What do you feel is the largest threat to US democracy today? Why is it a threat, what factors contribute to the threat, and what potential solutions do you see? How should the US implement possible solutions, and what are the long-term consequences if the threat is not adequately addressed?
Dr. WEB DuBois once acutely stated that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem with the color line” although it is the 21st century, Dr. DuBois’s statements held water then and continue to ring true today. The problem with the political construct of race -and its applications that continue to deny full citizenship to people of color in the United States is one of the most notable threats to democracy. It is a threat because a society relies on institutions to function and an institution built on racism and racist oppression promotes injustice and inequality- which are in direct opposition to democracy. There is little to no room for discussion when it comes to acknowledging the historical treatment of people of color in the United States. Such examples are slavery, Indian Schools, segregation, Jim Crow legislation and currently, although heavily contested- is the over-representation of people of color in the prison systems. The political theory of race, constructs of whiteness, and the institution of white supremacy need to be critically looked at and analyzed as blockades to building a more democratic society. A critical look at this mixed with action will help the United States become a freer place for all peoples and create a society which is based on justice, acceptance and true democracy which in turn has incredibly radically libratory applications in the United States and possible abroad.
It first must be stated that the term white or whiteness does not mean a biological characteristics.
There has been plenty of scientific evidence to show that race and white in those categories does not hold water, therefore, throughout this paper it will mean a political and social construct. Harlem Renaissance writer James Baldwin provides a good base for what whiteness means in his essay On Being ‘White’…and Other Lies by stating that “Americans became white-the people who, as they claim, “settled” the country became white-because of the necessity of denying the Black presence and justifying Black subjugation” (Baldwin, 92). This means that it was a political choice that was meant to advance a group of people, not something inherit. In the 1800’s it showed in slavery, in the 1900’s through segregation, and today in privileges that are given to people that are white. Northern Arizona University associate Political Science professor Joel Olson’s book The Abolition of White Democracy argues that the United States is a democratic society in the sense that white people are equal to each other and have quite often room for opportunity and advancement yet remain superior to people that are not deemed white or do not follow a program fro whiteness. Olson suggests that a political theory of whiteness will solve this problem along with policy solutions to undo the wages whiteness has had on humanity as a whole. “Undoing it does not simply mean refusing to classify people by race, it means abandoning a politics in which the standing of one section of the population is premised on the debasement of another” (Olson, xviii). He addresses white citizenship and states that “Historically white citizens have made the wrong choice about their democratic alternatives, but the beautiful thing about the ability to make a decision is that one can always change one’s mind” (Olson, xxix).
Once race is acknowledge as a political category that acts in the form of an oppressive institution, American citizens can work to heal the Nation in the form of reparations, a critical praxis on the repressive nature policing and prisons, people of colors and poor peoples access to health care, schooling, and housing. Any policies that attack institutional racism will help the United States redefine democracy and will bring about radical change in the quality of life in all citizens- not just people of color. People that are granted the privileges of whiteness need to reject those privileges because they are undemocratic and undeserved and ally themselves with people of color to push for a better society. This is what Harvard professor Noel Ignatiev calls for in the theory and practice of white people becoming race traitors. This will be a “politics based on a simple principle: No privilege held can compare to a world in which privilege does not exist” (Olson, 145). These are hard concepts for a lot of people to take in at first, however; it can be done in such a way once people step closer to these theories and the more accessible they become, the more people will be ready to act to create a sustainable just society and most Americans already have ready in their imaginations and their hearts.
1. DuBois, WEB. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Blue Heron. 1956.
2. Baldwin, James. “On Being “White” and Other Lies”, Essence. April 1984, 92.
3. Olson, Joel. The Abolition of White Democracy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2004.
4. Ignatiev, Noel. Race Traitor. http://racetraitor.org/. Visited 07312006.