Monday, August 31, 2009
In Response to Orlando Patterson: Diversity in the age of Obama
Below is a letter to the New York Times book review in response to an essay by Orlando Patterson of Harvard on diversity in the "Age of Obama." I felt compelled to respond to his "race relations" analysis. Using Robert Park for his "theoretical" frame, Patterson employs a discredited assmilationist framework (See both the works James McKee and Stephen Steinberg)and in the process ignores American racism as an explanation as to why African Americans have not been a incorporated into the "master trend," as he calls it. Expressing what sounded like West Indian superiority, he largely blamed African American poverty and their "cultural traits" for their unequal status. I found the essay wanting and decided to respond. Fortunately, the Times saw fit to print it. RGN
August 30, 2009
Diversity vs. Discontents
To the Editor:
Orlando Patterson’s essay “Race and Diversity in the Age of Obama” (Aug. 16) was largely correct as an analysis of diversity at this stage of American history. But Patterson misses the mark in understanding ¬racial/ethnic assimilation. He sees blacks as an exception to the country’s “master trend” of “social incorporation,” citing as reasons blacks’ high rate of poverty and “cultural forces” — meaning the habits and lifestyles of blacks themselves. The problem is that he leaves out the elephant in the room: white nationalism.
Blacks have not assimilated because initially, and until recently in America’s history, citizenship was restricted to whites. Being white was the central requirement of the 1790 Immigration and Naturalization Act; it was not intended that people of color, blacks in particular, become citizens. America, as our founders saw it, was to be a white nation. The European immigrants — Jews, Italians, Catholic Irish — who Patterson writes were “viewed by native whites as belonging to different (and inferior) races,” became Americanized by learning the nation’s “racial culture.” And these white workers needed this knowledge to legitimize their privileged status as they became Americans on the backs of black workers.
The profound thing about Barack Obama’s election is that for the first time in American history, diversity won at the ballot box. It was the coalition of 43 percent of white voters, 95 percent of African-¬Americans, 67 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of Asians that put Obama over the top. Fifty-five percent of white voters chose John McCain.
Today, the “birthers” who question Obama’s citizenship and those who call him fascist, Communist — anything to make him and his policies sound anti-¬American — represent the version of white nationalism truly threatening diversity in the Age of Obama.
Mount Pleasant, Mich.
The writer is an emeritus professor in the department of sociology, anthropology and social work at Central Michigan University.