Signifying on Passing: (Post) Post-Racialism, (Post) Post-Modernism, and (Post) Post-Marxism

Signifying on Passing: (Post) Post-Racialism, (Post) Post-Modernism, and (Post) Post-Marxism

Columbia Journal of Race and Law
Volume 1, Issue 3 (July 2012)
pages 482-489

Christian B. Sundquist, Associate Professor of Law
Albany Law School

The social and legal relevance of racial passing appears to be fading as we ostensibly enter a color-blind, post-race era. During the “Age of Obama,” the notion of passing in our multi-racial society seems to many to be antiquated and unnecessary. As the nation has moved beyond state-sanctioned racial discrimination, many believe that the country also has moved beyond the need for a legal dialogue on racial passing and ambiguity. This “retreat from race,” exemplified in part by the apparent declining significance of racial passing, proclaims that the state no longer should consider race when interpreting the law or incorporating democratic values of equality and opportunity. This Essay, however, argues that the continued phenomenon of racial passing can be utilized as a conceptual vehicle to destabilize and de-legitimatize the post-racial agenda.

The continuing relevance of racial passing also underscores the significance of the lessons of Marxism. After all, the concept of “race,” and therefore the existence of racial passing, traces its lineage to the capitalist condition of racialized class distinctions and cultural hegemony (e.g., the white cultural norm). The post-racial agenda seeks to mask the commodification of persons, obscuring the salience of race and discrimination. Thus, the cry for a post-racial America is the latest attempt to lure society into a false sense of class and racial transformation. The continued presence of racial passing may lift the veil from our eyes to the conditions of racial and class exploitation that govern everyday life.

This Essay will proceed in three parts. The first section argues that the particular weltanschauung of post-racialism has obfuscated the continuing relevance of racial difference and conflict. The post-racial model seeks to skew the proletariat perception of social reality by imposing a false-consciousness that conceals existing relations of racial subordination and exploitation. In so doing, post-racialism strives to reject its theoretical Other: Marxism. However, the failings of post-racialism as a worldview are traced directly to its inability to refute the continuing salience of class and racial conflict. The second part of the Essay explores the similarities and differences between the post-racial model and the classic liberal colorblind model. The third part of the Essay concludes that the continuing relevance of racial passing should be utilized to reveal and disrupt the post-racial agenda…

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