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Toward trans-communality, the highest stage of multiculturalism: notes on the future of African-Americans.

SIDNEY WILHELM'S MUCH NEGLECTED 1970 WORK, WHO NEEDS THE NEGRO?, infused with a severely pessimistic projection about the future of African-Americans, is absolutely necessary reading for today. Any understanding of the current and future crisis of racial/ethnic population in the United States must take into account the profound techno-global political-economic transformations that Wilhelm glimpsed and that are even more developed now. Wilhelm argued that as technological efficiency such as automation reduced the need for workers, African-Americans were rapidly moving from being a functionally exploitable population, of use to the wider society, into being a marginalized, discarded people, confined to reservation-like ghettoes and controlled by increasingly heavy structures of repression. Today, 23 years later, Wilhelm's argument is even more salient as the computer age and the ability of capitalism to move its assembly lines around the world is undermining the need for a large industrial work force in the U.S. itself. My retrospective use of Wilhelm's work here is aimed at rethinking the dilemmas and directions of African-Americans as we move toward the 21st century. Although my notes here are aimed primarily at the African-American situation, there are several parallels with other racial/ethnic populations such as significant portions of the Latino, Indigenous, and Asian-American communities.

From Exploitable to Cast-Off People

Historically, as Wilhelm points out, African-Americans had been an "economic necessity" as slave labor and then suppressed "free" labor:

From the bondage of slavery up through World War II, the strong anti-

Negro values of White America could not compensate for the economic

reliance upon Negro labor; in spite of their prejudices, whites confronted

economic barriers in their treatment of the Negro (1970: 2).

Racism, in effect, had developed as a functional way of structuring the use of African-American labor. Segregation and ghettoization were part of the system of control that made that labor available.

Yet this historic functionality was changing under the impact of automation. Wilhelm predicted the increasing:

isolation of the Negro people, an isolation made possible by the changing

technology of automation.... [B]ecause of the sustaining racist nature of

their society, white Americans may well take full advantage of this new

economic opportunity to promote the Negro's dismissal, just as eco-

nomic opportunity and racism combined for the elimination of the native

Indian population.... [T]he Negro may very well come to be treated much

as the American Indian: confined to reservations or perhaps eliminated

through genocide (Ibid.: 3).

Those who find such predictions fantastic and believe that the goals of "equality, acculturation, or pluralism" are being actually attained are overlooking "the very radical economic shift taken by White America" (Ibid.). Instead of a pluralistic America resulting from "the Negro revolt," there will be "the vigorous re-emergence of racial separation with all the overtones of genocide" (Ibid.).

It is futile, said Wilhelm, to ignore "the drastic rate of technological change since 1950" (p. 150). There will be increased productivity on the part of capitalism. However, any notion that such increased productivity and efficiency will bring about greater inclusion of African-Americans in economic vitality is sadly mistaken. Automation will reduce the need for workers, "while private capital provides less employment, productivity does not suffer, but rather sets spectacular records" (p. 149). Obviously, said Wilhelm, "profit, not public welfare, is the goal of business. Attaining greater profits at the expense of labor takes precedence over the consequences to the general public" (p. 150).

Automation, of course, has a general impact on workers, across "race" lines. Yet Wilhelm noted that the cutting edge of this technological revolution was slicing through society at precisely the historic moment in which millions of African-Americans went from being a largely rural to a mostly urban population dependent on industrial growth. "As the displaced black farm workers move into the city and automation takes over assembly-line production in industry, the ratio of Negro-to-white unemployment soars." The basic devastating fact for Wilhelm is that in this age of automation the "nation simply does not generate new opportunities for manual work as technology displaces muscle and nominal skills" (p. 156). The social consequences of automation for African-Americans are corrosive:

The Negro...becomes useless to an emerging economy of automation.

With the onset of automation the Negro moves out of his historical state

of oppression into one of uselessness. Increasingly he is not so much

economically exploited as he is irrelevant... [T]he Negro transforms

from an exploited labor force into an outcast. The Negro's anguish does

not rise only out of brutalities of past oppression; the anxiety stems, more

than ever before, out of being discarded as a waste-product of technologi-

cal revolution (p. 162). There will be only a residue of economic exploitation of the ghetto to extract what money remains and to use it as a retail market zone for illicit drugs.

Negroes pay higher rents for less room and services than whites; food

prices are higher in the ghetto.... [I]nterest rates exceed those charged to

whites, rackets prey upon the helpless. In short, the exploitation that

remains follow[s] economic disengagement from the labor force existing

within the confines of the reservation.... And just as whisky was in

violation of the law to incapacitate the reservation Indian, illegal drugs

turn the ghettoized Negro into a virtual invalid (pp. 233--234).

What will society do with a "discarded" population that lacks even functional value as an exploitable group? Having removed African-Americans from the economic system, society can now remove them "from sight without providing any massive remedial programs" (p. 167). Further:

As White America moves the Negro out of sight, it seeks to render the

black minority harmless as well as inconspicuous. The policy of racial

isolation, therefore, necessitates the creation and sustainment of a strat-

egy designed to contain and, if necessary, restrian, the Negro. White

America treats the Negro as an infectious disease from which escape

must be sought... (p. 168). To control and contain this population will require the use of increasing repression as a primary technique of control:

The nation with a vigorous tradition of violence resorts to a police state

first to isolate black-skinned people from white contact, and second to

restrain any Negro from breaking out of the reservation.... [A] police

force assigned to preserve "law and order" remains fundamentally racist

because it is charged with the responsibility to maintain the separation of

all Americans according to race (p. 248). Thus, the "problem of the ghetto" is not one of "black violence," but of white control:

White America...harbors no forbearance for the tranquil black either, it

holds in store only ill will for all Negroes.... [T]he racial storms of the

nation Governor Ronald Reagan of California retorts to are but the "riots

of...made dogs..." This characterization, along with Los Angeles Police

Chief William Parker's reference to Watts' rebellious Negroes as "mon-

keys," indicates the course of action on the part of whites: "mad-dogs"

must be exterminated, "monkeys" encaged out of reach (p. 242).

In conclusion, says Wilhelm, the United States, "while assuring majestic prospects for acceptance removes the basic opportunities for achievement." The outcome can only be that of turning African-Americans into a structurally chronic "outcaste minority" (pp. 250, 251).

Who Needs the Workers?

Wilhelm's arguments are, for the most part, even more apt today. Yet there are important complexities that both accentuate the processes that he described, while also introducing new dimensions not envisioned in his work. When Wilhelm wrote in the late 1960s, he could not imagine the highly sophisticated information/computer systems of today. The automation, to which he is so alert, is in today's terms actually quite primitive compared to capitalism's current systems of control and production. These high-tech information systems make for very efficient simultaneous expansion of production and contraction of the centers of control. Capitalism is global insofar as it produces and draws profits from worldwide operations, but its control centers remain confined to a few Euro-American and Asian points of concentration. Thus, the process described by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of concomitant globalization and centralization of capital is now proceeding at hyperspeed. As Renate Holub points out: the growth in information technology enables those in command of this technology to organize and manage the various processes of production more flexibly.... The extent of geographic transferability of this practice also adds to the profitability of this practice, as well as the concentration of control of the "global assembly line" (1992: 178).

This high-info-tech capitalism, able to assemble and disassemble whole units of production while moving them around the world like chess pieces (thus employing and disemploying millions of people) is radically transforming the internal work forces in the United States and Europe in a way that outstrips the changes envisioned by Wilhelm. The decline in need for African-American workers, so pivotal in Wilhelm's argument, is part of an ever-broadening impact on other racial-minority and white working-class communities.

The horrendous dislocation/relocation of industrial production lines is directly related to a crucial reduction in the concessionary, compromise-oriented social compact that was worked out (under pressure of labor/civil rights struggle) in the period spanning the 1930s to the 1960s. In this great process, which began under the New Deal, a significant portion of national political-economic elites built alliances with broad parts of the population through the granting of tangible concessions -- such as "the right to organize," "job benefits," "the G.I. Bill," "open or low-cost education in city colleges and state universities," "the end to segregation" and "affirmative action," thus providing upward mobility and economic security to ever large zones of the society -- is essentially being terminated for many. As Fusfeld and Bates (1984: 125) point out:

Industrial cities like Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh no longer

provide the route to upward mobility via manufacturing employment for

less-skilled workers. The massive losses of blue-collar manufacturing

jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, interacting with local government fiscal

difficulties, are effectively reversing many of the employment gains

captured by blacks in the 1960s.

In effect, we are moving away from an era in which the directing elites created what Antonio Gramsci called a "hegemonic bloc." Gramsci argued, in the Prison Notebooks (1971), that the successful rulers of the state exercise control by granting some meaningful degree of tangible concessions to some significant portion of the population. Such concessions have to mean something to those to whom they were granted. As meaningful concessions, they aid in the incorporation into the state of those groups as allies of the status quo. In this way, control can be a mix of coercion (when necessary) and actual societally unifying rewards, rather than disruptive and socially expensive brute repression at all times. Not all members of elites will agree with such an approach. Factions will arise in these circles among "conservatives" who oppose concessions, and "liberals" who favor them. Both will agree on the need to maintain the status quo. They disagree on the methods to be used for that end. Thus, concessions will seem dangerous to "conservatives" for whom the fear of "give them an inch and they will take a mile" requires the use of the gun and club rather than compromise. Yet astute elite groups, who take on the coloration of the "liberal," see those compromises as more effective ways of maintaining the basic order through flexibility rather than rigidity. FDR's New Deal is a classic example of building a bloc of alliances through granting concessions to a wide range of Americans. The "New Deal" entailed a recognition by FDR and his "liberal" elite supporters of the necessity of granting some concessions as a way of avoiding the highly disruptive use of outright force during the economic crisis of the Depression. The very transformation of labor activism from the term "workers versus bosses" to "labor-management relations" bespeaks the success of this continued bloc building in the 1950s and 1960s.

The functional heart of this concessionary hegemonic bloc, though, was jobs. If necessary, such jobs would be created through government planning, such as the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Fundamentally, however, there had to be industrial vitality within the country. It is one of the great ironies of the civil rights/minority community struggles of the 1960s to the present that the concessions extracted through these efforts were won at a time when jobs have been eliminated and when the remaining jobs are losing their previous association with the American Dream. More and more workers can no longer assume that their children will live better than they did. Meanwhile, the quality of life in cities torn up by plant closings and the reduced benefits of work is spiraling into negative feedback loops of declining educational systems, reduced financial security, and violence associated with guns and the drug trade--all leading to a dulling of hope for many who have no way out.

Thus, in effect, Wilhelm's book, updated to the present, might be retitled Who Needs the U.S. Workers? Major change from Wilhelm's day is consequently to be found in the widening decoupling of more and more U.S. citizens from the bloc of alliances created through elite-sanctioned concessions. Now many African-American, Latino, other minority, and many white workers face the reality and the looming possibility of unemployment, underemployment, and financial crisis for themselves and their children. Meanwhile, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top one percent of the country has more net worth than the entire "bottom" 90%. Meanwhile, some 33 million people, many of them white, are living in poverty.

Of course, the fact that more people are "in the same boat" does not mean that everyone is in the same part of the boat. Different structural locations will give some more initial security than others. Some will feel the impact of economic dislocations more, some less; some sooner, and some later. These differentials, along with the generally increasing marginalization of many workers across race lines, lead to two possible outcomes. One is increasing group competition and conflict among those being marginalized. Given the permeation of racism of this society, such intergroup competition and conflict is quite likely. The other possibility, which would require a high degree of organizational action, is that the "in the same boat together" understanding could be a basis on which to build coalitions.

Let us leave this point for the moment, however. There are other significant transformations of the situation envisioned by Wilhelm that must be understood before talk of coalition creation can proceed.

From "Black Metropolis" to "Dark Ghetto" -- Industrial Decline, the

Integrative Absorption of African-American New Insiders, and the End of Internal Colonialism

The "internal colonial model" pioneered in its application to the minorities of the U.S. by Blauner (1972) and Barrera (1979) has been "out of fashion." Whatever its limitations as noted by Blauner, Barrera, and others, however, this analysis of U.S. society did offer a significant analytical vantage point for understanding the mid--20th-century situation of racial minorities in the U.S. The analysis of internal colonialism was accurately premised on the essential idea of racially demarcated populations, infused with high degrees of economic/social strata heterogeneity, but confined spatially and socially to ghetto/barrio locations. Classically, colonies are of functional economic exploitative value to the societies that control them. They provide cheap labor, resources, or both. We can already see that, following Wilhelm, the declining need for cheap, suppressed African-American labor removes the one key dimension that made internal colonies useful and so undermines their very "colonial" status.

Simultaneously, there is another change, involving the absorption of some African-Americans out of the ghetto and into "mainstream" institutions, that alters the old internal colonial nature of the ghetto. Segregation, in its classic form, assured that the majority of black people, regardless of whether they were Ph.D.'s or janitors, were treated in essentially the same way by whites. This forced concentration of otherwise quite different social strata into one physical terrain because they belonged to one "racial" group was also connected to the creation by the oppressed of many richly diverse and vital communities. It is this suppressed but vital internal colonial community that Drake and Cayton (1945) describe when they call African-American Chicago the "Black Metropolis"; and to which James Weldon Johnson (1977) refers when he describes Harlem as "the Cultural Capital." In such communities were compressed layers of African-American doctors, lawyers, newspaper owners and reporters, photographers, movie theater owners, impresarios, baseball players, teachers, beauticians, entrepreneurs, gamblers, gangsters, Pullman porters and their union organizers, dock workers, factory workers, political leaders, socialists, communists, nationalists, preachers, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Muslims, musicians, composers, artists, writers, and many others. Out of these zones came the great American music known as "jazz," the literature of those such as Baldwin, Hurston, Wright, and Himes, the art of those such as Augusta Savage, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence, to name but a few -- all of which captured the intricate multitoned dimensionality of this life. Of course this was a life of constant struggle with racism, of constant vulnerability, but it was also a life of fertile intermingling of different strata in ways that created a tangible structure of life.

This concentrated, richly heterogeneous internal colonial community has not completely vanished. Yet it has been severely eroded in many urban areas. This transformation is captured in the tonal change from earlier positive descriptions such as "Black Metropolis" and "Cultural Capital" to Kenneth Clark's (1965) wrenching analysis of Harlem entitled Dark Ghetto. The simultaneous weakening of the urban industrial job-providing base, coupled with the outflow of the literati, the artists, the academics, the managers, and other directing groups through "integration" is bringing about this change. As Fusfeld and Bates (1984: 126) point out, the African-American population in the decaying industrial cities is increasingly marked by a "contrast between the haves and the have-nots.... [A] portion of the smaller white-collar group prospers while the larger blue-collar urban black work force is undermined."

This "have/have-not divide," marked by the integration of some African-Americans into previously off-limits institutional zones, is a major development that Wilhelm did not predict. In effect, the concessionary bloc building is continuing, but on a smaller scale. While many African-Americans (and members of other racial/ethnic populations) are being pushed to the margins of society, a smaller, but significant number are being incorporated (albeit with various degrees of white resistance) into the key institutional zones of the society. For example, the number of African-American delegates at the national convention of the Democratic Party in 1940 was 0.6%. In 1984, it was 17.7%. In 1941, there were 33 African-American elected officials in the U.S. In 1986, the number had climbed to 6,016. In 1941, there were 10 African-American judges. In 1986, there were 841 (Jaynes and Williams, 1989). The irony is that while the ghetto becomes more homogeneous in terms of class and conditions of life, the middle and some upper levels of society, such as in government, the military, cultural institutions, academia, and the churches, are becoming more racially/ethnically diverse. Increasing racial/ethnic pluralism at the top is matched by increasing class homogeneity at the bottom. President Clinton's assertion that he wanted a cabinet "that looks more like America" reflects this top-level pluralistic tendency. In short, the Gramscian hegemonic bloc building is continuing, but primarily at the middle and upper reaches, while it is being generally scaled back and shut down for those at the bottom.

Consequently, the ghettoes and barrios of the late--20th century come less and less to resemble internal colonies. Partly this is because they now largely contain and constrain those who are no longer functionally exploitable by the society. Yet the end of internal colonization also results from the loss of heterogeneity that marked the classically segregated ghetto as internal colony.

Even this picture is too simple, however, for it suggests merely that the "middle class" has moved out of the ghetto, leaving a homogeneous lower economic stratum behind. Thus, a demographic analysis tells us that those who "move up" also largely "move out" of the ghetto, as William J. Wilson (1978) has argued. Such analysis, however accurate, does not by itself tell us about the consciousness and the action of those who, having moved up and out, occupy highly complex and different positions in the overall structure of the society. For many African-Americans now occupying these new positions, the issue is one of what Gramsci (1975: 161) called "the double perspective" in "political action and state life." They act and perceive themselves both as members of the African-American community and as operatives within mainstream institutions. As such, they cannot be dismissed overall by such outdated slogans as those who have "sold out" by going completely over to "the system." Simultaneously, their position in these mainstream institutions raises important questions. The "New Insiders," as I call them, must be analyzed as a politically heterogeneous population operating in a variety of different political-institutional zones that have critical-progressive, status-quo maintaining, and repressive potentialities.

The work of Vilfredo Pareto on the "circulation of elites" into the ruling centers of society offers some useful analytical tools here. For Pareto, a ruling group is most secure when it:

successfully assimilates most of the individuals in the subject class who

show those same talents, are adept in those same arts, and might therefore

become the leaders [in their own communities] (1965: 137).

In Pareto's analysis, the process of elite integration of new members from lesspowerful marginal groups deprives those groups of internally generated leadership, while revitalizing the power structure itself. Thus, the absorption of people from suppressed populations into the mainstream constitutes a net loss of leadership for the communities of origin and a net gain for the status quo.

On the other hand, there is clear evidence of persistent critical anti-status-quo consciousness and action among the "the New Insiders." As Pareto also argues:

In moving from one group to another an individual generally brings with

him certain inclinations, sentiments, attitudes that he has acquired in the

group from which he comes, and that circumstance cannot be ignored

(1965: 112).

For an example of this portable set of community "inclinations" among New Insiders, which they carry with them into the mainstream institutional zones, consider Representative Ron Dellums, a Social Democrat, radical anathema to the conservatives, and now chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Dellums continues his basic antimilitaristic social-democratic agenda while also fighting to maintain military bases in California threatened with closure. He cannot be neatly categorized unless the ambiguity and fluidity of his structural location is itself considered a form of category. Dellums is more visible than most, but his structurally complex situation is not unique to the New Insider situation. Moreover, many African-American New Insiders have formed thousands of caucus groups inside the organizations to which they now belong. Dellums, for example, belongs to one of the most well known of these groups, the Congressional Black Caucus. Yet there are several thousand of these caucuses. In a survey I conducted of these caucus groups, I found that they often create and negotiate a fluidly complex, often contentious, mix of community and organizational allegiances (Childs, 1992). For example, the African-American police caucus in New York City, "The Guardians," generally supports the African-American mayor, Dinkins, against the anti-Dinkins stands taken by the predominantly white police union, the Patrolmens' Benevolent Association. Caucus groups of African-American Roman Catholic priests, sociologists, museum professionals, lawyers, and others have pushed for community-oriented agendas inside the organizations to which they belong. We should not romanticize such groups. Yet they do represent an important and unique late--20th-century development that flows directly from the integration struggles of mid-century. Although rooted in those struggles, they also transcend the traditional gap between "integrationist" and "separatist" perspectives among African-Americans. They are "separatist" insofar as they assert distinctive, collective African-American community-oriented agendas. They are "integrationist" insofar as they fight against racial barriers and for pluralism in their organizations. Such groups must be factored into our understanding of the late--20th-century currents now flowing through African-American society. A key question, then, is what direction these African-Americans -- who, to a greater degree than before, now produce, disseminate, and control knowledge and resources inside the junction points of the society's dominant structures -- will now move?

A basic typology of double-perspective maneuvering room will aid us in answering this question. On one end of the spectrum are institutional zones with a fairly high degree of maneuvering room. In such zones it is possible for the African-American New Insider to enunciate and carry out some degree of community-oriented action that actually challenges, or at least tries to challenge, the status quo. Universities are good examples of such zones. Similarly, the position of elected political office at the local, state, and national levels, such as the U.S. Congress, can also bring with it a fairly high degree of maneuvering room and community connectedness. This is not to say that the sailing is smooth in such places. To the contrary, universities and electoral politics are often the sites of intense combat between many of the New Insiders and the Old Guards. But the very fact that such battles can occur distinguishes these institutional zones from the other end of the spectrum occupied by the military, the CIA, and the FBI. In those zones, the amount of maneuvering room for the New Insiders is minimal or virtually zero. Between these polar ends is a wide variety of variations within cultural institutions, public education, local, state, and federal government, private philanthropic organizations, and the media, to name but a few. All of these areas are in need of sustained analysis.

In particular, the inclusion of large numbers of African-American men and women in the military, especially in the army, is itself an important development, which deserves more analysis given its ramifications for political-social strategies. Here, too, Wilhelm could not have imagined the dramatically increased participation in and importance of the military for African-American people. The military is selectively "creaming off" portions of the working-class African-American and Latino youth by offering precisely the kind of upward mobility and job security that used to mark the larger concessionary hegemonic bloc of industrial society. The impact of the volunteer military (even in an era of cutbacks) as a means of hegemonic bloc building that ties thousands of young people into direct support for the state is a development that should not be ignored. For example, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, African-Americans constituted about 11% of the enlisted ranks (mostly draftees) and less than three percent of the officer corps. Today, 32.8% of the army's enlisted personnel are African-American and 12.7% make up the officer corps. For each of these individuals, we can assume family and community links that help pull a significant portion of the African-American population into the orbit of military service.

The military is not just an occupation. It is a distinctive culture, with its own history, language, stratification systems, subcultures, worldview, and deep sense of uniformity. African-Americans involved in the military as volunteer enlisted personnel and officers belong to a distinctive cultural world that, to some significant extent, marks them off from civilian life, including the civilian life of African-Americans not in the military. Moreover, this belonging to military culture is coterminous with a socioeconomic environment of disintegration and despair in the inner cities. Not surprisingly, when juxtaposed to the dead-end conditions that many find on the street, the military takes on profoundly positive connotations that make it very attractive and therefore absorptive for many.

Consequently, I believe that the civilian/military split in the African-American population is of great importance, notwithstanding the lack of study of this phenomenon. For example, during the U.S.-Iraq Persian Gulf War, 51% of African-Americans opposed the sending of troops. This opposition cut across class lines and was much higher by far than white opposition. Compared to nearly solid white support for the war, the African-American figure is certainly significant. Yet what about the 49% of African-Americans who did not oppose the war? I have not seen any statistical breakdown of military-civilian attitudinal patterns among African-Americans. Nonetheless, I hypothesize that either membership in the military or connection with someone in the military were significant in shaping support for -- or at least the lack of opposition to -- the war among African-Americans. Any understanding of the future political tendencies of the African-American population must consider the basic fact that the military, especially the army, is now the only major societal source of advancement and job security for many working-class African-American women and men who do not want to be in the discarded population being confined to the ghetto.

In sum, the fairly widely distributed hegemonic bloc building that once reached out to millions of working people across the country is being cut back. The ghettoes and barrios are being transformed into holding areas for people who are no longer to receive bloc-building concessions that aim to bring them into the system as allies. Concomitantly, some portion of these populations, both working class and middle class, is being extracted and absorbed into the hegemonic bloc building still in operation through the military, and through civilian mainstream institutions. Within these mainstream institutions, depending on their typological position, there are both possibilities for challenge to and support for the status quo.

Wilhelm's depiction of the marginalized, nonfunctional ghetto holds even more true today for those who are stuck in those confines. Yet this marginalization is now expanding more generally in its impact. In addition, the complex relationship of the New Insiders to the ghetto presents a very new dimension that both supports and challenges the status quo.

What Is to Be Done? -- Toward Trans-Communal Cadres

Wilhelm's useful analysis of the devastating marginalizing effect of technology and the profit motive on the ghetto requires some balancing. In pushing this analysis, Wilhelm tends to neglect the grass-roots vitality found there, much of which is obscured because it is not of interest to many journalists and social scientists. The ghetto, like the reservations to which he compares it, is both a place of political-economic confinement and a terrain of resistance, courage, and cultural continuity. Today there are thousands of grass-roots organizations, such as tenants' unions, anti-drug coalitions, and stop-the-violence alliances operating inside the ghetto. Many of these are locally based and created. They benefit from the experience of people who were activists in earlier years and who remain dedicated to community progress. In essence, there is a great deal of organizational and philosophical activity aimed at challenging economic/social inequality. A key problem, however, is how to link these usually compartmentalized activities and activists together in the context of the damaging industrial/economic system of relations. I will not pretend to offer a programmatic approach that addresses this complex issue here. Certainly, we need many hands working on developing a strategically oriented, multifaceted activist analysis to understand a wide variety of areas. We need to know more about the implications of the end of hegemonic concessionary bloc building for large areas of society; the impact of African-American/Latino inclusion in the military; the role of the New Insiders who have integrated into key junction points of the dominant structure; and the relationship between various racial/ethnic groups now living in economic hopelessness and apprehension. We cannot persist in analyzing race as if the U.S. economy were expanding industrially the way it did through so much of the formative years of the 20th century. Nor can we analyze race and ethnicity outside the context of the global assembly line. We must build on the work of writers such as Omi and Winant (1986), Oliver Cox (1970), Gramsci, and others. Strategies that worked in a concessionary era will not be appropriate for an era in which concessions are being cutback and repression is being increased. We are in dire need of new analysis if we are to develop strategies and tactics for progress toward equality and justice in the 21st century.

In terms of action, we cannot afford to compartmentalize ourselves in hermetically sealed ethnic/racial and other categorized collectivities. The future of African-Americans is tied closely to that of other peoples both in the U.S. and around the world. The increasing economic distress, in a society reeking of racism, will tend easily toward conflict and violence among the very groups who actually share a common fate of marginalization. We must move far beyond Wilhelm's rather polarized description of Black versus White America and analyze the direct relations among various racial/ethnic populations that occupy sometimes similar, sometimes different locations in the social structure. Given that this pluralistic, inegalitarian society is removing millions of people from the vital heart of economic productivity, we urgently need to find the means for what Habermas (1989) called "communicative action" that contributes to cross-group cooperation by striving for a "consensus against the background of a set of norms agreeable to the negotiating partners involved" (Holub, 1992: 187).

We are fortunate that because of "identity politics" and "multiculturalism," we are now in a much better position to develop such communicative action. The emphasis on collective cultural-historical identity has injected constructive critical dimensions into the field of intellectual/political struggle that must be used, even as they are transformed and transcended where necessary. Black Feminist, Indigenous, Latino, and other developing systems of epistemology and theory are aiding us all in dismantling the smothering claims of Western unicultural uniformity under whose guise the powerful nations exercise their domination of the world. The militant critique offered by multicultural perspectives not only opens the door for viewpoints heretofore excluded, but also provides an important philosophical framework that emphasizes multiplicity rather than deadening uniformity, and Dialogue rather than Monologue. As Patricia Hill Collins says about Black Feminist Thought:

The approach to Afrocentric feminist thought allows African American

women to bring a Black women's standpoint to larger epistemological

dialogues.... Each group speaks from its own standpoint and shares its

own partial truths.... Each group becomes better able to consider other

groups' standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness of its own

standpoint or suppressing other groups' partial perspectives (1990: 236).

Such writers point to the positive embracing, but also rooted nature of such diverse vantage points. From the strongholds of different vantage points, an outreach to others that is shared, rather than imposed from one unique command center, is necessary. As I have argued elsewhere (Childs, 1989; 1993), these different points on the world can be brought together not through an obliterative totalitarian process of jamming everyone into one mold, but through an interactive process in which mutual learning and empathy are vital elements.

Yet how do we create such communicative action, such dialogue among highly diverse groups, occupying different positions structurally in society? Can we create shared "structures of feeling" that provide bridges among highly unique group locations? For example, can Latinos, Indigenous people, and African-Americans interact, using their distinct historical-cultural locations as pillars upon which links to one another are built? To only state that we must talk with one another, learn from one another is obviously not enough as everyone will probably agree. How do we do it?

I suggest that one important step will be the creation of "Trans-communal Cadres." Such Cadres will bring together people from different groups to work together on common problems. The importance of such group process is that it emulates the highly successful formative methods of institutions such as the Marine Corps and universities like Harvard and Yale. Such institutions are very effective at creating a sense of identity that flows from shared experience of institutional participation, e.g., going through Boot Camp or becoming a "Yalie." It is the shared experience of the process itself, rather than a prepositioned group location (e.g., ethnicity, race) that creates these types of collective identities and allegiances. Similarly, Trans-communal Cadres of Latinos and African-Americans involved with issues such as violence in the barrios/ghettoes would through such communicative action create forms of dialogue and also a sense of belonging to the Cadre itself. There are already such efforts underway in this country. At the time of this writing, a major nationwide, grass-roots-based "Urban Peace Summit" in Kansas City is being organized to bring together Latino and African-American gang members, ex-gang members, ex-convicts, and community activists, as well as to engage intellectuals. The Summit is aimed at stopping the violence, building coalitions, and working for social/economic justice in the cities. Interestingly, the coalition building here is both trans-ethnic and trans-structural, insofar as it includes people who now occupy "New Insider" positions in the dominant institutions, along with grass-roots activists. I anticipate that not only will dialogue result from such interaction. A sense of common experience and, therefore, the ability to comprehend and be sympathetic to one another will also be created in ways that would be impossible without such direct interaction. Such Trans-communal dialogue, developed through the "Chinatown/Harlem/East Harlem initiative" (Kuo Wei Tchen, 1990), establishes links among the Chinese-American, African-American, and Latino communities in New York. By contrast, the demise of the Black/Korean-Alliance in Los Angeles following the upheavals there demonstrates the need for analysis and action that addresses the complexity of relations among diverse racial/ethnic groups that simultaneously occupy different socioeconomic locations while being subordinated to the dominant society.

Trans-communal Cadres will not themselves be coalitions of entire communities with one another. Rather, the individuals involved in the Cadres will become bridges between those communities. They will help to establish other Cadres. Thus, assuming that anyone involved in such activity is ipso facto in a position of community leadership, Cadre members will be well placed to encourage broader Trans-communality among their different constituencies. Nor will such Cadres be confined to drawing from domestic communities within the U.S. Given the global dimensionality of the problems we face, such Trans-communal Cadres would cross borders. For example, prototypical forms of Trans-communal Cadres have been created through the shared activism of Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. environmentalists and labor organizers working cooperatively in resistance to the "North American Free Trade Agreement" (NAFTA). Even if their objective of stopping NAFTA is not met, their interaction provides those individuals, who previously had no contact with one another, the opportunity to share and create common experience that cuts across group lines without in any way denigrating cultural-economic distinctiveness.

Given the way in which global capitalism moves so rapidly and with such devastating effectiveness using highly sophisticated communication systems, any effort to resist the rapacious marauding of these political-economic empires must involve improved communications and comprehending interaction among widely different groups around the world. In part, we can employ electronic communications as is done by such electronic mail networks as PEACENET. But we also need tangible, experientially based, shared action to create links of solidarity that go beyond slogans. A sense of esprit de corps or a "structure of feeling," shared among the participating members and developed through Cadre formation, is necessary in order to form "critical communities" (Holub, 1992: 162) of different racial/ethnic and other groups. There is a "fragile ground of a gradually evolving new 'structure of feeling'" leading to "a new moral and social paradigm" (Ibid.). The creation of Trans-communal Cadres can be one way to draw from already existing ethnic/racial/other groups while creating new communities that transcend, but do not obliterate, the preexisting communities. Such Trans-communality will recognize and reinforce distinctive communal groundings and perspectives while also providing the means for communication and shared action among those different groups. An ever-widening network of Trans-communal, Cadre-based interaction will be increasingly well placed to challenge the global economic powers that now can run rampant over the peoples of the world. Coupled with the technical use of electronic communications, increasing numbers of these Cadres will help lead to a widening pattern of Trans-communality. Insofar as such Trans-communality celebrates rather than obliterates cultural/social diversity, while simultaneously constructing a complex and resilient webbing of progressive cross-group action, it is the Highest Stage of Multiculturalism.


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Title Annotation:Rethinking Race
Author:Childs, John Brown
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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