Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the Department of Thinly Veiled Self-Interest

CNN has titled this story about a bunch of black civil rights leaders:
Civil rights vets: Fight not over because Obama reaches top
I'd like to propose the following edit:
Civil Rights Vets Declare: Obama Victory Doesn't Make Me Redundant or Irrelevant
Seriously, remember when Jerry Lewis used to say that he wanted to go out of business during those MDA Telethons in the 70's and 80's? I believed him.

After we have elected an African-American to the highest office in the land and 56% of black Americans say they think racism is not a big deal, isn't it time that some of these people who have made studying race their job to admit that maybe they too would LIKE TO GO OUT OF BUSINESS?

Or at the very least would any of them like to join the legions of scholars who studied the Soviet Union and have now miraculously become "Post-Soviet Scholars" which roughly translated means "tenured and unfireable." Some of the folks who study "race" need to admit to themselves that as much as they appreciated the office at University X, the media attention, and the book tours, that at the end of the day we are all better off when they shut their doors.

One of the big problems with government bureaucracies is that they almost never get shut down. I'm afraid we are heading in that same direction when it comes to centers and institutes that focus on race, racial identity, mixed race.....you get the idea. I think we can agree that the role that race has played in the world has not been good, so shouldn't our goal be the elimination, not perpetuation, of social interest in the topic?

And when I see places like this with the reaction to the election on their front page I really worry that the people who start institutions designed to study a bad social trend are starting to confuse their careers and fame with what should be the goal of their work - namely to eliminate racism.

I mean consider this excerpt from their mission statement:
Briefly put, in the post-civil rights, post-apartheid, and postcolonial era the vast issues of race and racism sometimes seems to have been incorporated, controlled, tamed. Race has acquired a quotidian and "normalized" status. In part because of this, and in part because previous racial conditions of inequality, exclusion, etc. still obtain, new racial conflicts are emerging both nationally and globally. The racial "problem of the 21st century" is also shaping numerous local polities, cultures, and identities. A notable lag has emerged between the experiences of the post-WWII period, when long-established patterns of white supremacism and eurocentrism both came under attack and underwent reform; and the current sociopolitical configurations of race. The latter are characterized by more (if hardly adequate) mobility, both geographic and socioeconomic; by more inclusive models of citizenship and political recognition; and by more acknowledgement of global racial networks (diaspora, media-driven globalism,etc.).

Under these conditions racially-based movements of the civil rights and nationalist type have lost some of their previous momentum. The past accomplishments of these enormous mobilizations were hardly negligible, but they were also insufficient to the enormous objectives they had themselves nurtured. Achievement of national independence and decolonization, for example, did not generally lead to democracy and development. The dismantling of segregation and apartheid did not achieve substantive racial equality. Indeed in many respects the racial reforms accomplished by these movements have ironically consolidated the basic patterns of inequality that they sought to overcome.
Now maybe I'm just a slow Midwesterner, but none of that is "briefly put" and I read all of that as "we've made a lot of progress, but we can NEVER make enough progress to cut funding or publication outlets for this topic, or God-forbid solve this highly destructive social problem upon which I have built my academic career."

Are these folks starting to help perpetuate our obsession with race even though the public at-large is losing interest? And if so what was the point of setting up all of these centers and institutions in the first place? At the end of Obama's term in office if the people at these centers are still arguing for more funding, more research, and more attention placed on race, they should be very ashamed or prepared to make more logical and theoretically sound arguments about why continuing to focus on race is worth the time and money. Otherwise they can join these guys in serious academic obscurity.

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