From Third World liberation to multiple oppression politics: a contemporary approach to interethnic coalitions.
Global industrialization and demographic and economic restructuring in the U.S. compel us to challenge existing paradigms and search for new visions to promote interethnic coalitions. During the past two decades, a large influx of immigrants of color has dramatically changed the country's composition. Income polarization and status differences within and across various racial communities have created lines of division that further complicate race relations. Notwithstanding this fragmentation, the diverse composition of the present-day metropolis underlines the necessity of mobilizing the various ethnic groups around urgent projects and issues that stem from common life chances. Furthermore, structures of inequality and ideological differences inevitably lead to conflict and destruction as demonstrated by the Los Angeles Civil Unrest of 1992. With these and other considerations in mind, scholars must develop new strategies for bringing together such diverse constituencies.
Recent changes in the racial composition of American society have been accompanied by increased conflict among various racial and ethnic groups, including Blacks, Asians, and Latinos (Chang, 1990; Min, 1996; Oliver and Johnson, 1984; Torres, 1995). Building coalitions of color in contemporary society is much more formidable than it was in the 1960s as a result of contextual shifts and new complexities in the internal organizational structure and, hence, in the objective interests of different racial groups. Moreover, in reaction to these changes, as well as simple disillusionment, various segments in minority communities have, in a self-defeating manner, essentialized the source of their marginalization and have begun to consider racial identity as the ends rather than the means to empowerment. Despite these changes, theoretical and historical divisions of race continue to be based on a traditional Black-white paradigm of race relations. To build effective multiracial alliances, we need to pay attention to differences and conditions within and among racial groups. We must also account for the experiences and situations of Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans without losing sight of the enduring social inequalities faced by African Americans.
The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how demographic, economic, and political transitions in American society have changed the nature of race relations since the social upheavals of the 1960s and to suggest the need for rethinking multiracial organizing. We discuss the following topics:
1. The changing global and economic conditions that have altered the Third World politics of the 1960s;
2. The changing political climate that gave rise to the neoconservative ideology of the 1980s;
3. The retreat to racial identity politics in the 1980s and 1990s; and
4. A general shift from white/Black to inter-minority conflict.
We explore multiple oppression politics as a strategy to overcome racial and ethnic divisions and to engender the development of coalition spaces. Third World consciousness in the latter part of the 20th century cannot exist without considering the basic premises of multiple identity politics.
The Theoretical Constructs of Third World Consciousness
To understand the conditions under which coalitions succeed and fail, it is necessary to identify both the forces that shape one's internalized worldview and the limitations and opportunities rendered by external structures. Theories of group formation differentiate between the subjective consciousness and the objective interests of individuals and groups within a coalition. Objective interest is defined as an individual's predisposition toward a particular need, object, or goal such that "his or her well-being is diminished, sustained, or enhanced by it," whether or not the individual is aware of it (Davis, 1991). Subjective identity begins to emerge when the individual becomes cognitively aware of his or her marginalized or advantaged position in larger hegemonic systems. This awareness may express itself in the form of mere cognizance, expressed preference, or active association with individuals in the same class (Ibid.). Collective identity is influenced by a combination of structural or local influences that are beyond the control of the individual and volitional, self-determined values and prescriptions (Nagel, 1994). The successful alignment of individuals along coalitional lines necessitates compatibility between common objective positions and a subjective cognition of this commonality with others (Davis, 1991).(1) A wide range of mitigating factors, including structural, personal, or historical forces, may prevent individuals and groups from seeking points of shared interest around which to form cross-racial alliances.(2)
Due to the significance of racial differences in contemporary society, multiethnic coalitions provide a distinctive case with which to analyze processes of group formation. Coalitions are impelled by different modes of consciousness and activity, such that the conditions for their emergence vary significantly from traditional lines of group formation (e.g., race-based organizations). In particular, this study considers several possible levels of racial consciousness that may occur with respect to the objective interests of the different racial groups, as introduced in the following models:
Individualist Politics: The orientation of this form of politics is generally directed at either the moral or the rational being of the self. The emergence of groups and alliances are motivated by the rational decision-making processes or the humanistic conscience of the said individual. The former case is best exemplified by Michael Banton's "rational choice" theory (1983), which states that people will identify with collectivities based on physical and cultural differences and create inclusive and exclusive categories for the maintenance of group boundaries in order to maximize individual benefits. This argument can also be applied to coalitions in which individuals are compelled to join in alliances with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds because they stand to gain significant material or psychological awards based on their association. Although it is true that individuals join coalitions to optimize their individual payoffs, for most members such benefits cannot be quantified in solely individualistic terms, since they are essentially collective in nature and related to the desire to further group-based needs. Indeed, involvement with an alliance may result in negative costs in terms of expended time, related financial costs, and the possibility of being alienated from one's racial community (e.g., being labeled a traitor).
Some people who participate in coalitions are motivated by purely altruistic reasons based on conceptions of humanitarian "goodwill." This approach, commonly referred to as the "human relations model," uses strategies that are focused on consensus building, education, and mutual understanding (Chang, 1995; Sonenshein, 1993). The model deals with racial tensions by either ignoring or minimizing the significance of hegemonic power structures or attempting to resolve them through patronizing programs and group dialogue. In such coalitions, one racial group may focus on providing for or assisting another marginalized racial group through various activities. This approach is based on the belief in some underlying commonality among human beings that overrides all racial differences. This was one of the common foundations for Jewish-Black alliances in the 1960s.
Racial Identity Politics: For the purposes of this essay, racial identity politics generally refers to the primacy of racial identification over other forms of social identity situated within hegemonic structures, such as gender, class, sexual orientation, and religion. By nature, membership in a particular racial community encompasses not only a process of inclusive consolidation, but also a means of exclusion, through which individuals and/or groups root out those who do not "belong" - what Winant (1994) refers to as the "inclusionary and exclusionary politics of panethnicity." In and of itself, identification with a nationalist identity does not obviate the possibility for cross-racial alliances. However, proponents who embrace the tenets of racial identity politics will only participate in coalitions, if at all, on the premise that their racial constituency either assumes a position of leadership or participates as an autonomous party. More importantly, interests perceived to be adversarial or trivial to racial identity (such as gender) must be overcome, de-emphasized, resolved, or ignored altogether in the name of racial unity. From the dominant perspective, white identity politics can be used as the basis for hierarchical rankings and as a means to exclude racial minorities from certain positions or institutions of power (e.g., the new religious Right) (Calhoun, 1994). Alternatively, it is also a means for marginalized groups to create their own definitions of identity and to create value from aspects of their identity that have been delegitimized, marginalized, or rendered invisible (Ibid.).
The actual manifestation of identity politics, however, should be perceived as a continuum, since identity politics can vary in the degree to which a culture or identity is exclusionary, empowering, or self-affirming. One form of racial identity politics that is embodied in the philosophies of some 1960's Black Power groups offers a restrictive interpretation of coalitional politics based on ideologies of cultural nationalism. In Black Power, Carmichael and Hamilton (1967) politicize and centralize the affirmation of racial pride and self-determination as the basis for the mobilization of the oppressed Black masses. The theoretical constructs of Black Power as understood by these activists allow room for commonality politics within the larger framework of Third World nationalist movements through concepts of "internal colonialism" (Blauner, 1972).(3) On a more practical level, however, this form of politics is more strongly oriented toward the liberation of the Black masses. That is, other non-Black Third World constituencies play a minor part in the movement and are incorporated into a Black-white model of race relations, albeit on an international scale.(4) Although this imbalance in the racial representation of Third World people was workable in the 1960s due partly to the small size of those populations, it is no longer feasible to conceive of such coalitions.
In recent years, cultural nationalism has assumed a more extreme form under the rubric of monistic identity politics (Kauffman, 1990; Gitlin, 1993). Race is now deemed the only salient feature of political identity, such that other features of identity (e.g., class, gender, sexuality, etc.) are regarded as either insignificant or secondary to racial issues. Moreover, the hardening of racial boundaries homogenizes the interests of individual racial groups in a manner that eliminates the basis for biracial and multiracial alliances. Various arguments are used to legitimate the exclusionary and anti-coalitional activities of these groups, including references to a hierarchy of oppression, the prioritization of the advancement of one's own group, or the denial that there is any compelling shared interest among racial groups.
Universal Humanity Politics: Marxism and, ironically, the liberal ideals embedded in the Declaration of Independence introduced alternative ideological perspectives into the discussions of identity based on the concept of "universal humanity politics," or what Calhoun calls "soft relativism" (Calhoun, 1994; Gitlin, 1993). Race, ethnicity, and culture in this scholarly discourse are only superficial bases for differentiation that must be overcome to promote the common interests of "citizens of the largest world imaginable" (Gitlin, 1993: 174). In particular, identity in Marxism is rooted in a strong association with one's social class, but that identity is perceived as a temporary one imposed by the bourgeois structure, so that the ultimate goal of workers' unity is to overthrow class oppression and stratification for the benefit of humankind. Opposing the liberation and lifestyle movements that flourished in the 1960s, the New Social Movement theories emerged as one of the strongest advocates of this approach in their espousal of a single dominant identity and the consolidation of the New Left, and their sharp criticisms of identity politics (Calhoun, 1994).
Oppression Politics: Although it may vary greatly in terms of strategy and content, oppression politics generally encompasses all political philosophies that homogenize or oversimplify the nature of racial oppression. The justification for alliances is structured around the ambiguous contention that "people of color" occupy the same system of domination. Like racial identity politics, oppression politics disregards any inequalities that exist both within racial groups and among them and locates the source of such oppression within the white power structure. Depending on the approach, some people may or may not differentiate between various forms of marginalization, but the universal understanding is that only the elimination of this abstract hierarchy of oppression can provide the basis for cross-racial alliances. Consequently, the platforms for such coalitions are both vague and complex, in its attempts to tackle all forms of political, economic, and cultural racism. Under this rubric, cross-racial alliances experience numerous obstacles, such as conflicts of interest or power struggles among differentially empowered racial groups.
Multi-Oppression Politics: In recent years, numerous studies have been conducted on identity and social movements through the theoretical framework of "multi-oppression politics" (Collins, 1993; King, 1988; Kurtz, 1994; Lewis, 1996). Proponents of this theory contend that race is a socially constructed idea or ideology that constitutes only one aspect of an individual's identity. According to theories of multiple oppression politics, individual place-positions embody a wide range of overlapping or adversarial interests associated with one's status in multiple hierarchical structures (Collins, 1993; King, 1988; Morris, 1992). Members of Third World communities, such as middleman minorities, may be situated in exploitative and marginalized positions simultaneously. Furthermore, different individuals can be subordinated in different ways and to different degrees, depending on their standing within each of these frameworks of oppression (Morris, 1992). The effect of multifaceted subjugation is multiplicative so that each type of oppression furthers one's relative marginalized status, even within subordinated communities (Crenshaw, 1989; King, 1988; Collins, 1993).
Multiple political identity is simultaneously based on a rejection of racial essentialism and an awareness of "differential disempowerment" among the various communities (Chang, 1994). Objective interests, therefore, are not clearly delineated, but are rather composed of a complex matrix of possible interest positions that orient people around shared and oppositional collective interests in relation to other groups (Davis, 1991). That is, individuals and groups that assume such consciousness are not only aware of the different facets of oppression, but will also have a clearer understanding of their common oppression with other racial and ethnic groups. Multiple identity politics is the essence of multiracial alliances because coalitions can be based on any number of collective identities and relevant issues. Hence, race does not become an indomitable barrier, since individuals and groups can have similar interests on any level of identity.
Unlike monistic identity politics, Third Word consciousness is structured around a recognition of the multidimensional nature of oppression. Relations among various communities of color in recent years manifest some of the complexities of forming coalitions within the multiple interactive systems of domination. The impact of economic oppression is still defined along racial lines, yet the formation of racial consciousness is affected by greater class stratification and the increasing importance of class among racial communities. As such, coalition-building around interests other than race is not only viable, but also necessary to overcome all aspects of domination. By incorporating more radical perceptions of class oppression into its theoretical analysis, Third World politics goes beyond abstract cultural nationalistic arguments by advocating multiple institutional and cultural transformations at the personal, local, national, and international levels.
Third World Liberation in the 1960s
From the early civil rights movements to Black Power, collective mobilization in the 1960s dramatically altered the racial politics of American society and their effects still resonate today. By challenging the law-enforced legitimacy of the dominant social order and rearticulating the identities of ethnic minorities, these racial movements established new inroads for marginalized communities of color by demanding equal opportunity, autonomy, and the creation of an oppositional culture. The strategic approaches of these movements varied considerably, but whether activists adopted the peaceful direct action of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the more radical, aggressive, and engaging opposition of Malcolm X, the guiding force always stressed the significance of active resistance and confrontation with the oppressors. Taking initiative from these movements, feminists, gay/lesbian advocates, and other marginalized groups were able to consolidate around a newly reclaimed identity and shake the foundations of white male hegemony.
Although it is one of the more neglected areas of research, the ideological and substantive convergence of Black activists with other "Third World" minorities was a critical feature of liberation movements, particularly during the late 1960s.(5) Indeed, the militant and self-deterministic paradigms derived from the later Black Power movements have become the rallying point for many contemporary Asian American coalitional and community activists (Omatsu, 1994; Takagi and Omi, 1995). The mutual interests of nonwhite communities are predicated on a strong connection between oppression in the Third World and the domestic situation of ethnic minorities. Activists in this tradition struggle to regain community control from elitist powers through the mobilization of grass-roots communities. Self-determination and the autonomous representation of ethnic communities are the only means to achieve social, economic, and political liberation (Omatsu, 1994).
One of the more successful coalitions of this period demonstrates how Black, Latino, and Asian American college student organizations effectively mobilized their shared ideologies and interests against elitist school administrations. As part of a larger movement for educational and political "self-determination," a militant student movement led by the Black Students Union (BSU) and the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) attempted to redefine the basic tenets of higher education in a five-month struggle at San Francisco State College in 1968. Due to lack of administrative and departmental responsiveness, the Black Students Union expanded their base of student mobilization by seeking coalition partners among other nonwhite student organizations, including the Philippine-American College Endeavour, the Mexican American Student Confederation, the Latin American Student Organization, and the Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action, under the auspices of the TWLF (Umemoto, 1989).
The TWLF explicitly challenged the fundamental premises of California's Master Plan for Higher Education, which had been designed in 1960 to restrict admissions to San Francisco State College to "quality" students and to centralize power in the hands of 21 political and corporate leaders (Barlow and Shapiro, 1971). Calling for a redefinition of the educational system, the TWLF and BSU demanded a specific set of reform programs to achieve the establishment of ethnic studies, open admissions, equal educational opportunity, and the right of self-representation among Third World people. In pursuit of these goals, the Third World coalition strategically initiated a series of aggressive yet nonviolent strikes and protest demonstrations and skillfully used the media to their advantage. The demonstrations were met with brutal repression and mass arrests by the police and with steadfast resistance by the Board of Trustees. Although the TWLF did not win all its demands, the movement led to greater racial and coalitional consciousness and the establishment of the first School of Ethnic Studies in the nation (Omatsu, 1994; Umemoto, 1989).
Several features of the coalition and the larger context of the period contributed to the general "success" of the movement. First, the sociopolitical ideologies that inspired the Third World coalition occurred within the larger context of national and international trends of the time, with which most ethnic minority groups could subjectively identify. Nationalist movements in China, North Vietnam, Algeria, Ghana, and Cuba, for example, demanded liberation from imperialist powers that threatened to destroy the heritage, identity, self-sufficiency, and well-being of its colonized populations. For the African American, Chicano, and Asian American students of the university, the establishment of an ethnic studies program, greater community control over university decisions, reforms in the admissions process, and the hiring of faculty of color, among other things, established the concrete foundations for common interest, which could be attained only through political consolidation. The cultural, political, and economic objectives of the separate groups did not conflict with each other significantly, because the geographical and physical communities of color they represented (e.g., Chinatown, the primarily Black ghettoes of Hunters Point, and the Chicanos in the Mission District) were undergoing similar stages of socioeconomic deterioration (Barlow and Shapiro, 1971). Furthermore, the issue of human liberation clearly pitted them against well-identified adversaries embodied in the school administration, the Board of Trustees, conservative politicians, and the "occupying army" of the police, who stood as clear reminders of racial and class hierarchies. As a result, the coalition was able to formulate a list of specific demands and map out detailed strategies to confront and weaken their opposition on a day-to-day basis.
Although the San Francisco State College Strike was for the most part a student-led movement, the objective interests of the organization converged at the crossroads of racial and class liberation such that all forms of human oppression became the basis for resistance. The need for self-determination was not used as a strategy for exclusion, but rather symbolized the apex at which these traditionally marginalized communities could attain the greatest degree of empowerment through coalition-building.(6) In other words, self-empowerment was in itself one strategic step toward a larger goal for human liberation. Furthermore, as students, the TWLF did not have a defined class interest and instead attempted to represent the interests of low-income communities of color with whom they had established previous relationships through tutorials, social services, and other community-oriented programs. The coalition members recognized their privileged status as students and made an effort to incorporate the working-class perspectives of the surrounding communities in the organization's objectives and its membership.
The Globalization of Politics and the Economy
The shift in consciousness from Third World politics to racial identity politics can be attributed to various factors, including the breakdown of the New Left, the intensification of resource competition in the postindustrial era, the growth of nonwhite immigrant populations, and the fragmentation of racial communities in the face of aggressive attacks by white conservatives. Struggles for self-representation, institutional access, and autonomous control by the various wings of the panethnic, women, gay/lesbian, and labor movements introduced a new era of empowerment, but the process led to the eventual collapse of the New Left. The decoIonization of cultural homogeneity could not be sustained by the mere "negation of the present ills of poverty, racism, imperialism, and hegemony" (King, 1988: 291) and humanistic ideologies of "participatory democracy," which lacked the substance to attract its diverse constituencies (Gitlin, 1993). None of these coalitional agendas fully comprehended the interactive nature of multiple hegemonic systems, nor the structural context within which these systems were embedded. Without an alternative liberal agenda, racial groups could not comprehend the potential effectiveness and utility of coalition-building, which seemed only to obstruct their larger goals of power, self-representation, and autonomy (Ibid.).
Many "Third World" countries still struggle with the colonialist and neocolonialist legacies of Western rule, which have disrupted their economies through social displacement and underdevelopment (Lowe, 1995). However, the contextual links between national and international situations have become too complex to justify using simplistic models of internal colonialism in the face of technological innovations, transnational mobilization, the rapid modernization of Third World countries, and other dramatic shifts in the global economy. Furthermore, the spread of Western values and culture throughout "Third World" countries has altered the subjective terrain of postcolonialist activism. Idealistic images of the middle-class American dream pervade pre-immigration perceptions of ethnic immigrants, such as Asians. Beliefs about American meritocracy, individualism, and democratic freedom reinforce Confucian teachings on hard work and success, which exacerbate problematic relations between newly arriving immigrants and disempowered ethnic minorities, such as African Americans. Furthermore, American culture and media have propagated racialized views of African Americans as being primarily criminals, entertainers, or impoverished welfare dependents. Immigrants carry these perceptions and value systems with them to the U.S.A., where the misconceptions remain uncontested due to lack of multicultural education and minimal social interaction.
Postcolonial hegemony is embedded in a global market that exploits the labor of disempowered nonwhites to the disadvantage of native-born minorities in America. With the rise of the global economy in recent decades, jobs from economically marginalized Black communities have been either exported to foreign countries or given to low-paid and exploited immigrant labor on the home front. Significantly, the rapid influx of immigrants into urban neighborhoods has been occurring in an era of diminishing resources, globalization, deindustrializafion, and federal disinvestment policies. In an effort to counter the increasing influence of foreign powers in the global market, U.S. corporations attempted to maximize profits in the 1970s by advancing labor-saving technologies, closing down industrial plants, and seeking cheaper labor by using low-wage immigrants at home and exporting jobs abroad (Castells, 1989; Ong, 1994). As the U.S. shifted from a manufacturing-based society to one increasingly dominated by service-oriented, high-tech industries, traditional manufacturing jobs in the steel, rubber, auto, and nondefense aircraft sectors began to disappear from urban neighborhoods (Castells, 1989; Ong, 1994). In addition to chronic poverty, declining standards of living, high rates of unemployment and criminal activity, and underfunded schools, conditions within inner-city neighborhoods have disintegrated without check due to the noticeable absence of federal aid programs since the 1980s (Oliver and Johnson, 1984; Ong, 1994; Chang, 1990).
Although the various movements of the 1960s were able to reclaim their respective identities from their heretofore marginalized status and to expand the opportunity structure for exploited groups, these gains were not achieved without serious costs and limitations. Many gains did not affect the life chances of all Black Americans equally, partly because they attacked only legal obstacles and failed to remedy the socioeconomic inequalities afflicting low-income urban communities (Wilson, 1980). The primary beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement were middle-class nonwhites who were no longer hindered by racially discriminatory laws that prevented mobility into professional/managerial occupations or integration into suburban neighborhoods. However, those lacking the human and social capital to take advantage of these new laws have remained confined physically in inner cities and socioeconomically in low-wage occupational niches. The income and class polarization of Black communities has been exacerbated by the aforementioned shifts in the national economy and federal disinvestment policies in the post-Civil Rights era.
Nonetheless, various scholars have noted that the globalization of the economy has substantiated the structural and subjective basis for the rise of "transnational identities" among Asian, Latino, African American, and even Native American "Fourth World" populations (Gilroy, 1993; Wong, 1995). While the consumption culture of the Western world continues to be romanticized in Third World countries, the rising economic and political prominence of non-Western nations and the mutual (and multiple) interchange of capital and labor have created a larger context for domination. The multiple structures of hegemony are no longer contained within the national spaces of U.S. society, but are interconnected with the economy and politics of other nations (Gilroy, 1993). As a result, the reformulation of contemporary Third World politics necessitates the expansion not only of notions of ethnic/racial identity, but also of American identities in a more concrete manner than the approach taken by past liberation movements.
Politics in the Postcolonial Era
Ironically, the peak of Third World politics during the late 1960s resulted from the same social forces that helped bring about its ultimate demise. In the late 1960s, the racialization of ethnic minorities, including Blacks, Asians, and Chicanos, provided the impetus and rallying point to mobilize politically against the injustices of cultural and structural hegemony and to transform their marginalized cultural status into a positive assertion of self-pride. However, having derived its initial force from the internal colonialist paradigms of the Black Power movement, alliances with other "Third World" constituencies were not obviated by the assertion of racial identity and instead understood within the larger context of global hegemony, race-class domination, and cultural marginalization - all of which was shared on a general level by Third World communities.
As the size of Asian American and Latino populations swelled, however, those who would have been simply incorporated into the ranks of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the past found their social and cultural space and became increasingly separated from the goals of other racial liberation movements (Espiritu, 1992; Wei, 1993). With the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, new waves of immigrants from Asia and Latin and Central America significantly altered the demographic composition of Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas in the U.S. In Los Angeles, the demographic changes have been the most dramatic during the last two decades: the Latino population doubled from 15 to 39% and Asian Pacific Americans nearly quadrupled from three to 11% between 1970 and 1990. In the meantime, the non-Hispanic white population has declined from its 71% share in 1970 to a narrow numerical plurality of 41% of Los Angeles County's population in 1990 (Oliver and Grant, 1995).
The change in the racial composition of American society has been accompanied by shifts in the spatial dynamics of inner cities and outer suburbs. In Los Angeles, for instance, roughly 70% of African Americans resided in South-Central Los Angeles before 1965, while Anglos, Latinos, and Asian Americans made up only about 14% of the area's population (Ong et al., 1992). With the breakdown of legal and residential barriers, middle-class African Americans began to move out of urban ghettos into suburban neighborhoods. In the 1980s, the African American population in South-Central Los Angeles increased by only 13%, but the Latino population increased by 53% and Asian Americans by 108%. As a result, the Latino community in South-Central Los Angeles grew from six percent in 1970 to roughly 40% in the 1990 (Ibid.). Increased physical interaction among nonwhite groups and widening income gaps between haves and have-nots intensified racial and ethnic divisions during the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, monistic identity politics has ironically intensified in a time when its existence has become both self-defeating and obsolete.
This process of exclusionist group formation, however, was not instigated by panethnic consciousness; instead, other structural and cultural constraints developed so that racialization acted as a reaffirming force for the rise of monistic racial identity politics among communities of color, particularly among segments of the Black nationalist parties. Thus, it was not so much the substance and content of nationalist ideologies that proved problematic for coalitions in the long run. Instead, obstacles to liberation coincided with the transformation of cultural nationalism into primordial destiny and the emerging perception that separatism was the ultimate goal of liberation movements and not merely the means to attain the larger goal of human liberation. As Gitlin (1993: 172) insightfully argues, "What began as an assertion of dignity, a recovery from exclusion and denigration, and a demand for representation, has also developed a hardening of its boundaries." The collective empowerment of the various nonwhite communities is indeed undermined by the emergence of monistic identity politics: by celebrating victimization, edifying anatomical differences, and embracing superficial aspects of culture, communities become preoccupied by features that prevent them from actively engaging with institutions of power (Gitlin, 1993; Kauffman, 1990). Interestingly, such groups have reverted to the primordial mode of thinking reminiscent of early white Social Darwinists - although ironically without the power to reinforce it.
The hard-line repressive strategies meted out against activists and the later ideological backlash by white Americans have perpetuated a historically based atmosphere of racial exclusion and corporate warfare that would alienate segments of the native-born minority communities (Omatsu, 1994). In such an atmosphere, Omatsu insightfully notes, "liberation movements, especially in the African American community, did not disappear, but a major focus of their activity shifted to issues of day-to-day survival" (p. 37). Humanitarian-based coalitions could not withstand the pressures of race and class-based oppression, which became a priority for Black organizations attempting to uplift the status of their communities.
Although some groups of color have "racialized" the nature of oppression, we have seen a return within white America efforts to resurrect "deracialized" politics in the post- 1960s era. Using the "bootstraps" analogy, these proponents subscribe to the notion that anyone can succeed and overcome class marginality if they work hard enough (Omi and Winant, 1994). The revitalized presence of far-right groups was a political response to the liberal state and reflected a crisis of identity engendered by the 1960s (Ibid.). The dissolution of leftist politics paved the way for the far Right and neoconservatives to attack the need for social services and pro-minority programs through new definitions of "color-blind and meritocratic equality." During the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of acts of vandalism and intimidation were directed at Black and other minority Americans (Feagin and Hernan, 1995). Economic dislocation facilitated the growth of neoconservative ideology and the resurgence of white supremacist organizations. Under this rubric, David Duke argued that "if black folks have the NAACP, why can't whites have the Association for Advancement of White People (NAAWP)" (Olney, 1998)?
Under the Reagan and Bush administrations, these discussions were accompanied by cutbacks in welfare programs, affirmative action policies, social services, education, health care, and pro-minority business programs (Omi and Winant, 1994). White American conservatives and neoconservatives are able to attack antidiscrimination laws by arguing that "race" has become irrelevant with the elimination of de jure segregation and discriminatory laws. Many white and nonwhite neoconservatives began to advocate elimination of programs that were created to eradicate racial discrimination during the 1960s. For example, they argue that affirmative action policy is a form of reverse discrimination against whites because it gives "preferential treatment" to minorities (Blacks). The politics of race has not only exacerbated tensions between whites and Blacks, but also intensified conflict between racial minorities as symbolized by the model minority myth.(7)
Inter-Minority Conflicts and Coalition-Building
The influx of immigrants into these economic pressure zones, economic and political competition, high crime rates, and cultural differences have strained relations between native residents of the area and incoming immigrants of color. In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Civil Unrest, racial and ethnic groups are positioning themselves to preserve and protect their own self-interests. Despite the dramatic demographic shifts, the City of Los Angeles has failed to act to meet the changing needs of a diverse population. African Americans have voiced concern that they are losing the political and economic gains made during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. They have expressed suspicion toward the growing numbers of Latino residents and Korean merchants in "their" neighborhoods. Latinos have demanded proportional representation to reflect their population increase, which has heightened political competition with African Americans. Asian Americans have begun to gain access to, and representation in, mainstream political processes and have generally attained higher levels of socioeconomic success, which has incited the resentment of other groups. The hardening of racial boundaries has exacerbated tensions, especially among minority groups.
The problems associated with the intermixing of ethnic groups within rapidly changing political and economic structures were violently brought to global attention with the first multiethnic civil unrest of April 29, 1992 (Chang and Leong, 1994). Added to the longstanding conflictual relationship between African Americans and the white majority, dramatic demographic shifts in the last 20 years have led to polarization along racial and ethnic lines, particularly among minority groups. In addition, the general population growth in South-Central Los Angeles has intensified competition for limited housing and jobs among minority groups. In other words, the race relations paradigm has shifted from white-Black to multiracial and multiethnic relations. Scholars are faced with the major challenge of developing new ways to understand race relations that reflect demographic diversity and foster interethnic cooperation.
The Korean-African American conflict emerged as a visible and urgent urban American problem during the 1980s and the early 1990s (Chang, 1990). Several scholars attribute the rise in interethnic antagonism between Korean merchants and African American residents to a sense of territorial antagonism resulting from rising unemployment, deindustrialization, and extreme class polarization, particularly among middle-class workers and poor communities of color (Bonacich, 1973; Chang, 1992; Freer, 1994; Min, 1996; Oliver and Johnson, 1984). More recently, violent confrontations among Latino and African American students flared up in the Inglewood School District in Los Angeles. In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), several incidents of confrontations among white, Latino, Asian, and African American students have been reported (Multicultural Collaborative Report, 1995).
Contemporary coalitions between Korean immigrant merchants and African American residents offer an interesting case study of interethnic coalition-building. The formation of the Third World Liberation Front had been a product of proactive actions to end institutional discrimination in higher education, but the primary mission of the Black-Korean Alliance (BKA) was to respond to heightening tensions between two minority constituencies in Los Angeles. In response to Black-Korean tensions, the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission (LACHRC) assisted in the formation of the African American Korean Community Relations Committee (AAKCRC) in late 1984. The membership of the BKA consisted of representatives from human relations and dispute resolution agencies, small business organizations, religious groups, and civil rights foundations, including the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Urban League, the Korean American Coalition, and the Korean American Grocers Association. The objective of the BKA was to develop a model for facilitating dialogue and improving relations that would eventually mitigate tension in target areas and then replicate this model in other areas with similar problems. To pursue these goals, the BKA employed a number of strategies, including cultural and educational seminars and economic redevelopment plans. Among other things, the BKA organized community forums to air grievances and launched a series of educational campaigns and colloquia to heighten mutual awareness and understandings.
One of the BKA's great successes was its ability to facilitate dialogue and heighten consciousness among Black and Korean groups, which is a necessary stage in the processes of intergroup cooperation. However, in its quest to counter rising tensions among the various communities, the Black-Korean Alliance attempted to confront racial identity politics with appeals to conscience or to individualist humanitarian politics. This humanistic approach severely limited the BKA's organizational capacity because it did not offer an alternate basis for shared interests in the face of adversarial class interests. Though its intent was to tackle the various dimensions of Korean-Black conflict, the group's multiple ideological areas of concentration - cultural, political, and economic - detracted from organizational coherency by diffusing limited financial and human resources across many programs and made the organization's basis ambiguous. Without a clearly defined goal or a politically unified membership, the BKA inevitably ran into numerous obstacles in its attempts to create a core identity.(8) In terms of substantive projects, the coalition focused on cross-cultural dialogue and educational forums. Yet it was unable to resolve the economic issues at the root of interethnic tensions and did not institute programs to reduce the daily problems of economic survival for middleman merchants and low-income residents.
Incidents continued to arise between Korean merchants and Black residents within inner cities. The BKA lacked the resources, manpower, and organizational capacity to mitigate the impact of class differences or to overhaul the economic structure within those communities. These inherent divisions prevented the group from moving beyond dialogue, since so much of their time and energy was devoted to mediation, dealing with specific crises, and abating tensions. The case of the BKA demonstrates that when objective interests are simultaneously congruous and conflicting, dialogue alone cannot reconcile structural differences. In a sense, the BKA's political standpoint is analogous to the political orientation they were attempting to rectify, because they neglected to deal with the multiple features of oppression in action, if not in theory. In the end, the BKA was forced to disband.
Discussion and Summary
Building coalitions of color today is much more formidable than it was in the 1960s due to contextual shifts and new complexities in the internal structure, with corresponding shifts in the objective interests of different racial groups. Ironically, the increasing diversification and fragmentation of identity and interests in the post-1960s era have been accompanied by the hardening of racial boundaries in the form of ethnic-minority identity politics and white backlash. The pervasiveness of racial hostility is also the by-product of shifts in the objective status and subjective consciousness of racial populations. These apparent contradictions lead to a disjunction between personal and structural consciousness. Conflicts that occur on the personal and local levels are not perceived within the broader framework of racial marginalization and the exploitative global economy. Thus, lines of continuity and commonality from personal experience to local relationships, national structures, and international politics are not as clearly delineated as they were in the 1960s. A more multifaceted approach to the problems and resources of these groups may offer a source of empowerment in interethnic coalitions that is not easily available through mobilization alone.
The disintegration of the Left, as well as increasing interethnic conflicts particularly among nonwhite communities, underline the need to reformulate our understanding of Third World liberation based on the concept of multiple oppression politics. Multiple oppression politics acknowledges the variegated and intersectional lines of hegemony that define power structures and espouses a more expansive and proactive movement against exploitative systems beyond racial oppression. The unification and uplifting of racial communities itself does not enervate the essence of coalitional politics and may indeed ensure equal representation and the consolidation of collective resources. The lines of commonality that intertwine these racial groups are initially pragmatic, local, and transient in nature, partly due to the continual significance of racial differences; as such, coalitions are most effective when they tie together racial-interest constituencies, as opposed to a mixture of individuals.(9) Nevertheless, within the realm of racial politics, there is room for a more universal understanding of hegemonic systems that is inseparable from issues of gender, class, and sexual orientation, among other lines of stratification.
Contemporary literature on coalitional politics emphasizes the significance of concrete issues, subjective consciousness, and power in determining the fate of coalitions (Chung, 1998; Regalado, 1995; Sonenshein, 1993). Although consciousness may theoretically be broad in nature, the interests upon which they converge must be focused on specific and substantive issues that bind the practical interests of participating groups. Subjective consciousness includes some minimal degree of similarity in ideological orientation (e.g, liberal politics), multiethnic acculturation, value systems, and group consciousness built on solidifying activities or against an oppositional party (Chung, 1998; Davis, 1991; Sonenshein, 1993). A new coalitional identity arises from these and other elements. Furthermore, coalitional theory must recognize the significance of power dynamics in facilitating or hindering alliances among differentially empowered racial communities (Carmichael and Hamilton, 1967; Chang, 1994; Chung, 1998). Such coalitions may bring together preexisting collective organizational bases that are structured around some form of political or class-based racial solidarity (Chung, 1998).
Contemporary coalitions must draw from the proactive, self-empowering, and strategic approaches of 1960's Third World politics. Despite their cultural drive, these movements should have taught us the invaluable lesson that dialogue alone cannot reconcile structural differences. At the same time, transitions in the multiple oppression structures of postcolonial society necessitate a reassessment of the context in which we engage in coalitional activities. One possibility is for nonwhite groups to find concrete issues that transcend economic interests and hard-line divisions rooted in ethnic or class stratification systems. Public space coalitions, such as the Koreatown and West Adams Public Safety Association (KOWAPSA), that focus on combating crime ideally exemplify an issue that extends beyond class differences to emphasize commonalities in the spatial interests of urban-confined communities of color (Chung, 1998). Building coalitions at the intersection of hegemonic systems provides another strong point of commonality that can be developed. For instance, labor movements mobilized by immigrant workers could potentially be an effective means to empower communities of color. Biracial and multiracial coalitions that focus on women of color in the workplace or gay/lesbian nonwhites are other forms of multiple oppression politics that strengthen the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality politics. Furthermore, the latter types of movements hold great promise because they inherently require flexibility in the boundaries of racial identity, as demonstrated by the paradigms proposed by Black feminists and lesbians (Collins, 1993).
While acknowledging the multiple facets of oppression that continue to shape the lives of people of color today, it is also crucial that we do not embrace the mistaken belief that the objective interests of these racial groups are the same today as they were several decades ago. Development of a multiple political consciousness around commonalities would require greater movement toward mitigating the effects of race- and class-based differences, as well as other forms of stratification. To rectify the injustices of this power system, collective action must eventually be guided by an oppositional consciousness that protests the hierarchical value systems of society (Morris, 1992). Yet, such stratification systems pertain not only to the perpetuation of human oppression, but also to the encouragement of those essentialist ideologies that enable the system to "divide and conquer" the groups on which its survival depends. Coalitional consciousness in society today must be conditioned by a recognition of the different facets of oppression, in terms of its standards (e.g., race, class, gender, etc.) and its strategies (political and economic domination).
As suggested throughout our study, proponents of multiethnic alliances must consequently invest greater effort in clarifying common interests and in educating communities about the need to use the respective differential yet complementary powers of various racial communities. Due to the hardening of racial boundaries predicated on economic realities, the strategic approaches of such cross-racial organizations must move beyond the humanistic ideologies of cross-cultural communication and racial harmony to address the substantive issues of the different racial and economic life-situations that make up contemporary society. Racial solidarity may function as an impediment to multiethnic organizations and movements when utilized as a means of exclusion, but it might also provide the organizational coherence and economic or political power base necessary for success, as long as the interests around which the various groups merge are grounded in the real needs of their respective racial and ethnic communities. Despite ambiguities in the shared coalitional spaces of contemporary communities of color, several conditions suggest that areas of shared interest exist among people of color, which are partly contingent on their status as racial minorities.
Some argue that the notion of "people of color" has lost its social meaning because of its racially essentialist origins. Yet our argument is that its inherent meaning must be transformed to fit with the context of our time and place, so that it acknowledges, and organizes around, the multiple facets of oppression. The problems of communities of color still overlap, although they are undoubtedly not as similar as they were in the 1960s. We must reach back into the substance of multiple oppression politics and work together to find solutions that identify objective interests, advocate coalitional consciousness, and directly engage with power institutions as such politics would dictate. Political identity is not the concrete binding force that will overcome class differences. Neither is it the goal of a social movement. Yet it is a notion that helps groups understand the transformations that must be made within the individual and the community.
1. Although these various individuals may have conflicting interests, it is still feasible to coalesce around the interests they do share. However, individuals and groups may mobilize around false interests or may be deliberately diverted, prevented, or manipulated away from converging with other groups at any stage of group formation (Davis, 1991). This dysfunctional situation may occur if their subjective consciousness is somehow altered either by oppositional groups, internal misdirection, or structural forces (Ibid.).
2. Another possibility is that an individual may choose to assume only one aspect of his or her identity, which may conflict with the other interests (and hence, groups) with which they have the option of identifying. For instance, monistic racial identity politics is an exclusionary form of essentialist politics that occurs when a group believes in the primacy of race over all other possible identities, such as class and gender.
3. This article does not argue that differences were not stifled. Works by Black feminists on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements attest to the exclusion or silencing of identities other than race (King, 1988).
4. Due to power differentials and consequent conflicts of interest, alliances with whites, although conceivable, are restricted to temporary strategic alliances formed on an issue-to-issue basis.
5. We place "Third World" in quotes to recognize the inadequacy of using such terms in the contemporary era, especially with the modernization and economic development of some countries.
6. The organizations were able to maintain a degree of autonomy and self-consolidation in their relationship to the larger multiracial alliance; the groups possessed independent power bases and preestablished social networks that allowed them not only to tap into limited financial resources and organized manpower, but also to feel equally represented and invested in the fate of the coalition. At the same time, the Black Students Union assumed a greater leadership role due to their unquestionable political experience, larger size and developed consciousness as a racial constituency, and their connections with the larger Black Power movements.
7. The model minority myth is emblematic of this neoconservative ideology. This myth praises the hard-working ethics of Asian immigrants who have been able to overcome obstacles and "succeed" in American society. Such ideas about the meritocratic nature of society explicitly or implicitly state that the low status of other racial minorities is not the result of racial discrimination, but of the faulty cultural or psychological characteristics of the individual.
8. A major problem is identifying a clearly defined oppositional party or issue at which to direct, or at least explain, grievances. This is much more problematic in the contemporary period, due partly to the absence of these institutions (e.g., corporations and banks) in the neighborhood and ideological differences among the members.
9. Note that due to the class fragmentation of racial groups, it is possible that when we speak of bringing together "racial communities," we are referring to a segment of that community that is locked into other issues, such as neighborhood or class interests.
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ANGIE Y. CHUNG (8125 Redlands Street, #107, Playa del Rey, CA 90293; e-mail: email@example.com) is currently a graduate student in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her area of concentration deals primarily with interethnic relations, biracial and multiracial coalitions, and urban sociology. EDWARD TAEHAN CHANG is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside (Riverside, CA 92521; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). He co-edited two volumes on the Los Angeles civil unrest, Los Angeles: Struggles Toward Multiethnic Community (University of Washington Press, 1995) and Building Multiethnic Coalitions in Los Angeles (Institute for Asian American and Pacific American Studies at CSULA, 1995).
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|Title Annotation:||Crossing Lines: Revisioning U.S. Race Relations|
|Author:||Chung, Angie Y.; Chang, Edward Taehan|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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