Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States remains one of the most influential books and widely read books about race. Racial Formation in the 21st Century, arriving twenty-five years after the publication of Omi and Winant’s influential work, brings together fourteen essays by leading scholars in law, history, sociology, ethnic studies, literature, anthropology and gender studies to consider the past, present and future of racial formation. The contributors explore far-reaching concerns: slavery and land ownership; labor and social movements; torture and war; sexuality and gender formation; indigineity and colonialism; genetics and the body. From the ecclesiastical courts of seventeenth century Lima to the cell blocks of Abu Grahib, the essays draw from Omi and Winant’s influential theory of racial formation and adapt it to the various criticisms, challenges, and changes of life in the twenty-first century.
Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century
Daniel Martinez HoSang and Oneka LaBennett
In the preface to the first edition of Racial Formation in the United States, Michael Omi and Howard Winant wrote: "To study race in the United States is to enter a world of paradox, irony, and danger. In this world, arbitrarily chosen human attributes shape politics and policy, love and hate, life and death. All the powers of the intellect-artistic, religious, scientific, political-are pressed into service to explain racial distinctions, and to suggest how they may be maintained, changed, or abolished" (1986, xiii).
This edited volume, arriving twenty-five years after the first publication of Racial Formation in the United States, brings together thirteen essays from scholars in a wide range of fields to again "enter a world of paradox, irony, and danger." The contributors explore far-reaching concerns: slavery and land ownership; labor and social movements; torture and war; sexuality and gender formation; indigeneity and colonialism; genetics and the body. From the ecclesiastical courts of seventeenth century Lima to the cell blocks of Abu Ghraib, the essays draw from Omi and Winant's influential theory of racial formation, which they defined as "the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed" (1994, 55). The contributors share many of Omi and Winant's theoretical convictions about the centrality of race to all social and political structures in the United States, the "unstable and 'decentered' complex of social meanings" that constitute race, the dynamic relationship between social movements and the state, the interaction between micro- and macro-level dimensions of race, and a refusal to reduce race to other categories of analysis, such as class, ethnicity, or nation (Omi and Winant 1994, 55).
At the same time, the contributors ask an array of questions not fully elaborated in Omi and Winant's original work: How is the gendered and sexual basis of racial formation most productively theorized? How do processes of racial formation operate outside the United States? How do theories about the biological basis of race continue to shape assumptions about the social and political construction of race? How might racial formation theory effectively engage issues of indigeneity, war making, and settler colonialism? Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century explores these and other questions, building on twenty-five years of scholarship since Omi and Winant's generative insights first came to light.
The Genealogy of Racial Formation in the United States
In a 1982 speech delivered to the Colorado Bar Convention, Ronald Reagan's solicitor general, Rex E. Lee, offered a provocative defense of the administration's stance on civil rights. Since his election two years earlier, Reagan had come under criticism by major civil rights groups on a number of important issues. In a recent case before the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, Lee had written a brief in support of a California effort to end mandatory desegregation programs in public schools; the subsequent ruling marked the first time that students attending desegregated schools were reassigned to segregated ones as a result of a court order. The administration had also refused to take a stance against a Texas law banning undocumented students from public schools, and reversed the position of two previous Republican presidents by withdrawing legal support for the Internal Revenue Service's denial of tax exemptions to private schools that practice racial discrimination.
Lee insisted, however, that it would be erroneous to assume that the Reagan administration did not wholly support civil rights. "What is it that qualifies a legal position as 'pro-civil rights' or 'anti-civil rights?'" he asked. "Certainly not the fact that the position is advanced, or opposed, by any certain group." Defining civil rights as rooted in the "pursuit of individual rights and individual interests," he contended, "it would be a profound disservice" to the American public "to assume that all positions espoused by certain groups automatically deserve the label 'pro-civil rights'"
Two decades earlier, at the height of the desegregation struggle centered in the U.S. South, there was little disagreement about the policy positions that determined whether someone could be identified as "pro-civil rights" or "anti-civil rights"; the terms appeared self-defining. Lee's insistence by the early 1980s that the Reagan administration could dismantle desegregation policies in the name of protecting civil rights marked a powerful transformation within U.S. racial politics. Reagan could make potent appeals to white political identity while claiming to operate within the ethical norms of liberal anti-racism. He could denounce "welfare queens" and champion "states' rights" in the heart of Dixie while steadfastly insisting on his own racial innocence. And he could draw in the supporters of unapologetic segregationists like George Wallace while still declaring his resolute support for civil rights (Edsall and Edsall 1992).
As Lee delivered his 1982 address, two recent PhD's from the University of California, Santa Cruz, were at work on a lengthy essay attempting to make sense of the landscape that produced this contradictory political discourse. Michael Omi and Howard Winant's article "By the Rivers of Babylon: Race in the United States" appeared the following year in the Socialist Review; both scholars served as members of the journal's San Francisco Bay Area editorial collective. Their project, as they would later explain, aspired "to comprehend the recent tumultuous decades and to assess their meanings for a broader understanding of race in the U.S." (Omi and Winant 1994, 2). The seventy-five-page essay, published across two issues, began by taking inventory of the explicit racial dimensions of the conservative resurgence in the early 1980s: the Reagan administration's dismantling of school desegregation and affirmative action programs, the rise of hate crimes against people of color, a surge in attacks against immigrants, and the resurrection of a white revanchist "politics of resentment" committed to reversing the gains of the civil rights era.
But the article also noted the formation of a "new racism," an ideological reconstitution of racial subordination that relied on implicit references to race woven "throughout the social fabric." In response to the "great transformation" brought about during the 1960s by the Civil Rights Movement, and the new forms of racial subjectivity, collectivity, and meaning secured by ascendant social movements, new articulations of racial meaning and power were emerging. The great transformation did not expel racism from cultural, political, or social life in the United States, or even lessen its impact. Instead, according to this periodization, a new "reconstitution of racial oppression" was unfolding fueled by "society-wide political struggle" (Omi and Winant 1983, 34). The new racism, they contended, encompassed a wide range of issues, including crime, unemployment, welfare, housing, gun control, tax cuts, militarism, and even nuclear power.
Omi and Winant made clear that the motive forces of this new racism were rooted in the U.S. right. The main thrust of the article, however, addressed the anemic response of the U.S. left, which they described as "unable to gauge the depth and appeal of a new 'racial discourse' that doesn't need to make explicit references to race." They argued that the "left often misreads contemporary currents; it's encumbered with dogmatic understandings of what race and racism are, and it lacks the necessary vision to mount effective anti-racist campaigns. Racism is, in fact, endemic to much of the left itself" (1983, 35). Omi and Winant contended that this political myopia was often predicated on a reductionism that treated race as derivative of economically determined contradictions rather than as a central axis of social relations. Figures on the left and right increasingly shared the view that after the passage of landmark civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation in the 1960s and 1970s, race had become an anachronistic category of political analysis, masking more fundamental conflicts rooted primarily in culture, geography, and the economy.
The framework developed in Omi and Winant's Socialist Review essay, which introduced many of the central concepts published three years later in the first edition of Racial Formation in the United States, offered an alternative account, conceptualizing race as both central to all social relations and politically and ideologically transient. They held that "race establishes the identity of human subjects, it structures social conflict and social cohesion, and it is deeply woven into other aspects of existence" (1983, 56). The state in particular loomed large in this analysis. "Every state institution," they argued, "is a racial institution," linked in a network by "history, mandate, internal composition, and constituency" to the prevailing racial order. They focused particular attention on "the pattern of conflict and accommodation which takes place over time between racially based social movements and the policies and programs of the state" (1983, 78).
At the same time, Omi and Winant insisted that the meaning of race and the logics of a racial order could never be fully fixed; race was an "unstable and 'decentered' complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle" (1994, 55-56). Drawing from the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, Omi and Winant called attention to the changing sociohistorical and ideological basis of racial meaning, identity, and power. Race was, in this view, always a subjectivity in formation, or as James Kyung-Jin Lee suggests in his contribution to this volume, "race is better described as a verb than a noun, as production rather than destiny."
To be sure, Omi and Winant were not the first scholars to conceptualize race in this manner. The Socialist Review essay drew from a number of historians in particular, including Alexander Saxton and Selig Perlman, who attended to the constellation of ideological struggle and meaning that gave rise to particular alignments of racial power and hierarchy. Racial Formation also emerged at a time when other scholars and activists were exploring the basis of political subject formation and social identity in more fluid and less deterministic ways. Stuart Hall, Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, and others similarly conceptualized race in nonreductionist, contradictory, and explicitly political ways that also challenged the perceived orthodoxies of established leftist politics.
What Racial Formation would provide to other scholars and activists was a kind of political vocabulary and shared framework through which to analyze and locate the role of race in structuring broader social formations; it became a tool to use as much as a theory to dissect. Indeed, Omi and Winant devoted extensive attention within both editions of the book to an extended application of racial formation theory to the political terrain of the 1980s (and later the early 1990s). The analysis explored the construction of an emerging racial order in both Reagan's and Clinton's America that incorporated many of the signifiers and referents of the civil rights era even as it disavowed the continued impact of racial inequities by celebrating the tropes of colorblindness and post-racial triumph. Ultimately, it would be in these applications of racial formation theory that Omi and Winant's work would have the greatest impact. That is, while the portion of their book outlining the basis of racial formation theory has now been excerpted in dozens of introductory textbooks and readers in sociology, ethnic studies, and other disciplines, its broader influence has been in facilitating a large body of scholarship that implicitly or explicitly applies racial formation theory to a wide range of questions and empirical topics.
Racial Formation Theory: Debates and Convergences
In the late 1990s both conservative and liberal scholars and public commentators increasingly embraced the argument that race was not a biological "fact," arguing instead that "race is an ideological construct, understood in the sense of an 'illusion' that explains other 'material' relationships in distorted fashion" (Winant 1994, 14). Howard Winant rejected this "race as illusion" approach, insisting that the effects of race cannot simply be "abolished by acts of will" for the very reasons he and Omi emphasized in Racial Formation; race is a salient, pervasive component of American society that has held ideological and material currency for more than half a millennium. "U.S. society," Winant contended, "is so thoroughly racialized that to be without racial identity is to be in danger of having no identity" (Winant, 1994, 14, 16).
Omi and Winant insisted that the prevailing paradigms about race within the social sciences-which alternatively conceptualized race as a marker of class, ethnicity, or nation-contributed to this myopic view. While they acknowledged that the class, ethnicity, and nation paradigms retained some analytic utility, each also "missed the manner in which race has been a fundamental axis of social organization in the U.S." (Winant 1994, 12; emphasis in original). This position has been polemical. Multiple scholars, including historians such as Barbara Jeanne Fields and sociologists such as Mara Loveman, Robert Miles, Rudy Torres, and Leonard Gordon, have questioned the utility and centrality of this conceptualization of race. To put Omi and Winant's work into a richer context, it is worth considering these critiques, along with converging theorizations from other sociologists, historians, and anthropologists.
Echoing broader critiques of racial formation theory, sociologist Mara Loveman takes Omi and Winant to task for relying on examples specific to the United States alone in making generalizations about the utility of race-based versus ethnicity-based theories. Loveman contends that such an approach undermines an understanding of race and racism in other periods and locations, and that it fails to account for the racialization of Irish and Italian immigrants in particular (San Juan 2009). Along similar lines, but with an emphasis on class, cultural studies scholar E. San Juan Jr. (2009) suggests that Omi and Winant overemphasize the independent significance of race while too quickly dismissing class as a key analytic concept. For San Juan, to fully understand and rectify structural racism and its constitutive concepts (such as "colorblindness") we must take into account "global capitalism's endemic crisis, imperialist military interventions by the U.S. state, sharply intense inequality of nation-states and peoples, classes within national polities, regional conflicts, etc." He therefore advocates a "historical-materialist critical framework," concluding that racism is "an instrumentality of class rule." Ultimately, San Juan rejects Omi and Winant's "racial state" for a "capitalist state."
Anthropologists have, like Omi and Winant, acknowledged the shortcomings of the ethnicity paradigm. Ethnicity can be understood as a "process by which individuals and groups [come] to understand, or understand themselves as separate or different from others," based on social practices such as "language, religion, rituals, and other patterns of behavior" (Yu 2007, 103). A key conjunction between Racial Formation and contemporaneous anthropological approaches to race rests in Omi and Winant's clear delineation of the ways in which the ethnicity approach has been co-opted by conservative political projects to undo civil rights-era programs and policies in the name of creating a "colorblind" society. In addressing this conflicted legacy, anthropologist Faye Harrison notes two critical shortcomings that followed Franz Boas's early strides in dismantling the biological validity of race. "A myopic view of the kinds of questions cultural anthropology could attempt to answer," Harrison argues, "inhibited Boasian anthropology from producing the kind of ethnographic research on African Americans that could explicate the workings of racism" (Harrison 1998, 612). Moreover, Harrison laments that the early work invalidating race as a biological fact was rarely followed up by sustained attention to the "processes that engender the social construction of race" (Harrison 1998, 611; emphasis in original). Harrison acknowledges that although ethnicity has been a useful concept for addressing processes of "cultural identification," "as it has been conceptualized and approached in much of anthropological analysis, [ethnicity] has not adequately accounted for the processes of racial formation" (Harrison 1998, 613 [quoting, in part, Harrison 1995, 48]). Omi and Winant similarly delineated the limitations of the ethnicity paradigm, arguing that it ignored the specific circumstances of U.S. racial minorities (Omi and Winant 1994, 22).
Race Theory since Racial Formation
As broader debates reveal, and as the essays in this volume emphasize, convergent and competing theories have contributed to our understanding of race since the publication of Racial Formation. Omi and Winant's work can be placed in dialogue with developments in critical race theory and theories of intersectionality from the 1970s through the 1990s (Crenshaw et al. 1995; Crenshaw 1991b; Bell 1973). The insistence on the socially constructed nature of race for which Omi and Winant continue to be most widely cited, combined with their focus on social justice concerns, links the two authors with a range of contemporary critical race theorists (Delgado and Stefancic 2000; Valdes, Culp, and Harris 2002), with researchers who utilize intersectionality (McCall 2005; Bedolla 2007; Hancock2004), and with scholars in geography, cultural studies, American studies, and other interdisciplinary fields. As Patricia Price notes, early critical race theory "emphasized the racialized aspects of advantage which were more often than not enshrined and upheld by the law" (Price 2009, 148). Indeed, this "dialectical engagement with liberal race discourse and with critical legal studies" (Crenshaw 2002, 9), framed around "an insistence on progressive race consciousness, on systemic analysis of the structures of subordination, and on multi-intersectional or multidimensional critiques of power relations," came to define critical race theory (Valdes, Culp, and Harris 2002, 2). Critical race theorists placed particular emphasis on the experiences of African Americans, problematized the results of civil rights-era legislation, and prioritized activism in an effort "not merely to understand the vexed bond between law and racial power but to change it" (quoted in Price 2009, 151; emphasis in original). Critical race theory, like racial formation theory, employed a U.S.-centered approach and drew criticism from feminist scholars. These criticisms receive new, constructive ruminations within this volume.
Beyond critical race theory and intersectionality, Omi and Winant can be placed in conversation with a host of racial theorists. For example, their marking of race as a powerful social construct is also central to the work of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, two scholars who propelled shifts in cultural studies, American studies, and racial theory more generally, and for whom cultural production has always been a primary site of analysis. Even though these scholars' approaches have divergent attributes, Omi and Winant are often cited in the company of Hall and Gilroy as seminal contributors to racial theory. One can find shared elements among Hall's, Gilroy's, and Omi and Winant's conceptualizations of black expressive culture, for example, as predicated on a resistance that destabilizes hegemony. In discussing slave music, Omi and Winant write, "with its figuring of suffering, resistance, perseverance, and transcendence, ... the slaves incorporated elements of racial rule into their thought and practice, turning them against their original bearers" (1994, 67). Hall's theorizations, based on the hybrid character of black diasporic identity, are also taken up by Paul Gilroy, whose articulation of black Atlantic culture emphasizes the common routes that link black expressive culture. Foregrounding common experiences of oppression rather than defining blackness in relation to Africa as an "actual or mythical" homeland, Gilroy conceptualized black Atlantic communities as constructed in defiance of racial essentialism and as connected through popular cultural productions (Gilroy 1993; Thomas and Clarke 2006, 13). Gilroy cautions that just as reifying racial identities creates hierarchies, so too can the focus on hybridity, "arguing that both positions are, in a sense, essentializing." Touching on the dangers of the ethnicity paradigm that Omi and Winant identified, Stuart Hall has endeavored to rescue ethnicity from being "deployed ... in the discourse of racism" (Hall 1993, quoted in Koshy 2008, 1554). Hall's concept of "new ethnicities" falls in line with how literary studies has theorized the concepts of race and ethnicity. This field highlighted transnational literary influences, multilingual traditions that traversed national boundaries, and multinational public spheres produced by the translation and circulation of texts, ideas, and people. By focusing on the circuits of ethnicity formation in conjunction with racial formation and exploring these relations in and across nations, such studies diverge from sociological models of racial formation in which the state plays a central role (Koshy 2008, 1554).
Racial Formation beyond the United States
Several contributors to this volume also take the study of race beyond the borders of the United States. Coterminous with Hall's reworking of ethnicity and Gilroy's concept of the black Atlantic, researchers interested in immigration, ethnicity, diasporic identities, and social networks have explored these processes through transnational and global lenses. Pioneered by Linda Basch, transnationalism centers around the study of deterritorialized social practices, defined as "the processes by which migrants forge and sustain simultaneous multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement (Basch 2001, 118). Occurring along both macro and micro lines, these transnational social relations inform racial, ethnic, gender, class, and sexual identities (Basch 2001, 118). Transnationalism has been applied to explicating the connections between local and global constructions of race and ethnicity in settings and contexts too numerous to summarize here.
While the research done within the framework of transnationalism has proven to be invaluable in illustrating the processes by which social networks operate across national boundaries, the transnational rubric has also been criticized for "obscur[ing] the role of racial categorizations and racisms in contemporary social fields" (Thomas and Clarke 2006, 2). Following the increasing attention to late-twentieth-century conditions of transnational production and consumption, a host of theorists have attempted to theorize race within the processes of globalization (Bhattacharyya, Gabriel, and Small 2002; Marable 2004; Winant 2001; da Silva 2007). The late Manning Marable, for example, revised DuBois's famous quote to offer: "The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of global apartheid" (Marable 2004). Marable identified a new "New Racial Domain"-distinct from "earlier racial formations"-forged and empowered by transnational capitalism and neoliberal state policies (Marable 2004). Still, theorizing race and racism globally, Deborah Thomas and Kamari Clarke argue, has been a challenging endeavor marked by scholarly trepidation stemming from the anti-essentialist shift (Thomas and Clarke 2006, 2).
Although anti-essentialism critiqued biological constructions of race, it "has also mitigated against generalized formulations of racial processes across time and space" (Thomas and Clarke 2006, 2). Thus, theorizing race at the global scale can be problematic because it conjures questions of whether there is "an absolute truth of racial difference everywhere" (Thomas and Clarke 2006, 2). For their part, Thomas and Clarke attempt to overcome these pitfalls by offering a historically grounded exploration of the ways in which race shapes and is shaped by global transformations. They do this, in part, by utilizing terms like racial formation to interrogate processes in distinct national contexts-processes that have similar effects on people's lives, but that are practiced in complex and dissimilar ways (Thomas and Clarke 2006, 3-4).
Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century
Profound political, social, economic, and cultural transformations have continued to mark the United States since the second edition of Racial Formation was published in 1994. Omi and Winant proved quite prescient in anticipating the continuous disavowal of civil rights and racial justice issues on the part of the centrist New Democrats in the 1990s. Across multiple issues, including assaults on affirmative action, immigration, bilingual education, and welfare; the dramatic rise of the prison complex; and restrictions on reproductive justice and women's rights, Democrats and their liberal allies continually proved unwilling or unable to protect many of the modest redistributive programs secured during the long Civil Rights Movement. The enormous U.S. military power in Iraq and Afghanistan unleashed in the wake of September 11 has demonstrated the co-constitutive relationship of race-making and war-making. Indeed, the contradictions of race in Obama's ascent to the White House-at once incorporating and disavowing the long legacy of racial subordination in the United States-demonstrates the continued relevance of racial formation theory.
Scope of the Volume
The contributors to this volume utilize racial formation theory as a point of departure and a shared framework to engage and explore new questions. The essays demonstrate that twenty-five years after its first publication, Racial Formation continues to provide generative insights into a broad range of scholarly and political issues and debates. The essays put Omi and Winant in dialogue with multiple scholarly developments in critical race theory and address gaps in their profoundly influential framework, particularly in relation to gender, sexuality, and global racializations.
Although there are many intersecting themes across the essays, the volume has been organized into three sections: "Racial Formation Theory Revisited"; "Racial Projects and Histories of Racialization"; and "War and the Racial State." Each part contains a brief introduction of the essays therein, discussing their particular resonance with Racial Formation, while also briefly addressing the convergences and divergences among the contributors. Readers will see that although the essays in each section reflect thematic imbrications, the boundaries created between parts are in fact porous.
The essays in part I, "Racial Formation Theory Revisited," explicitly engage with the theoretical commitments and assumptions within Racial Formation, extending these concepts in new directions. In "Gendering Racial Formation," gender studies scholar Priya Kandaswamy puts racial formation theory "into conversation with intersectional analysis by highlighting the ways that attention to gender and sexuality might alter the key terms of Omi and Winant's theory and the ways that their understanding of processes of racialization might enrich approaches to intersectionality." Comparing the U.S. welfare state in the mid-1990s to the Freedmen's Bureau in the Reconstruction South, Kandaswamy analyzes two aspects of Omi and Winant's theory-racial projects and the relationship between the state and social movements-as important avenues toward a more complex understanding of intersectionality.
In an incisive essay titled "On the Specificities of Racial Formation: Gender and Sexuality in the Historiographies of Race," American studies scholar RoderickA. Ferguson interrogates the particular historiographical assumptions animating Omi and Winant's work, and the ways the historical periodization they deploy marginalizes particular gendered and sexual racial subjects. As Ferguson explains, much of Omi and Winant's work rests on a "declension hypothesis," in which the bold and transformative anti-racist movements of the 1950s and 1960s became fractured and destabilized in the face of an insurgent New Right in the 1970s and 1980s. This periodization, Ferguson makes clear, "occludes anti-racist movements that were no less significant than the social formations around civil rights and national liberation ... [movements that were] initiated by women of color and queers of color within the United States."
James Lee's essay, "The Transitivity of Race and the Challenge of the Imagination," offers a close reading of several passages in the first and second editions of Racial Formation to explore the impact the book had on scholars in the humanities. Lee explains: "We [humanists] picked up Racial Formation in 1994 because it provided a language for what seemed either too deterministic or too inchoate, because it taught us that knowing the world of race as it is might, against prevailing evidence, help us in the humanities disrupt the assumption that race's remainder was only negativity and loss."
In "Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, and White Supremacy," Andrea Smith interrogates the ways that the dominant theoretical frameworks used within both Native studies and ethnic studies, including racial formation theory, prevent a full engagement with the historical and contemporary realities of white settler colonialism. She argues that white supremacy operates through multiple and intersecting logics, rendering subjects who are simultaneously oppressed and complicit in the oppression of others. Smith's provocative essay insists that unless Native studies and critical race scholarship can "center [on] the analytics of settler colonialism, both intellectual projects [will] fall back on the presumptiveness of the white supremacist, settler state." Such political projects, she warns, "can do no more than imagine a kinder, gentler settler state founded on genocide and slavery."
The essays in part II, "Racial Projects and Histories of Racialization," apply and reconceptualize Omi and Winant's theorization of racial projects and racialization across a range of time and places. Historian Matthew Garcia's "The Importance of Being Asian: Growers, the United Farm Workers, and the Rise of Colorblindness" explores processes of racial formation among rural California grape growers. The essay compares the ways both Armenian and Japanese immigrants "challenged the boundaries of citizenship and whiteness," resulting in historically distinct paths of racialization. In particular he shows the extent to which people of color may be complicit in supporting white supremacy as seen in the life of a Japanese American grower.
In "The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Black): Legal and Cultural Constructions of Race and Nation in Colonial Latin America," legal scholar Michelle McKinley examines the fascinating archival records of seventeenth-century ecclesiastical courts in Lima, Peru, to "explore the way that ideas of blood purity were worked out (retained, shaped, transformed) in a slaveholding, colonial milieu in which extensive race mixing occurred." McKinley demonstrates the surprising continuities between early modern discourses of universal humanism and contemporary debates over multiculturalism.
For Tomás Almaguer, the history of colonial racializations continues to shape the ways in which Latino ethnic groups racialize one another. In "Race, Racialization, and Latino Populations in the United States," Almaguer investigates the changing meaning of race and racial categories for Latinos in general and for Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in particular, arguing that Latinos occupy a unique position betwixt and between "race" and "ethnicity." Noting the marked increase in the U.S. Latino population, which currently surpasses African Americans as the largest racial-ethnic group, Almaguer explores Latinos' practice of shunning U.S. census racial categories in favor of their own self-definitions, which are often reminiscent of Spanish colonial racializations.
In "Kill the Messengers: Can We Achieve Racial Justice without Mentioning Race?" scholar activist Gary Delgado argues that some racial justice advocates have lost sight of one of the central interventions of Racial Formation-that "race in U.S. political culture is always predominant and always evolving." He explores the apprehension, evinced by liberal political campaign consultants and media strategists during public debates over affirmative action and immigration, about explicitly mentioning race and racism or challenging the belief among many white voters that a colorblind meritocracy now prevails in the United States. Racial justice, he insists, cannot be secured through racial silence, but instead requires developing "new frameworks for understanding and communicating the reality of race in the twenty-first century."
In "The New Racial Preferences: Rethinking Racial Projects," legal scholars Devon Carbado and Cheryl Harris use Omi and Winant's conceptualization of racial projects to examine the ways that the principles of "race neutrality" and "race preferences" operate in debates over affirmative action. Using the example of hypothetical personal statements written by Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas in their law school applications, they contend that bans on references to race in these statements constitute a "new racial preference [that] gives a priority or advantage to applicants who choose to suppress (or are perceived as suppressing) their racial identity over those who do not so choose (or are so perceived)." Carbado and Harris also raise important questions about the ways in which "good" (anti-racist) and "bad" (racist) racial projects become distinguished.
Part III, "War and the Racial State," includes three powerful essays that bring Omi and Winant's theorizations on the relationship between racial formation and state violence to bear on the post-9/11 era. Popular cultural narratives about Abu Ghraib form the analytical center for Sherene H. Razack's essay, "'We didn't kill 'em, we didn't cut their head off': Abu Ghraib Revisited." Razack notes how critical responses to Abu Ghraib targeted the torture policies of the Bush administration, while "rank-and-file torturers" were largely unexamined. Razack's polemical questions-"How do contemporary narratives about the wrongness of torture at Abu Ghraib mediate terror? How do we write effectively against torture?"-force us to confront the "systematic dehumanization of the other" that torture represents.
In "'The War on Terror' as Racial Crisis: Homeland Security, Obama, and Racial (Trans)Formations," anthropologist Nicholas De Genova frames the election of Barack Obama within a historical moment of racial crisis and an expansion of state violence. De Genova examines the "global war on terror" to explore how Obama's construction as a "post-racial" subject is intricately intertwined with long-standing notions of American exceptionalism. De Genova describes this moment as the ascension of "'the emerging hegemony of the racial project of neoliberalism,' which evades any frank acknowledgment of racial themes" in order to pronounce the end of racism.
Nikhil Singh's essay, "Racial Formation in the Age of Permanent War," traces the political backdrop against which Racial Formation was written not only to highlight its contribution to understanding race in the U.S. context but also to interrogate how contemporary global theorizations of race are inextricably connected to sovereign violence. For Singh, it is neither political struggle nor scientific codification, but rather sovereign violence that "'overdetermines' the field of racial meanings and effects." This field of racial meanings, Singh argues, is increasingly complex and sharply bifurcated, is rendered invisible under "colorblind jurisprudence," yet gradually reattached to state augmentation that violently excludes categories of persons deemed security threats.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant conclude the volume with their essay, "Racial Formation Rules: Continuity, Instability, and Change." They discuss the genesis of racial formation theory, review the political context from which it emerged, and describe the key theoretical currents that influenced their work. Initially, they explain, their book was all but ignored by the social scientists and anti-racist activists they sought to address. It was scholars in other disciplines, such as history, literary studies, and law, who first embraced Racial Formation before it circulated widely in other disciplines. Their essay then considers various "post-racial scenarios" that the United States might confront in the near future, each animated by different assumptions about particular fault lines of racial conflict and solidarity. The essay concludes with an extended consideration of the tensions and possibilities authorized by the crisis of colorblindness. They call for an anti-racist practice that both exploits the numerous contradictions inherent within colorblind politics and discourse while still asking readers to confront two vexing questions: "What do you want your race consciousness to be?" and "What would a racial justice-oriented social policy look like to you?" They insist: "Our actions and ideas-both individual and collective-should be seen as political projects that have the potential to undo racial injustice and generate broader racial equality, indeed greater freedom in every way."
All of the contributors to this volume embrace Omi and Winant's conclusion that no racial regime is permanent because race is always in formation. Race, they argued in 1994, is "always politically contested." What has been done can be undone. What has been made can be unmade. All crises contain the seeds of change. They urge us, even when confronting the most violent and dehumanizing practices of racial domination, not to take refuge in a despondent fatalism. For even if "race will always be at the center of the American experience," new chapters about this experience remain to be written (Omi and Winant 1994, 5).
About the Book
Reviews"This collection of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States demonstrates the importance and influence of the concept of racial formation. The range of disciplines, discourses, ideas, and ideologies makes for fascinating reading, demonstrating the utility and applicability of racial formation theory to diverse contexts, while at the same time presenting persuasively original extensions and elaborations of it. This is an important book, one that sums up, analyzes, and builds on some of the most important work in racial studies during the past three decades."—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
“Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century is truly a state-of-the-field anthology, fully worthy of the classic volume it honors—timely, committed, sophisticated, accessible, engaging. The collection will be a boon to anyone wishing to understand the workings of race in the contemporary United States.” —Matthew Frye Jacobson, Professor of American Studies, Yale University
“This stimulating and lively collection demonstrates the wide-ranging influence and generative power of Omi and Winant’s racial formation framework. The contributors are leading scholars in fields ranging from the humanities and social sciences to legal and policy studies. They extend the framework into new terrain, including non-U.S. settings, gender and sexual relations, and the contemporary warfare state. While acknowledging the pathbreaking nature of Omi and Winant’s intervention, the contributors do not hesitate to critique what they see as limitations and omissions. This is a must-read for anyone striving to make sense of tensions and contradictions in racial politics in the U.S. and transnationally.”—Evelyn Nakano Glenn, editor of Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Daniel Martinez HoSang and Oneka LaBennett
Part I. Racial Formation Theory Revisited
1. Gendering Racial Formation
2. On the Specificities of Racial Formation: Gender and Sexuality in the Historiographies of Race
Roderick A. Ferguson
3. The Transitivity of Race and the Challenge of the Imagination
James Kyung-Jin Lee
4. Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy
Part II. Racial Projects and Histories of Racialization
5. The Importance of Being Asian: Growers, the United Farm Workers, and the Rise of Colorblindness
6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Black): Legal and Cultural Constructions of Race and Nation in Colonial Latin America
Michelle A. McKinley
7. Race, Racialization, and Latino Populations in the United States
8. Kill the Messengers: Can We Achieve Racial Justice without Mentioning Race?
9. The New Racial Preferences: Rethinking Racial Projects
Devon W. Carbado and Cheryl I. Harris
Part III. War and the Racial State
10. “We didn’t kill ’em, we didn’t cut their head off”: Abu Ghraib Revisited
Sherene H. Razack
11. The “War on Terror” as Racial Crisis: Homeland Security, Obama, and Racial (Trans)Formations
Nicholas De Genova
12. Racial Formation in an Age of Permanent War
Conclusion. Racial Formation Rules: Continuity, Instability, and Change
Michael Omi and Howard Winant
List of Contributors