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.