Ian F. Haney López is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of a number of influential books in critical race theory including White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York University Press, 1997) and Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford University Press, 2014). Fernando Gómez Herrero is Honorary Fellow (Modern Languages and Cultures) at Birkbeck College, University of London.
The following is the first of a two-part series.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Haney and López is an unusual combination. Tell me about your upbringing and personal life.
Ian Haney López: It is actually really connected to my scholarship. My father is of Irish descent, fourth generation. His family moved across the north of the United States and Canada. My mother is an immigrant from El Salvador. That is the López. I was born and raised in Hawaii.
And the racial situation in Hawaii is quite distinct from the racial situation in the rest of the United States. In Hawaii, I came to understand myself, I internalised an identity that is called Hapa Haoule. Haoule is Hawaii. Hapa is mixed from somewhere else. Let me also add that I had connections with my mother’s family.
I traveled to El Salvador a couple of times. I learned Spanish. I identified with that side of the family. But I understood my Latinidad in cultural terms, rather than racial terms. So, it was part of me but it was not part of how I conceptualised my racial identity. And I was within a cultural milieu in which this racial identity did not make sense.
There were virtually no Latinos of which to speak of, whereas this other construct of Hapa Houle was widely accepted, the norm and easy to understand. So, that is where things stood for me in my self-conception. When I first moved to the mainland United States. And I went from Hawaii to undergraduate in Saint Louis Missouri. It is part of the South, widely segregated, white and black, and very few Latinos except for a contingent of people from Puerto Rico and from very wealthy families and they really held themselves apart rather than [holding to] a U.S.-based Latino identity.
So, there too, I did not think of myself as Latino, but my racial identity was being problematised by how people interacted with me in a way that was challenging and confusing and part of that rethinking. Part of that reaction was coming from people who would do double-takes: a professor would call my name, “Ian Haney.” I would say, “present.” And they would look once and back again. That sort of dynamic.
There were very few instances of people saying “go back to where you came from,” which I always thought it was a hoot, because there I was in Saint Louis, and I would have given anything to go back to Hawaii (laughter). There were some incidents with the police. And these incidents with the police began to take a familiar pattern. The police would stop me.
I remember one incident in particular when I was a sophomore in college and I was going to an interview in Washington, D.C. I traveled to Baltimore. I was stopped by two police. They were very aggressive in their manner demanding my i.d. And when I showed them my driving license from Hawaii, their disposition changed completely. They went from being hostile, suspicious and aggressive to being friendly, and “we went to our honeymoon there,” and “we love that place,” and “welcome to Baltimore.”
Again, I did not have the vocabulary or the analytic framework to understand what was happening, not with the police, and also not with my professors or my classmates, to return to [the previous school setting], because the double-takes were very quickly supplanted with decent respectful treatment, a respect for my intelligence. It was not until I went to graduate school at Princeton (public policy) and Harvard (law) that I was really with a significant number of Latinos and I was in a much better position to form a racial analysis, so it was a cultural and academic evolution that occurred.
And I came to realize that what was happening was that I was in this in-between identity, that with my brown skin, light though I am, on the mainland I was pulling this non-white, but simultaneously with Haney and with my academic success I was pullingas white. And that over and over again, people who were confused about my identity, who first saw me as non-white, flipped and came to understand me as white. And I came to describe this process as sort of an etiquette of extending to me “an honorary whiteness.” We will presume you are white.
But honorary whiteness came as part of a bargain. And the bargain was that I did not accentuate the fact that I had a Latino component, that I was not white. So, it is really in high school that I was to embrace the Latino identity not simply as a cultural manner, but also as a racial-political manner. The reason I am combining these two is that I was going to present myself as a racially Latino, not because I thought I was biologically Latino, or because I thought Latinos were biologically a race.
The biology part is the cultural construct of it. Rather I made the decision as a political matter. I would position myself racially as a Latino and to push people to recognize that I could be simultaneously, racially a Latino and also intellectually accomplished. The anti-Latino stereotype suggests that is simply not possible.
In graduate school, I legally changed my name: in addition to Haney, I adopted and added the hyphen of my mother’s name López. The first academic paper I submitted under the name Haney López came back ungraded with comment from the professor “Is English your first language?” In other words, he was communicating that somehow my language was so impenetrable, so unintelligible that he couldn’t even comprehend the paper sufficiently to grade the paper.
I had been an A student until then. But with López I was suddenly rendered unintelligible. The other dynamic that is worth mentioning is that by then I had become quite focused on and outspoken about racial-justice issues. And so long as my professors and my classmates understood me with a sort of default white identity, they granted me a sort of deference to speak on race with some justification.
But once I began to use López in combination with Haney to be clear, once I began to insist to be seen as Latino, then the deference to my intellectual ability morphed into a presumption of intellectual deficit and emotional anger. So, more and more professors in classrooms began to act to me as if I was incapable of reason. I remember in Law School several cartoons that would circulate about numerous different people.
But one that circulated about me used the jab “the reasonable person standard does not apply.” Just incapable of reason. I remember one professor in particular, the one assigned in the Law School to be my mentor and academic advisor. I received an A in this course, when I began to explore the possibility of becoming a professor myself, I approached him and said, “you are my mentor, I’d like to approach you with this idea in mind…” And he looked at me and he shook his head and said “Mr. Haney López, academia is about the exchange of ideas, not about the shouting of slogans from the rear parts. You are ill suited to this profession.”
I should add this was a white professor. The only way I ultimately gained entry to academia was through relationships with African-American professors at Harvard Law School, with all of whom I disagreed, substantively, politically, intellectually. But across that disagreement they were nevertheless capable of recognizing my intellectual ability, which in my experience most of the white faculty members were not, once they came to understand me as Latino.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Does the double take happen to you now?
Ian Haney López: No. I am now so fixed in people’s minds as a Latino who is outspoken about racial issues at least, I should say, in the academic, intellectual world. But it is still socially the case that this etiquette of extending the honorary whiteness operates. As I meet white people it is not uncommon for them to say, “but I never thought you were Latino!” “It never occurred to me that you were white!”
You can understand what they are trying to do. Their sense is “to think of someone as non-white is to input to them negative characteristics. And to think of them as white is to input to them a full and complete humanity.” I think this is mainly unconscious. But within this etiquette, you are complementing somebody when you say “I never thought you were a person of color. I did not know that.”
But underlying this is this more noxious set of beliefs about racial hierarchies. Again, my point is not that these folks consciously hold those white-supremacist beliefs. But rather that they suffuse their culture and inform their unconscious, more automatic thinking processes.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: What is your relationship with your Spanish language? Is the Spanish language active or significant in you?
Ian Haney López: It was but I fell out of practice. Alas! I grew up speaking Spanish at home. So, also in high school. I spent a year in Spain in my junior year abroad. My wife is born in Mexico. She remains fluent in Spanish. I take as many opportunities to go travel and be with her and speak with people in Spanish. But my Spanish at this point is fairly emollientand faulty and a bit of an embarrassment.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: That is okay, I forgive you. What are the highlights of your professional life? What are your sources of intellectual inspiration?
Ian Haney López: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think of it in terms of highlights. I think the second question, the sources of inspiration, is a much better way to gain insight into who I am as a scholar. My sense of the role of a scholar ideally is to engage major social problems and to whatever extent that he or she is capable to contribute to their resolution.
With that vision comes an uncomfortable relationship with academia and especially with legal academia. On the upside, what I really like about legal academia is that law is not much of a defined discipline. And that creates a lot of room to draw on sociology, history, political science, social psychology, economics… All of those are academic disciplines I draw on regularly.
On the downside, most scholars, I think, are mainly interested in scholarship as career rather than vocation. And as career, what they are concerned about is a position, prestige, security, the sorts of things that push them in performative directions, and away from sustained engagement with really difficult questions. I think my career has been really marked by trying my best to engage difficult questions in a forthright and honest manner, even at a cost of performing the role of a smart and engaging colleague.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: What would those problems, themes or issues be?
Ian Haney López: For me, overwhelmingly, the question has been race and racism. My orientation therefore has shifted. Given my own biography, my first engagement with race was really about the social construction of race, which was so present in my own experience. Having thought about race as socially constructed, it more and more seemed to me that I was missing a very important element of race, which is the hierarchy, the violence, the brutalization and the dehumanization associated with racism.
So, I then really moved from race as a socially constructed [phenomenon] to a [focus on] “here is how racism works, here is how it functions, here is what it does.” And then from there I spent some time deeply engaging the constitutional law of race in the U.S., especially the contemporary constitutional law of the U.S., which is supposed to provide a source of repair. But, in fact, it has been hijacked by reactionary forces, so much so, that today’s constitutional law of race deepens white dominance and makes all but impossible legal racial repair.
And then, I think, and this is where I am now, having given up on constitutional law as a source of repair, I began to think more about sources of policies that might be sources of repair. And I began to think about that especially in the context of what we call racialized mass incarcerations. This move, that from the 1970s to the 2000s, had a couple of hundred thousand people in jail, moved to 2.3 million people in jail, and not people in general, but vastly disproportionate Black and Brown people.
That jolted my thinking on race. Up to that point I was working comfortably within the paradigm that racism was a white on non-white hierarchy. But as I started to study the origins of mass racial incarceration, I realized, especially I should say, the role of the Barack Obama administration, in perpetuating racial mass incarceration, and indeed in building a machinery of mass deportation that disproportionally targeted Latinos, racialized mass deportation, if you will, I was really pushed to realize that the simple story of white over non-white racism was not explained by the systematic forms of violence over communities of color.
And what it did explain was the normalization of racial fear mongering, racial demagoguery in American politics. And once I started to study the history of racial demagoguery in American politics, I was pushed to recognize that this racial demagoguery by democratic elites in pursuit of power. In other words, I shifted from a paradigm of understanding racism fundamentally as a “white-over-non-white” hierarchy to seeing racism as most fundamentally a class weapon that succeeded by promoting “white-over-non-white” hierarchy.
In other words, the “white-over-non-white” hierarchy is still there, but now I no longer thought of it as fundamental. Instead I saw it as a purposeful strategy in a class war in the U.S. that the rich have been winning for the last fifty years.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: When I asked you before about your intellectual inspiration, I suppose I thought you were going to tell me something about “critical race theory.” Is this still a source? Do you still have colleagues doing this type of inspirational work with whom you are in contact with?
Ian Haney López: Absolutely. We diverged around the word “inspire.” I would describe “critical race theory” less as an inspiration and more as an intellectual home. It is an incredibly important intellectual resource. It is important to highlight what is important about “critical race theory,” especially in contradistinction to what might be called “liberal race theory.”
Liberal race theory dominates in the U.S., and certainly dominated when I was involved in graduate school. Under liberal race theory, race is primarily an effect of individual mistreatment of other individuals. It may have some limited, cumulative impact. But it is primarily seen as individual interactions and also major social institutions are seen as standing outside racism and also as capable of effectively responding to racism.
And you can think of this as liberal Civil Rights mentality that says, “oh, racism, we will pass a law prohibiting racial discrimination, and what we mean by racial discrimination is refusing to hire any people of a given race, or using a racial epithet to explain why you refuse to hire these folks, And that is what racism is and this law is going to solve this problem, and we are going to be past racism.”
And critical race theory said in response, “racism is deeply embedded in our society, it is socially constituted, it is enmeshed in all of our social institutions, far from institutions being independent of racism, let alone capable of resolving race, those institutions themselves are informed by racist ideas, and very often buttress racial hierarchies.”
In other words, critical race theory was a more robust, more systematic engagement with racism as a major structuring of social forms. The equivalent [would be], imagine an economic theory that says that the economy is about spending money, and along comes economics and says, “actually it is market, and it is culture, and it is government policy, and it is central to the foundation of this country, and also to the way power is dispersed in our society…,” that’s the way critical race theory stood in relationship to liberal race theory.
It was not just about spending the money and stuff like that. It was central to the foundation of the country, enmeshed in our own institutions, central to the way power was distributed and operated. That’s what I mean by saying that [critical race theory] was an intellectual home that said that “racism was one of, if not the most important structuring forces in the United States. Let us bring everything to bear on understanding this very complex phenomena that, far from being an object of dispassionate study, is one in which everyone of us today is enmeshed and positioned.”
So, literature, sociology, philosophy, social psychology, history… All of the disciplines are brought in by race critical theory. One thing I would add, and it seems needless to add, but it is important at this point, [is that] the overwhelming commitment of people associated with critical race theory is to disestablish racism and to create a society that recognizes the shared humanity and the reason why this is so important to add is because right now we are in a political moment in which the reactionary Right in the U.S. is seeking to create a racial bogeyman out of critical race theory, to make critical race theory a source of fear and fright in the minds of most whites.
I think there are two things going on in America: one is this long history of racial demagoguery, and two, a similarly long and deeply intertwined history of anti-intellectualism. Critical race theory fits both of those histories, for the racial demagogues who want to talk about race all the time, and also those of us within academia and who knows better than someone like me, a leftie professor at UC Berkeley of all places who wants to say something about race critical theory.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: So, tell me something about UC Berkeley, your immediate platform. Is it fair to look mostly at the U.S., and there are plenty of things here? Is it fair to say that you look at things from the West Coast perspective?
Ian Haney López: I would not say I am. I am looking at things from the perspective that is more closely associated with the West Coast because I am drawn on, my understanding of my own identity as a Latino, and the history of Latinos in the U.S., as my entry point into the study of racism. And Latinos are much more represented in the West and the Southwest than they are in the East Coast.
That is changing of course but only very recently. So, on the East Coast specially, the conversation about race is much more a conversation about White and Black and there is a significant erasure of Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans. So, someone looking at my work, as a Latino scholar who has written a book on Latinos, who is thinking through race in its social constructivist way, might say West Coast perspective.
But in fact, I think that that might be wrong. I am a student of racism in the U.S. It is true that I draw a lot of my insights from the Latino experience, but I am as thoughtful as I can be about applying those insights to racial dynamics in the U.S. nationally and by the experience in a variety of insights, including African-Americans and Whites.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Certainly. Hispanic/Latino dimensions in the U.S., what is going on?
Ian Haney López: What do you mean?
Fernando Gómez Herrero: We can get started with the issue of the nomenclature. Yours would be Latino. Do you like the “Latinx” label?
Ian Haney López: I am okay with it. It really depends on the audience. My more general position is, I am less concerned with the how people conceptualize their identity than I am with whether they are committed to social solidarity or instead susceptible to racial demagoguery and racial hatred. That is the issue for me.
So, someone wants to call themselves Latinx, great. And, let me add this, certainly, I would strongly support the gender component of the move towards a Latinx identity, this effort to escape the gender binary of male/female, that gender hierarchy that describes the group as males and subsumes females. I am strongly supportive of that agenda.
To the extent that people use Latinx to push back against an unexamined gender binary, I am very supportive and applaud it. That said, in that survey work I have done, only 3% of Latinos like that term, even among college-educated Latinos, that figure rises only to 6%. I would object to a strong insistence that everybody adopt that term. I myself prefer Latino.
I think that it resonates with a vast majority of Latinos. I think it conveys a connection to Latin America. I prefer it to Hispanic, which I think anglicizes the identity a bit and seems to make the connection to Spain more than Latin America. But again, I am not particularly interested in dogmatic insistence that everybody use my preferred term.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: How do you account for that low level of the Latinx category?
Ian Haney López: Most Latinos are equally comfortable with Latino or Hispanic.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Correct. That is also my experience. If you dig deeper, Hispanic is more Cuban, more ideologically conservative, more connected to Spain. You know better than me that the U.S. has all those official categories in the vicinity of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Hispanic-serving institutions and the like.
I do not want to be flippant; I suppose you are saying, “what matters is really the project, or the work, or the “dance.” It is less so the “different hat” or label or nomenclature that one brings to it. Bring whatever type of “hat,” or color or label [as long as you join the Left project defended by Haney López].
Ian Haney López: It is important to understand from an academic point of view the nuances of the terms and the history and the etymology of the terms. It is important that Hispanic was a term preferred by the Hispanic elites in the 1960s and the 1970s. It is important that they understood the term to suggest an ethnic identity as Hispanic and a racial identity as white. This was a very important development in how Latinos across the 20th century came to understand themselves or had the leadership class within Latinos come to understand themselves and came to understand the racial identity of the community.
They developed the belief that Latinos were another European ethnic group, or should be seen as another European ethnic group like the Italians, like the Jews, like the Poles, who, yes, were subjected to negative stereotypes, but who nevertheless were in rout to full assimilation as parts of the American white mainstream. That was the animating vision that found expression in the term Hispanic.
And to the extent that the federal government responded to political pressure to begin counting and recognizing the existence of this community, the federal government adopted this preferred usage by Latino elites. I think all of that is important. I think thoseunderlying mindsets were there. Just last summer I conducted a research that showed that only 25% of Latinos see Latinos as people of color, in contrast to 32% see Latinos that I surveyed see Latinos as akin to European ethnic groups who over generations join the American mainstream.
So that mindset still continues. I think in the past what has happened is that people like myself who see Latinos as people of color, or understand race through this historical lens, and see it as a form of hierarchy, we look at those Latinos who reject an identity of people as people of color and we think of them as our enemies and as an impediment for progress. So, we use terms like “vendidos,” sellouts or coconuts, brown on the outside, white on the inside, as ways to suggest that they betrayed the community and sometimes even betrayed their true identity.
There is this ontological insistence that we are really people of color. Over the last ten years, we have really shaken away from that. At this point I don’t think it is as important how people conceptualize Latino identity in general and their identity in particular. I think far more important it is whether people believe in equality across races, whether they believe that they can be better off building a society that recognizes a shared humanity across the racial divisions or instead believe that being white or lighter is better and that they should invest in building a society that rewards and protects people who are white or are lighter over people who are dark or darker.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: Is it fair to say that your focus in increasingly on project, what people do, socially, politically, culturally, intellectually, over, let us call it, purely self-definitional categories of identity, or of “who they are”? And I suppose that both things go together. It is not that easy to separate them.
Ian Haney López: Yes. I am equally, simultaneously, focused on analysis and emancipation. And those two are inseparable. You can’t conceptualize and affect routs of emancipation if you don’t understand the nature of subordination. My work over the last decade has really been marked by an evolution in my analysis that has suggested a very different way forward than where I was, and also that it is quite different from where most folk who center racial justice currently stand.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: I confess to liking your essays included in Delgado and Sefancic’s The Latina Condition, in my teaching at the University of Birmingham in England. “Chance, Context and Choice in the Social Construction of Race” is a favourite of mine. Bluntly, are you a pure or mixed “constructivist”? Do you feel that you need a coherent “philosophy” of race-and-ethnicity? Is this something you need or is it something desirable? Or is it something that you make do as you go along?
Ian Haney López: Yes [to the first question]. When you say “you need…,” who is the “you” here?
Fernando Gómez Herrero: [You as Haney López but it can be a generic you, I suppose, in relation to anyone coherently postulating things about race]. Do you feel that you need an ontology of race in order to keep going in some anti-racist project?
Ian Haney López: Absolutely. I will put it slightly differently. I think we all must struggle for a clear an analysis of race as we can achieve recognizing that we are enmeshed in it, that we are studying the air we breathe and that for most of our lives and for most of our fellow society members it is invisible. But we need to try the best we can to understand it.
You used the word “coherence” earlier. That is a very important term. We should strive for coherent understandings of race and racism. We should also be quite clear that as a set of ideas, race and racism, are wildly incoherent; that is, we should not try and impose coherence on the ideology of race and racism. We should have a coherent analysis.
But we should be quite clear that the ideology of racism as a set of ideas and beliefs is wildly inconsistent and wildly incoherent. It is a mistake to expect coherence from the cultural beliefs around race. The coherent analysis of race isn’t designed to produce coherence. They are designed to rationalize hierarchy. Hierarchy can be rationalized in all sorts of ways that need not be internally coherent and yet can work together so long as they are pushed in the same direction of reinforcing hierarchy, exploitation, dehumanization.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: So, race is an inevitable category as opposed to ethnicity that may sound to you more bland…
Ian Haney López: No. I would say it is a mistake to understand ethnicity separate from the larger conversation about race. The history of ethnicity is the history of an effort to take some parts of race, reject other parts of race, and know the last remain enmeshed in race.
It is very important to see watch how all of this works: ethnicity as a set of ideas, vocabulary, etc. develops in the late 19th and early 20th century among Jews living in the U.S. who are racialized as biologically inferior and wanted to escape, distance themselves, repudiate the ugly lies of racial inferiority, whilst simultaneously holding on to the idea that they are different in ways that they are valuable and that they deserve respect and a social institution, and so they work towards the idea that culture and biology can be separated, that one can be culturally something that one can be proud of and deserving of social respect and yet not racially inferior, indeed racially the same.
And this is a very important moment in the history of race, because up until that point racial ideology conflated culture and biology and indeed early understandings of race that first developed in the context of colonialism prioritized race as a set of beliefs about fundamental cultural and civilizational differences that were supposedly manifest in physical differences, but these physical differences were not the most important thing and there were not important in their own right, they were important as markers of civilizational inferiority.
So, now comes this moment [in late 19th Century and early 20th Century] that says, “break apart biology and culture within the concept of race, pretend that race is all about biology, use this other idea, ethnicity, to capture the notion of cultural difference and push towards pride in the culturally different, grounded also simultaneously in the repudiation of racial inferiority and [uphold] the version of racial sameness and mash those still within the hierarchy of white over non-whites.
So, ethnicity becomes a powerful way for white people to say, we are racially the same and superior, we are culturally differentiated from other white folk, but not in a way that implies inferiority or superiority. This becomes a very powerful idea. Its history is really fascinating. This idea starts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It becomes useful, even necessary for political elites in the U.S. in the 1930s.
In the 1920s, the conflation of biology and culture as a way to differentiate Europeans reached its apogee in the U.S. in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 1870 had been organized to terrorize African-American. In the 1920s it was organized to push against the immigration to the U.S. of Southern and Eastern Europeans, in particular Jews and Catholics. It reached its apogee in the immigration laws in the U.S. to close its doors to most Europeans from the South and Eastern Europe.
By the 1930s, the country is in economic collapse. It is in societal disarray. And a war in Europe is looming and political business elites in the U.S. realize that the salvation of the country, domestically and militarily, depends upon the creation of the solidarity among the peoples of European descent in the U.S. Again, at the point they realize this peoples in the U.S. are at each other’s throats in supposedly racial terms.
This is the high point of eugenics in the U.S., one of the best sellers then is The Passing of the Great Race (1916) [by Madison Grant], about the mortal threat to the Americans of Anglo-Germanic descent, posed by Jews and Poles, Italians, etc. So, at this moment, the political elites are saying that we must create solidarity among peoples of European descent to save this country domestically and also in terms of this looming war.
And they set about systematically to do so. Ethnicity provides the mechanism to do so. It provides the way to promote the idea that all peoples of European descent in the U.S. are one undifferentiated racial group, white people, and they are marked, if at all, merely by cultural differences which have no hierarchical significance. This is a project that is carried on by Labor Unions, by Government, in the schools, by corporations, etc.
And it is most successful: in the 1950s, scholars are remarking on the virtual disappearance of European national identities among the Americans. They are now simply white folk. It is so worth to remember that this sense of social solidarity among white folk is culturally produced, and that this crossing of the lines of race hatred among the peoples of European descent in the U.S. was purposefully produced in the U.S.
Fernando Gómez Herrero: I want to insist on this notion of ethnicity and bring it to the 1970s and 1980s.The Nixon moment delivers the official category of “Hispanic.” I have done work on Daniel P. Moynihan and Nathan Glazer. Michael Novak (whom you cite) is in this vicinity of the GOP becoming the “White Man’s party” in “fact but not in name,” as you put it. He produces his Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics (originally 1972), which will travel all the way to the last Huntington with a kick in the teeth.
This old crowd is initially close to the “white ethnic” (Irish, Jews, East Coast, New York City). They are all, interestingly, anti-multiculturalists, receptive and sympathetic, say, to the immigrant experience, and they veer right. I should mention that I got to see Arthur Schlesinger, also anti-multiculturalist, at Wake Forest University promoting his The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1991). So, this old-style liberal is here too clearly not liking the dissident emergence of multiple ethnicities… This 1970s-1980s is our immediate past. So, against this right-wing sociology, what would have been the counter-narrative then?
Ian Haney López: Yes, it is [the immediate past]. If you think about ethnicity until the 1950s, it is a claim that cultural differentiation, among people of European descent, [and most generally culture] should not be arranged according to hierarchal implications. That sort of understanding of ethnicity would have been broadly emancipatory if applied to African-American and to Hispanics. And I think it is worth pointing out that the term African-American arises at the same time.
It too is a bit to say, “think about us as another group that is racially on a par with others and to the extent we are different merely as a matter of culture.” Hispanic, same sort of bit, “think of us as a social group that is on a part with others, white in particular, but we are proud of our distinct culture.” Had ethnicity been applied to African-Americans and Latinos, in the same way it applied to European immigrant groups, we would have taken a long stride towards a racial egalitarian, pluralistic society.
But instead what happened with scholars like Glazer and Moynihan? It is that they shifted the meaning of ethnicity. They made two big moves. One was to begin to understand culture as fixed, culture as a matter of descent. This traced back to earliest moments of ethnicity, that it was alaborof Jewish intellectuals within the Jewish tradition. There was something like culture transmitted by the family obligation to pass on culture.
This was foregrounded and solidified in the 1950s to what one inherits one’s culture from one’s parents and there is little one can do to escape. Once you say something like that, one can see the push towards the biology shift of culture. Culture is a matter of genetic inheritance. The second move is to use culture as the new language in which all the racist stereotypes would be newly repackaged.
So, to use culture to say “Black people, violent, pathological, cheaters, liars, thieves, criminals…,” all racist stereotypes, super-well established as anti-Black racism, are now repackaged in the language of culture that “we are not racist but we notice that the culture of the inner city, of poverty, of relative lack of male head in households, Patrick Moynihan in particular, leads to these dysfunctional cultural attributes that left to themselves replicate across generations.”
So, these two moves: culture is inheritable and the culture that we are now going to impute to African-Americans or Latinos as fixed is actually simply a repurposing of old racist stereotypes. When we watch what happens in the 1970s and 1980s, what we see is a new language of race supremacy, repackaged in a seemingly race-neutral language of ethnicity and deficient cultures.