Winter 2011

The Concept of Post-Racial: How Its Easy Dismissal Obscures Important Questions

David A. Hollinger

Nearly all of today's confident dismissals of the notion of a “post-racial” America address the simple question, “Are we beyond racism or not?” But most of the writers who have used the terms post-racial or post-ethnic sympathetically have explored other questions: What is the significance of the blurring of ethnoracial lines through cross-group marriage and reproduction? How should we interpret the relatively greater ability of immigrant blacks as compared to standard “African Americans” to overcome racist barriers? What do we make of increasing evidence that economic and educational conditions prior to immigration are more powerful determinants than “race” in affecting the destiny of population groups that have immigrated to the United States in recent decades? Rather than calling constant attention to the undoubted reality of racism, this essay asks scholars and anti-racist intellectuals more generally to think beyond “the problem of the color line” in order to focus on “the problem of solidarity.” The essay argues that the most easily answered questions are not those that most demand our attention.

DAVID A. HOLLINGER, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1997, is the Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the current President of the Organization of American Historians. His publications include The Humanities and the Dynamics of Inclusion Since World War II (2006), for which he served as editor; Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial, Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States (2006); and Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism, third expanded edition (2006).

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