Written by Tucker Culbertson
What specific understandings of — and interventions against — forms of subordination inherent to liberal capitalism must be integrated into, or considered along with, work on structural racism?
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These are further thoughts on the AALS’s recent excellent Workshop on “Post Racial” Civil Rights Law, Politics and Legal Education, subtitled New and Old Color Lines in the Age of Obama… Many thanks to the entire Planning Committee — Professors Devon Carbado (Chair), Ian Haney Lopez, Audrey McFarlane, Reva Siegel, and Stephanie Wildman — for their work.
During the final event of the conference, Professor Lani Guinier spoke about the misperception of racism as only individual, intentional acts based on racial animosity. Professor Guinier explained that race is structural. Given:
(1) our long history of systemic and violent racial subordination — from occupation, genocide, removal, and slavery to exclusion, internment, segregation, and profiling;
(2) contemporary race-neutral governance which actively ignores continuing disparate racial distributions of opportunity and suffering;
we must understand racism not only as a private moral harm but also as a public political problem — as Professor Kendall Thomas and Professor Ian Haney Lopez, among others, have regularly persuasively argued.
To depict the persistence of structural racism in an intentionally antiracist society, Professor Guinier used an apt visual metaphor. Given longstanding inequalities, as well as long-term consolidations of power and privilege, opportunity and suffering in the U.S. are distributed within a pyramid. There’s very little room at the top. There’s a lot at the bottom. Those individuals and groups who are now, or were historically, subject to subordination or excluded from power and privilege disproportionately end up in the basement, although some individual members of subordinated groups — such as President Obama — may make it all the way to the top. As Guinier described this vertical, hierarchical, maintenance of racism, I could only also think about capitalism.
The pyramid isn’t accidental. It’s a scheme. The visual metaphor Professor Guinier used to describe racial injustice is apt too for representing conditions of existence within liberal capitalism. I wanted then to ask Professor Guinier, and so now ask anyone reading: What about the money? What specific understandings of — and interventions against — forms of subordination inherent to liberal capitalism must be integrated into, or considered along with, work on structural racism? There are plenty of extant options. [Consider Professor Angela Harris’s post on this very blog.] Which does our work need? Why?