For some Americans, issues of race represent one of the greatest challenges facing the country. For these (especially progressive-leaning) people, race is a structure that undergirds and influences many other aspects of American life.
For other Americans, issues of race have been over-emphasized and have come to receive far more attention than they need. For these (especially conservative-leaning) people, the role of race in America is being exaggerated to an extent that the over-focus has become a significant problem.
That being said, the left-right duality does not actually capture the nuances of how race is understood by Americans across the political spectrum. The following categories begin at the far right, generally outside the U.S. political mainstream, and move gradually toward the left. The labels are intended to reflect a combination of groups’ self-identification and how they are generally regarded and classified.
White (and sometimes other) Supremacists. Those who identify with any of the many white power groups typically see race as something that is determined by God. Similarly, those in this group believe God created racial differences and intended for the races to be arranged in a hierarchy (with their own group at the top). Since God created such differences, trying to eradicate racial inequality or even having relationships across racial lines is seen as acting against God’s will. There is sometimes differentiation in this group between racists (who endorse racial superiority) and racialists (who endorse racial separation); but these distinctions tend to be mostly about self-presentation and are not visible or meaningful to those outside this category.
Conservatives (in regard to race) generally see race as biologically determined and may be strongly religious, believing that each human is divine or made in God's image. They tend not to self-identify as “racist” or endorse racial superiority, but may believe that groups experience less internal conflict when they stay with their own. They typically attribute race-group differences to biological differences in individual traits (e.g., intelligence) rather than environmental influences. They frequently believe in a just world in which both individuals and social groups get what they work for.
Neo-conservatives (in regard to race) believe that race is socially constructed (by human social groups). They believe that racial inequality used to exist due to institutional and scientific racism, but typically believe that this is no longer the case. They generally see color-blindness as the correct path towards racial justice and equity.
Neoliberals (in regard to race) believe structural racism continues to exist. They want a path towards racial justice but believe the best way is a social agenda that provides assistance and support based on need rather than race (e.g., need-based affirmative action).
Liberals (in regard to race) are similar to neoliberals, but believe the social intervention should be explicitly race-based in order to “level the playing field” (e.g., race-based affirmative action).
Radicals (in regard to race) tend to see race not only as a social construction, but as a social construction that was intentional and purposeful. They are likely to take the position that institutional and structural racism continues to exist in all major systems (e.g., criminal justice, education, housing), and that it is intentional, purposeful, and unconscious. They believe these systems are damaged beyond repair and should be taken down and rebuilt from scratch rather than reformed.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
-Do you consider issues of race central challenges facing America? If so, why? If not, why?
-Do you believe we focus too much energy - or not enough - on race in America?
-If you see race as receiving too much attention, what deserves more attention comparatively?
-If you see race as receiving too little attention, what takes attention away from it?
Living Room Conversation Guide:Race & Ethnicity
Ten Ways that Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree about Race Disagreement Map prepared by Jacob Hess and the team at Village Square Utah
Racial and Ethnic Tensions: What Should We Do? (NIF Issue Guide) National Issues Forums Institute
Mikhail Lyubanksy, Jacob Hess, Julie Mastrine
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