Speaking before mostly graduate students yesterday, Howard Winant, a noted race theorist, argued that by giving concessions to minorities after World War II, the U.S. government only pacified the country’s race relations rather than making any concrete structural changes.
Winant, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said that because of societal pressure brought on by the civil rights movement, whites had to make concessions to appease blacks’ demand for equality.
But Winant said those concessions were more of an appearance than an actual change. By pushing for a colorblind society, he said, whites were able to appear more humane while still holding on to their power.
“Disavowal works much better as a system of organizing white supremacy – let’s call that structural racism – than avowed white supremacy,” he said.
Winant, known for developing the racial formation theory – which rejects the idea that biology explains the disparities between different races in America – along with fellow academic Michael Omi, spoke in front of the University’s Black Humanities Collective, an interdisciplinary group that studies the African diaspora.
During his talk, Winant revisited many of the issues he and Omi addressed in their 1986 book, “Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s,” which expressed that whites used race as a way to legtimize their own power.
He cited the example of U.S. immediately advertising the Brown V. Board of Education ruling to foreign countries, in a move to appear more free than its then-rival USSR. This decision to do so was purely political, he said.
Despite the fact that he said whites have become more tolerant since World War II, Winant argued that racism is still deeply ingrained in American society. Citing high incarceration rates of minorities and hostile attitudes toward immigrants, Winant said that race still plays an important role in preserving white power.
“Everything is as racialized as ever,” he said.
In his closing words, Winant said America is not even close to being done with the issue of race.
“1964 is far from fulfilled,” he said, referencing the Civil Rights Act.
Rackham student Paul Farber, who helped organize the event, said Winant’s work on race relations has given Americans a new perspective on the issue.
“Professor Winant brought us to a new understanding of how to think about race in the current time,” he said.