3 Paradigms Of Race In America

Using the ideas of Omi and Winant, a thorogh discussion of the three major paradigms of race in America: ethnicity, class-based, and nation. Researched and cited.

Omi and Winant cite (in Racial Formation in the United States) as the three historical paradigms of race in America the ethnicity model, the class-based model, and the nation model. All three models are criticized as incomplete in O&W's opinion. This criticism can be understood by dividing any racial paradigm into three essential elements: the cultural, the economic, and the political. In order to truly explain the socio-historical significance of a "race" all three elements must be addressed. In each of these models, however, essentially only one element of racial identity is sufficiently addressed.

The ethnicity paradigm arose in the 1920's and 1930's as a challenge to the prevailing view that race was a biological fact (usually implying the biological superiority of the white race). In this context the ethnicity theory was a progressive political project to redefine race as a product of social instead of biological factors (15). After 1965, however, during a period of challenges to ethnicity theory's hegemony, the deficiencies of the ethnicity paradigm were realized. Race was assumed to be secondary to and, in fact, wholly compatible with ethnicity and the experience of white, European immigrants (16 and 20). The historical, economic, and political experiences of minorities were assumed to be similar to those of white ethnic groups. The "inability" of racial minorities to conform to the dominant (white) culture became a fault of their own. Hence, the inability of racial minorities to integrate became a cultural deficiency of the minorities instead of a deficiency of ethnicity theory itself (21-22).

The general analogy used to assert the ethnicity argument comes from the immigrant experience in America. Early European immigrants to the U.S. formed a very concrete ethnic identity upon arriving in America. For those U.S. citizens without an ethnic identity, these ethnic groupings were treated comparably as separate "races." In the case of these immigrants, however, various ethnicities would conform to the "American" identity, and be integrated into American society. Americans, however, were counterpoised as free white men in contrast to the overwhelmingly enslaved black population. The immigrant analogy failed to take into account the distinguishing factors of skin color, economic slavery, and political slavery. The reduction of racial differences and the subordinating of minority ethnic breakdowns proved insurmountable barriers to an accurate analysis of race by the "immigrant analogy" (21-22).

In the class-based paradigm, economics is stressed while politics is subordinated and culture completely ignored. Through both conservative models, such as the market relations approach, and more radical models, such as class conflict theory and Marxism, racial designations are assumed to be attributable to economic processes (24). Thus ghettos, barrios, congressional districts, and popular seizure of power are addressed, but the questions of identity, such as "blackness" and "whiteness" are ignored. This typically leads to an essentialist description of race relations, often blaming these problems on "false consciousness" or on the capitalists rather than analyzing the mentality (or culture) of the working class itself and its effects on race relations.

Labor market segmentation theory addresses the inequalities amongst the working class itself. Mexicans and blacks typically fill labor intensive jobs in industries such as construction, textiles, janitorial, etc. The job security and pay of these jobs is minimal. Meanwhile whites largely take capital intensive jobs in the computer industry, engineering, etc., where the pay and job security are relatively high in comparison to labor intensive jobs. This forms a split in the working class itself, where capital intensive workers scapegoat labor intensive workers to maintain their superior position in the job market. Because of the division of labor, this means that the largely white, advantaged workers scapegoat blacks and Latinos.

The nation-based paradigm takes into account almost exclusively politics, urging separatism. The nation paradigm is largely a reaction to the failure of integrationist policies and represents a disillusionment with the racial state (36). The politics of this model, however, do not even address racial economic inequality (class cleavages within the race) or cultural ideas of "whiteness" and "blackness," in fact it depends upon "blackness" for much of its strength (46). With this in mind, it completely fails to address the very question from which it arose, the question of racial equality.

The politics of this internal colonial model are unrealistic as they appeal to a minority of the population to form a new nation. The internal colonial model did parallel the struggle of the nation-victims of imperialism by stressing superexploitation, cultural dominance and resistance, territorial distribution of the population, and political subjugation to the state (45). The essential difference is that India or South Africa, with a large majority population of a certain racial identity could oust the minority ruling caste or class. In America however, blacks represent about 12% of the population, Latinos, 23%. It is unrealistic to consider an overthrow of the white majority by the minority. This model also ignores the economic and cultural cleavages within a race as discussed above.

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