The Strange Career Of Racial Science, Racial Categories, And African American Identity

Victor Thompson

in The Oxford Handbook of African American Citizenship, 1865-Present

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195188059
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

 The Strange Career Of Racial Science, Racial Categories, And African American Identity

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The use of racial categories and race-based policies to redress the legacy of several centuries of racial oppression are to many a useful strategy. They reflect a basic understanding of the role of race and racial identity in our daily lives and explicitly addresses the role of race in administering federal and state laws. There is a challenge, however, to their use, in particular the role of racial identity and racial categories in government and policy. Advocates of color-blind politics dispute the legitimacy of race-based policies and claim the only productive way to move us closer to full equality is through the elimination of references to race and to identities that they claim are fundamentally divisive. Relying heavily on a belief that the United States was from the beginning a color-blind model of democracy, proponents suggest that we are inevitably on the path to color blindness and that race, the by-product of outdated social relations, will ultimately succumb to modern notions of equality, democracy, and fairness. As much as we would like to, we cannot dismiss these arguments as marginal voices. Much institutional support exists for these claims, and there is a strong push to ground these claims in history, especially interpretive arguments about the very intent of our nation's founding fathers.

Keywords: racial science; racial categories; African American identity; racial oppression; racial identity; color-blind model; democracy

Article.  13748 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Politics and Law

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