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.