Racial Neoliberalism: Globalization of White Privilege  


In “Narrating the Mute: Racializing and Racism in a Neoliberal Moment,” Dana-Ain Davis starts with the changing criteria in college admissions and asserts that selectivity standards and strategies mimic and reinforce racial and class hierarchy as there is a proven correlation between one’s race-class status and his/her standardized test score or his/her ability in accessing the test-prep industry. Instigated by the condescending comment on CUNY by one of her colleagues, Davis explores the alleged objectivity and race-blindness in the pre-admission evaluation process and finds that these are strategies to maintain “racial inequality” (347). Comparing the dehumanizing condition created by the different neoliberal policies like PRWORA with that of the bleak world found in Franz Kafka’s novels, Davis argues that this is condition from which people of color has apparently no hope to ever come out. Terming the neoliberal silence on race-related issues as “muted racializing and muted racism,” Davis delves deeper into the apparently benevolent neoliberal agenda of a better world through free-market economy and argues that neoliberalism uses capitalism to hide racial discriminations and relocates “racially coded economic disadvantage” to the personal sphere. Doing so, neoliberalism mutes racism stripping it off from all its importance and “jeopardizes the meaning and actualization of racial justice by positing that racial justice strategies are discriminatory.” The analysis of Cheryl Harris in “Whiteness as Property” is quite fitting to what Davis argues here: “Racism is summarily dismissed when invoked to explain exclusions, subordinations, and unfair treatment [of people of color]” but affirmative actions are criticized only because those deprive the whites from equal opportunity. Racism is muted when it excuses racially correlated inequality.

However, Davis is absolutely right in her assertion that neoliberalism also mutes white privilege by structuring the illusion of a race-blind society. In the same system, “the poor people of color are similarly reminded of their subordinate place in the economy” only to blame themselves for their degraded condition. In this economy, “racism is statistically real, but analytically mute.” Despite the “increased rates of whites on TANF in 2003, 2004, and even in 2006, [neoliberals] don’t mention this phenomenon” while talking about “welfare queens.” White poverty is totally muted in the Neoliberal discourse on race only to establish the false idea that all whites are successful.

Davis locates white privilege “at the intersection of neoliberalism and welfare reform” and argues that this intersection is directly linked with muted racism as welfare reform, though it omits race from it, silently disparages the disadvantaged Blacks. As she asserts, “The privilege of promoting race-blind explanations in a neoliberal moment is that welfare policies do not have to admit that racism remains a national problem.” This is, according to Davis, done through strategically delimiting the roles of the government in minimizing the racial disparities. Through this muted racism and control of government, neoliberalism has been successful in forming a discourse on race where racism does not exist anymore, a discourse that constantly bombards people with the idea that one can reach the top of the social ladder so long as want works accordingly, that one’s race and racial identity do not matter, that there is racial equality in the society, and that we have entered the post-racial phase in history. The neoliberal agenda has been successful as “the last two generations have approached issues of racial identity with greater flexibility (Walker 2002; Rockquemore and Brunsma 2001) questioning its very meaning along with the boundaries of objectivity and categorization”. Moreover, the multiethnic composition of the society and changes in the ways social scientists perceive race along with the banning of lynching and segregation helped the neoliberal conservatives spread the idea that race and racism is a thing of the past. In the present, an individual’s failure to maintain upward mobility is thus viewed as his or her own flaw in which the society and the state necessarily have nothing to do: four-hundred years of exploitation and the effects of it is erased with just one stroke of the sense of individual responsibility. One’s history is muted, so is muted the way how he/she is now being exploited.

Jodi Melamed’s “The Spirit of Neoliberalism: from racial liberalism to neoliberal multiculturalism” explores how multiculturalism is instrumental in the neoliberal takeover of the US economy, a takeover that redefines the ways people perceive race, identity, and superiority. Terming this shift as “racial break” that took place in post-war America, Jodi argues that the current “official antiracism limits awareness of the logics of exploitation and domination in global capitalism.” According to Jodi, this shift has transformed the way white supremacy now operates as those being exploited are represented as less worthy than those who are at the top. The newly reconfigured categories in the race discourse have made it possible for the racially exploited people to be on both sides: Blacks and Asians and Arabs can now be economically advanced people. This flexibility has made racism to disappear as a barrier for a person to develop his condition in the prevailing social structure. However, World War II and the Cold War have significantly influenced the Euro-American bourgeoisie class “to manage racial contradictions,” and racial liberalism is a result of that management. Desegregation was thus the ultimate answer to the threat of Russian communism, and the US solution has motivated many newly form nation states to willingly embrace the US capitalist model as opposed to the Russian communist one.

Henry Giroux in “Beyond the Biopolitics of Disposability: rethinking neoliberalism in the New Gilded Age discusses how neoliberalism uses market values to control the government in attaining corporate power and also to control the individual. Referring to the New York Times editorial on December 31, 2007 he argues that neoliberalism, with a brutal police force, a formidable prison industrial complex, and a never-ending war on terror, has successfully hammered the last nails to the coffin of US democracy. This present time which he calls “the Gilded Age” characterized by “racism, greed, unencumbered individualism, self-interest, and rationality that recast all aspects of political, cultural, and social life in terms of the calculating logic of the market.” Giroux summarizes the philosophy of the present neoliberal age through the statement of Marvin Olasky: “One of the virtues of going back to the nineteenth century is that the government then did not commit the crime of helping the less fortunate, or to put it more specifically, the government did not make the mistake of providing public assistance to the poor.”

This very philosophy is founded upon the idea of consumerism—the freedom to buy for private gratification even at the cost of public priorities. Public good or public health has no place in the neoliberal discourse: all problems are private and should be privately solved. This decadence of the society that dehumanizes everyone fails to address the barbarism of the corporate profit mongers, but suffers from a pathetic fallacy in identifying the monster elsewhere. Junaid Rana’s “The Story of Islamophobia” is appropriate here as the neoliberal establishment successfully constructed the image of an archetypal terrorist in the followers of Islam and subsequently waging a never-ending war on terror. Although millions of Americans are spending their lives behind the bar, millions are passing the nights without a roof over their heads, and many more are going to sleep without meals, the neoliberals find no logic to spend money to address these problems in home. Billions of dollars are spent to capture alleged Al-Quyeda activists or to bomb them from unmanned drones.


About the author

Sayeed Noman

Sayeed Noman is a Fulbright scholar and an adjunct professor at Temple University. His PhD dissertation focuses on Afrocentricity, postcolonialism, and postmodernism. His interest ranges from political to economic and cultural issues.

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