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Against the Notion of a 'New Racism'

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Against the Notion of a 'New Racism'
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   Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 15 : 432–445 (2005) Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI : 10.1002/casp.841 Against the Notion of a ‘New Racism’ COLIN WAYNE LEACH*  Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK  ABSTRACT Despite the de jure equality achieved in the second half of the 20th century, racial discrimination andracist political movements persist. This has encouraged the orthodoxy that a ‘new racism’ serves asan ideological basis of contemporary white investment in racial inequality in Western Europe, NorthAmerica and Australasia. It is argued that this ‘new racism’ is shown in more subtle and indirectformal expressions, such as a denial of societal discrimination, rather than the once popular expres-sions of ‘old-fashioned’ genetic inferiority and segregationism. In opposition to this conceptualiza-tion, I review quantitative and qualitative studies from social psychology, sociology and politicalscience, as well as historical analyses, to show that the ‘old-fashioned’ formal expression of racismwas not especially popular before de jure racial equality and is not especially unpopular now. I alsoshow that there is nothing new about formal expressions that criticize cultural difference or denysocietal discrimination. Thus, there is greater historical continuity in racism than the notion of a‘new racism’ allows. This suggests that the first task of a critical social psychology of racism is aproper conceptualization of racism itself. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Key words: racism; prejudice; ideology; modern racism; new racism INTRODUCTION By the end of world war two, it became increasingly difficult for states that claimed tobe democratic to continue the de jure racial 1 discrimination they had practiced for centu-ries (Miles, 1993; Myrdal, 1944; Winant, 2001). As a response to the Nazi’s particularlyeffective ideology and industry, as well as civil rights and decolonization movements, *Correspondence to: Colin Wayne Leach, Department of Psychology, Pevensey 1, Brighton, BN1 9QH, England.E-mail: c.w.leach@sussex.ac.uk  1 I use the terms ‘race’, racial, white and people of colour to identify political categories made real by racism. In noway do I mean to suggest that ‘race’ is an essential or natural way to make sense of human variation. However, thesocial and political reality of race makes it essential to engage the distinctions between ‘whites’ and ‘people of colour’ that serve racism and serve to oppose racism. As Reeves (1983, p. 175) put it, ‘ . . . it is also possible thatdiscourse might have to be increasingly ‘‘racialised’’ if certain racially discriminatory practices are to be recognizedanderadicated.Thestubbornrefusaltosee thewaya social systemoperatesonracial linesmaysupportandmaintainracially discriminatory practices’. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  the second half of the 20th century was marked by the establishment of laws and publicpolicies that established de jure racial equality (for reviews see Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller,& Thomas, 1995; Minow, 1993). There is little doubt that this provided the groups longsubjected to racial discrimination a certain level of protection against it. And yet, in NorthAmerica (Omi & Winant, 1986; Sears, 1988), Western Europe (Cheles, Ferguson, &Vaughan, 1991; Ford, 1991), and Australia (Riggs & Augoustinous, 2005; Rapley,1998), political groups continue to gain substantial support by criticizing state effortsagainst racial discrimination. And, throughout Western Europe (Ford, 1991; Miles,1989; Winant, 1994) and North America (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Winant, 2001), as wellas in Australia (Broome, 2002) there is continued evidence of racial discrimination inhousing, employment, police treatment, sentencing, health provision and a host of otherdomains. That racial discrimination and racist political movements persist in societies thathave achieved de jure equality has led many to suggest that a ‘new racism’ serves as anideological basis of contemporary white investment in racial inequality.The notion of a ‘new racism’ transcends national boundaries. It has been suggestedin the United States (e.g. Essed, 1991; Omi & Winant, 1986; Sears, 1988), Britain (e.g.Barker, 1982; Reeves, 1983), South Africa (e.g. Durrheim & Dixon, 2004), Australia (e.g.Augoustinos, Tuffin, & Rapley, 1999; Pedersen & Walker, 1997), New Zealand (Wetherell& Potter, 1992) and throughout Western Europe (e.g. Essed, 1991; Pettigrew & Meertens,1995; Tagueiff, 1989; van Dijk, 1984). The notion of a ‘new racism’ also transcends scho-larly boundaries, as it has been suggested by psychologists, sociologists, political theor-ists, historians, literary and cultural critics, citing evidence collected with qualitative,quantitative, historical, discursive and archival methods (for reviews see Duckitt, 1992;Durrheim & Dixon, 2004). As Wetherell and Potter (1992, p. 194) point out in their dis-cursive analysis of racism in New Zealand, ‘one can see many parallels, superficially atleast, between the patterns we identify and the phenomenon identified by many Americanexperimental social psychologists, described variously as ‘modern racism’, [ . . . ] ‘sym-bolic racism’, [ . . . ] and ‘racial ambivalence’.Although, there are variations in how ‘new racism’ is conceptualized, most approachesrely on two inter-related assumptions. First, it is assumed that the de jure racial in equalitythat characterized the world before the 1970s enabled the ideologies of genetic racialinferiority and segregationism to be widely shared and formally expressed with impunity(see Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995; Sears, 1988). As Schuman, Steeh, Bobo & Krysan(1997, p. 10) put it in their analysis of anti-black attitudes in the United States, ‘Throughthe late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most whites, North and South, consid-ered blacks to be their biological and social inferiors . . . ’ Like other proponents of thenotion of a ‘new racism’, they suggest that genetic inferiority and segregationism wereso popular and unproblematic that they could be expressed blatantly, overtly and directly,even in formal settings such as interviews, public discussions and political rhetoric.The second claim central to the notion of a ‘new racism’ is that there was a markedchange in the formal expression of racism after the 1970s, when de jure equality wasachieved in most societies. It is argued that the formal expression of racism had to changeto jive with the new reality of  de jure equality. For example, referring to Britain, Barker(1982, p. 25) argued that ‘ . . . there has been a conscious bid by the Tories, led fromtheir Right, since 1968, for a new theorization of race. It is powerful in that it avoidsthe older definitions of race that were so evidently tainted with Hitlerism’. Researchersin Western Europe (Balibar, 1991; Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995), Britain (Barker, 1982;Reeves, 1983), Australia (Augoustinos et al., 1999), and New Zealand (Wetherell &  Against ‘new racism’ 433 Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 15 : 432–445 (2005)  Potter, 1992) all suggest that this ‘new racism’ could be expressed openly in formal set-tings by criticizing others’ cultural difference . For example, in their analysis of ‘white’(Pakeha) New Zealanders talk about indigenous Maori people, Wetherell and Potter(1992, p. 137), argue that, ‘Culture discourse, therefore, now takes over some of the sametasks as race. It becomes a naturally occurring difference [ . . . ] but this time around the‘‘fatal flaws’’ in the Maori people do not lie in their genes but in their traditional practices,attitudes and values’. In the United States (Omi & Winant, 1986; Sears, 1988) WesternEurope (Kleinpenning & Hagendoorn, 1993; Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995) and Australia(Pedersen & Walker, 1997) it is argued that ‘new racism’ can be expressed openly in for-mal settings by denying the existence of racial discrimination in the society. As neither of these ideologies appears to rely on ‘old-fashioned’ expressions of racial inferiority andsegregationism, formal expressions of the ‘new racism’ are characterized as ‘subtle’(Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995), covert (Balibar, 1991; Durrheim & Dixon, 2004; Omi &Winant, 1986), ‘symbolic’ (Sears, 1988), and ‘sanitized’ (Reeves, 1983).Although there is wide agreement that the formal expression of racism is now achievedthrough new means, I think there is reason to oppose this view. In a first line of opposition, I review quantitative and qualitative studies from social psychology, sociologyand political science, as well as historical analyses, to show that the formal expression of ‘old-fashioned’racial inferiority was not especially popular  before de jure racial equality.This suggests that the formal expression of ‘old-fashioned’ racism was not as open, overt,blatant and direct as is commonly presumed. Indeed, well before the achievement of  de jure equality, formal expressions of racial ideology were ‘subtle’, ‘symbolic’, indirectand covert. Tocorroborate this continuityin formal expression, I review recent evidence toshow that the formal expression of presumably ‘old-fashioned’racial inferiority continuestoday at levels not so different from the first half of the 20th century.In a second line of opposition to the notion of ‘new racism’, I argue that there is nothingespecially new about formal expressions of cultural difference or the denial of societaldiscrimination. I review historical and other evidence to show that the formal denial of societal discrimination is a long-standing feature of societies that espouse democratic ega-litarianism. Thus, the formal expression of the presumably ‘new racism’ actually precedes the achievement of  de jure racial equality in the 1970s. In essence, ‘new racism’ is quiteold indeed.By emphasizing an empty temporal distinction between old and new, the notion of a‘new racism’ serves to obscure the important historical continuities in formal expressionsof racism. By substituting the old-new distinction for a deeper conceptualization of racism, the notion of ‘new racism’ may actually work to prevent a much needed criticalsocial psychological conceptualization of racism. Thus, I detail my opposition to thenotion of a ‘new racism’ in hopes that its abandonment will spur the generation of alter-native conceptualizations. In the conclusion of this paper I offer some initial thoughts onone possible direction. ‘OLD-FASHIONED’ RACISM Central to the notion of a ‘new racism’ is the assumption that ‘old-fashioned’ racial ideol-ogy was openly expressed before the 1970s, before the achievement of  de jure equality made genetic inferiority and segregationism seem ‘old-fashioned’ (for a dis-cussion see Leach, 1998). For example, Schuman et al. (1997, p. 311) argue, ‘Whereas434 C. W. Leach Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 15 : 432–445 (2005)  discrimination against, and forced segregation of, black Americans were taken forgranted by most white Americans as recently as the World War II years, today thenorm holds that black Americans deserve the same treatment and respect as whites, andin addition that racial integration in all public spheres of life is a desirable goal’. Thisimplies that the blatant and direct discrimination and segregation practiced before the1970s enabled the open expression of equally blatant and direct ‘old-fashioned’ racismin formal settings such as opinion polls, interviews, public discussions and civicengagement.The available researchdoes indeed suggest that the formal expression of segregationismwas more popular before the 1970s. For example, Walker’s (2004) review of qualitativeand quantitative studies, suggests that just below 50% of white Australians formallyexpressed segregationism in interview studies in the 1950s and 1960s. Schuman et al’s(1997) comprehensive review shows similar levels of formal endorsement amongst whiteAmericans in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1942, 68% endorsed the view that blacks should goto ‘separate schools’ and 54% endorsed the view that they should use ‘separate sections’of public transportation. In 1956, endorsement of these two forms of segregation were50% and 38%, respectively.Clearly, the level of segregationism expressed in formal interview settings has fallendramatically in the United States and Australia in the last 60 years. What is surprisingis that only about half of those queried appeared willing to make a formal expressionof ‘old-fashioned’ segregationism in periods where segregationism is presumed to havebeen popular and normatively accepted. Indeed, formal expressions of segregationismdo not appear to have been especially popular in periods where segregation was legallysanctioned and widely practiced both formally and informally. Thus, contrary to what isassumed by the notion of a ‘new racism’, the formal expression of ‘old-fashioned’ racismwas not necessarily overt, direct and blatant. Even where segregation was a popular prac-tice, there was great variation in its formal expression. Interestingly, the formal expressionof the ideology considered most central to ‘old-fashioned’racism appears to have changedin an even less dramatic fashion in the last sixty years. The formal expression of racial inferiority Proponents of the ‘new racism’ notion argue that the achievement of  de jure equality inthe 1970s made the formal expression of genetic racial inferiority seem ‘old-fashioned’(Barker, 1981; McConahay, 1986; Winant, 2001; Sears, 1988). Thus, it is argued thatwhites had to replace the once popular expression of genetic inferiority with a more subtleexpression. Given that genetic inferiority has long been considered the clearest expressionof racism, the avoidance of it would indicate a marked change in formal discourse. Indeed,such a shift would necessitate a serious reconceptualization of racism and its formalexpression (see Leach, 1998). However, I think there are at least three reasons to doubtthis aspect of the notion of a ‘new racism’.First, the formal expression of racial inferiority was not especially popular before the1970s, even when policy and practice made the targets of this ideology socially, econom-ically and politically inferior. Second, the formal expression of racial inferiority has longtaken more ‘subtle’ forms than the direct claim that groups defined as ‘races’ have agenetic inheritance that makes them inferior in an absolute sense. Third, a wide rangeof evidence suggests that the achievement of  de jure equality did not make the formalexpression of racial inferiority especially unpopular in contemporary societies.  Against ‘new racism’ 435 Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 15 : 432–445 (2005)  Formal expression before de jure equality. Contrary to what is assumed by the notion of a ‘new racism’, the formal expression of racial inferiority was not especially popularbefore the achievement of  de jure equality in the 1970s. For example, about 50% of arepresentative sample of white Americans expressed the view that ‘negroes’ were lessintelligent than whites when interviewed in 1942. This kind of formal expression wasmade by about 20% in 1956 (Schuman et al., 1997). Myrdal’s (1944) ethnographic exam-ination also suggests that the formal expression of racial inferiority was not especiallypopular before the achievement of  de jure equality in the United States. As he (1944,p. 97, italics in srcinal) put it, ‘the masses of white Americans even today do not always,when they refer to the inferiority of the Negro race, think clearly in straight biologicalterms [ . . . ] The Negro is said to be several hundreds or thousands of years behind thewhite man in ‘development’. Studies in Australia suggest something similar. Walker(2004) reported that in 1969, 44–64% of white Australian samples queried in interviewsformally endorsed the view that, ‘One reason why the white and black races can nevermerge is that the white culture is so much more advanced’. Subtlety before de jure equality. In my view, proponents of the ‘new racism’ notionexaggerate the demise of ‘old-fashioned’ racism by too narrowly focusing on the formalexpression of a genetic conceptualization of racial inferiority. Although racial inferiorityis central to most conceptualizations of racism, it is not necessary to assume that explicitreference to a genetic conceptualization of ‘race’ is required (see Balibar, 1991; Reeves,1983; Guillaumin, 1995). Racial ideology may essentialize ethnic groups in terms of cul-ture, religion, srcin, or more general practice, to achieve much the same as is achieved bya genetic concept of race. For example, historical analyses of colonialism have detailedthe ways in which the formal expression of racial inferiority was made in terms other thangenetics (e.g. Betts, 1978; Todorov, 1984). For example, Stoler (1992, 1995) has docu-mented the ways in which Dutch colonization proceeded through the formal expressionof racial hierarchies based in ethnic and economic background, skin colour, and languageand other social capital. The role of racial inferiority in racism . In her classic discussion, Benedict (1942/1959,p. 97) defined racism as, ‘the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to con-genital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital superiority’. There are atleast three ways in which this conceptualization of racial inferiority differs from the morenarrow view that the proponents of the ‘new racism’ notion focus on as the defining fea-ture of an ‘old-fashioned’ racism.1. Genetics in the concept of race ? First, in Benedict’s conceptualization, a geneticconcept of race is not necessary to racism. Racism is described as a dogma referring toethnic groups. Consistent with this, a great deal of historical research suggests that ‘race’has not always had the implications formalized by 19th century science (see Guillaumin,1995; Stoler, 1995; Todorov, 1984). For the last five centuries at least, ‘race’ was used todistinguish groups in terms of class, culture, religion, region and complexion (Banton,1987; Miles, 1989; Stoler, 1992). Thus, it has only very rarely been used to refer to theidea that there are a fixed number of ‘races’ amongst the human population who possesstraits determined by genetic transmission. For example, Orientalist ideologies that repre-sented Islam as essentially inferior to Christian Europe date back to at least the 11th cen-tury crusades (Miles, 1989; Said, 1994). This makes it clear that racism need not bedirected at those groups who have been most subject to a genetic concept of race.436 C. W. Leach Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 15 : 432–445 (2005)
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