Racial Culture

Racial Culture: A Critique

RICHARD THOMPSON FORD
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7tbw7
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  • Book Info
    Racial Culture
    Book Description:

    What is black culture? Does it have an essence? What do we lose and gain by assuming that it does, and by building our laws accordingly? This bold and provocative book questions the common presumption of political multiculturalism that social categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are defined by distinctive cultural practices.

    Richard Ford argues against law reform proposals that would attempt to apply civil rights protections to "cultural difference." Unlike many criticisms of multiculturalism, which worry about "reverse discrimination" or the erosion of core Western cultural values, the book's argument is primarily focused on the adverse effects of multicultural rhetoric and multicultural rights on their supposed beneficiaries.

    In clear and compelling prose, Ford argues that multicultural accounts of cultural difference do not accurately describe the practices of social groups. Instead these accounts are prescriptive: they attempt to canonize a narrow, parochial, and contestable set of ideas about appropriate group culture and to discredit more cosmopolitan lifestyles, commitments, and values.

    The book argues that far from remedying discrimination and status hierarchy, "cultural rights" share the ideological presuppositions, and participate in the discursive and institutional practices, of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Ford offers specific examples in support of this thesis, in diverse contexts such as employment discrimination, affirmative action, and transracial adoption.

    This is a major contribution to our understanding of today's politics of race, by one of the most distinctive and important young voices in America's legal academy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2630-8
    Subjects: Law, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Preamble
    (pp. 1-22)

    The title of this book,Racial Culture, is a riddle. Racial culture? Does the title refer to the culture of a racial group, such as “black culture”? Does the text promise to examine one racial culture or perhaps a multiplicity of racial cultures? Does it explore what makes a racial group also a cultural group, ask what makes a cultural practice also a racial practice, limn the distinction between race (blood, ancestry, skin and bone) and culture (collective institutions of meaning, identification and expression)? Does the book then explore the range of actual and potential legal interventions in the life...

  5. 1. Difference Discourse
    (pp. 23-58)

    This has long been an easy case for the antiracist left. A large, impersonal, uptight, mainstream, and possibly racist corporation versus a proletarian underdog whose deeply personal mode of self-expression is also the literal embodiment of the soul of a subject people. Milquetoast versus multiculturalism; bureaucracy versus braids: we know what side we’re on.

    But isn’t the argument as the plaintiff Rene Rogers advanced it at least disquieting? Corn rows are “the cultural and historical essence of Black American women”? The theory of racial discrimination and civil rights underlying Rogers’s claim raises tough questions for anti-discrimination law. Leaving aside the...

  6. 2. Identities as Collective Action
    (pp. 59-124)

    This quotation from Audre Lorde is typical of the sentiments animating difference discourse. It’s easy to see how we’d get from here to support for a legal right designed to protect against “externally imposed definition” so that we could all have our “fullest” concentration of energy available to us. But is it possible to comprehend, much less embrace or be “comfortable with,” identity categories such as “black,” “lesbian” or “feminist,” “without the restrictions of externally imposed definition”? Or are these identity categories (as opposed to their supposed referents: dark skin, female same-sex eroticism, a commitment to certain practice of gender)...

  7. 3. “Cultural Discrimination”
    (pp. 125-168)

    My argument against rights-to-difference in the last two chapters contains three major assertions. One, group difference is not intrinsic to members of social groups but rather contingent of the social practices surrounding group identification. Two, anti-discrimination law need not “protect group traits” in order to prohibit discrimination on the basis of group statuses. Finally, any decision about whether or not to protect a mutable group correlated trait or practice involves two decisions: one, about the merits or demerits of the trait or practice and another, about the merits or demerits of encouraging the association of the trait or practice with...

  8. 4. The Ends of Anti-Discrimination Law
    (pp. 169-210)

    In the first two chapters of this book, I advanced the somewhat counterintuitive idea that the lived experience of group difference is a consequence, rather than a cause, of stories, beliefs and rituals of group difference. I argued that the day-to-day manifestations of group difference—folk beliefs, stories and narratives, subjective identifications, outward expressions of group affiliation and performances of “group culture”—are not reflections of intrinsic human difference but rather are effects of social, political and legal institutions that produce and enforce group difference. I argued that this social production of group difference often limits freedom, stifles creativity and...

  9. Postscript: Beyond Difference
    (pp. 211-214)

    Racial Cultureshas, for most part, been critical in analysis and corrosive in tone. I’ve debunked the presuppositions and lampooned the utopianism of group difference advocates and put up signposts labeled “Next Exit: Hell” on the path paved with their good intentions. I imagine the breezy iconoclasm that has characterized this book will annoy some readers: these are serious issues and they deserve serious treatment. But humor and irreverence have their place in serious argument. It strikes me that one of the most effectively spellbinding aspects of difference discourse has been its somber and weighty sanctimoniousness, which has intimidated those...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 215-226)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 227-231)