expectation and deferral.

Color-blind integrationists and apologists herald the rebirth of America as a color-blind nation where minority cultures fit in as nexuses of a richly varied national culture. On the other hand, they celebrate the endurance of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture because, they presume, it is the only culture that is capable of offering ethnic minorities real opportunities of progress and improvement. Such a self-contradictory position reveals that a color-blind approach to integration, which is basically a civic-based approach, suffers from structural weaknesses that the current demographic data further expose. For it is only true that America is turning brown--as several scholars of race like to argue in reference to the growing size of non-white minorities--and that it has become more acceptable to refer to her as a nation made up of minorities rather than of a white majority dominating a number of ethnic minorities. For African Americans, this identitarian mystification can well be a blessing in disguise, as it helps them “deconstruct” the civic discourse as it stands today. Eventually, a better recognition of the right of African Americans to self-improvement through their ethnic culture may help unravel part of its contradictions.

*376 C. The Cult of the Civic Ethos and the Realities of the Free Market Economy

The sizeable disparities in income and employment, as well as in educational achievement, between blacks and whites are in large part the result of the discrepancy between the civic ethos as a set of principles and as a concrete way of life. This failure to translate it into a lived reality reflects, in turn, the tenacity and persistence of the white supremacist discourse and the culture that it has sustained for centuries. In this culture, which color-blind integrationists assume is propitious for integration, equal partnership between the different ethnic groups is still difficult to achieve, simply because the ethnic and racial barriers have not been completely dismantled. Growing subtle, these barriers have, on the contrary, become even harder to overcome. So long as African American income, employment, and educational figures are not even close to whites', the civic compromise, as it currently stands, is still considered unfavorable to African Americans. The fact that color-blindness and equal opportunity have not helped change much of the socioeconomic reality of the African American community gives us reason enough to suspect that, in fact, they are not meant to serve its interests in the first place. What commitment to the liberal ideals and principles of American republicanism--to the detriment of ethnic cultural values and ways of life--has very often meant for white purists is the antecedence of an archetypal mode of existence that is basically Eurocentric. Within the framework of this mode of existence, allegiance is meant to be exclusively to a set of universals which whites themselves have designed. All existence outside the sphere of these universals is straight away annihilated and otherwise vilified and denigrated. The current civic discourse, which preaches a return to the original spirit of American republicanism, does nothing to change the status quo. Quite the opposite, it reintroduces the same ideological agenda that has served the interests of the white majority for centuries.

*377 Yet again, black/white disparities in economic performance over the nineties and 2000s, decades that witnessed the resurgence of the civic discourse which was championed by key classical liberal figures such as Sowell and Hollinger, direct us to speculate on how a return to the civic credo would possibly help minorities better integrate. The fact that African Americans continue to have lower income levels and higher poverty rates than whites means that commitment to the civic ethos alone was of very little help to them. Figures from the last decennial census illustrate the continuing socioeconomic discrepancies between African Americans and the other groups in a supposedly color-blind, free market system. The difference in income per household between the former and white Americans in 1999, for example, amounted respectively to more than $15,000--$29,400 and $45,400. Asians had the highest income, with $51,900 per household. Moreover, households with an African American/black householder (the census uses both terms interchangeably) accounted for 19.1% of households with incomes below $10,000. As for poverty rates, African Americans were over-represented in the poorest category, with 24.9%, compared to white Americans whose poverty rate was as low as 8.1%. At the time, $13,410 was considered to be the poverty threshold for a family of three with one member under 18 years of age. Considering that economic recession often more seriously affects African Americans than white Americans, economic analysts expected that the impacts of the 2009 recession would be particularly hard on this group. Unemployment, for instance, was expected to rise to an estimated 20% or more. Between 2000 and 2007, black employment and income already decreased by 2.4% and 2.9% respectively. But, while blacks in 2009 earned a bare 15 cents of every white *378 dollar, 30% of black households have “zero to negative net worth,” meaning that these households which are already living well under the poverty line are expected to sink even deeper in poverty. The black middle classes are, in turn, expected to decrease by 33%. There are a number of reasons why African Americans are more seriously affected by economic recession than whites. Lack of competitiveness as a result of inferior educational achievement is, as argued earlier, the most probable cause. However, to deny the responsibility of the free market environment for at least part of the problem is to ignore the existence of a culture that favors the groups that are already socioeconomically advantaged and that this culture is vindicated in the name of commitment to the civic ethos. The ultimate objective is to equalize the civic ideology with the free market ideology (which is inherently deficient because, as observed earlier, it favors the privileged over the less privileged), and therefore, if you criticize the mechanisms of the free market, you are accused of being hostile to the very principles of the civic ethos. This explains, to a large extent, why African Americans are often accused of anti-citizenship. They have nothing against the civic credo or identity. Their reservations are, rather, against the distortions made to the civic culture--the misapplication of the liberal standards so that they meet the expectations of the privileged groups. If this were not the case, how could one then possibly explain the fact that, in almost all markets, blacks are treated differently from whites, from having to pay higher prices for the same services to being sold low-quality products for the same prices?

IV. Conclusion

Because commitment to the civic ethos alone has failed to guarantee equal opportunity for African Americans, it is critical for them to attempt to seek solutions in alternative commitments and identifications. Self-improvement through the conventional channels of the free market remains an option. However, resorting to the community for identification and self-esteem should not be considered to counter this effort. It can well be an ideal space to start a constructive criticism of the current social, economic, and cultural hierarchies.

*379 Despite its seeming anarchical and impulsive character, black “anti-citizenship” in this article is seen as a full-blown strategy of resistance against white cultural hegemony. In a multiethnic society, the civic ideology cannot be an exclusive source of cultural identity. By designing new strategies to reinvent and preserve their history, African Americans create infinite opportunities for equal cultural partnership with the superordinate groups. Blacks have been victims of the civic ethos and the humanistic universals upon which it is built because they have been constantly denied opportunities to take pride in an autonomous cultural identity. The denigration of specific patterns of black social behavior has been a source of tension between blacks and whites for decades, as it has promoted the growth of radical ideologies that might have exacerbated hostilities.

However plausible it might seem, the black self-help proposition remains unrealistically optimistic, as the history of black economic performance demonstrates that the odds for this disadvantaged community to achieve efficient integration are incontrovertibly flimsy when most societal forces work against it. The “free market solution” to the problem of integration is hardly any solution at all. In the absence of drastic policy measures to go about the problem of family break-up and some of the issues associated with it, such as poverty and anti-social behavior, self-help clearly provides few clues as to how to break down the initial disadvantage that comes with prejudice and marginalization.