As schools are a contested space of diversity, either enforced or absent de facto, it is not unsurprising, that a great deal of American anthro-ed research emphasizes race. Back in March, Greg Tanaka made some provocative statements in Anthropology and Education (40:1). He holds that an absence of identification with any nation outside of the US or with any “ethnic culture” among white college students signals a decline in “subjectivity” for whites. In diverse communities, such students from all white high schools are deracinated and beset by a “new loss of meaning” perpetuated by on-campus diversity: courses and student groups for Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc. Accordingly, Tanaka finds that in contrast to studies of people of color, Whiteness studies “remain unable to this day to conceive a new and positive meaning system for European Americans not based on race or race superiority.” He goes on to ask “. . . what will come next for the white student after this loss. If not ethnic culture, if not race privilege, then what?”

Tanaka therefore sees the possibility of a post-racial America coming, which will be tied to “(1) new meaning systems and subjectivities for European Americans not based on race or privilege and (2) fresh new narratives from people of color.”

Is Whiteness no longer invisible (al la Peggy McIntosh, and others) in America? Is this a new configuration of such invisibility? Or is this a starker departure from invisibility to a sort of identity deprivation, as Tanaka seems to suggest? Do anthropologists need to more explicitly engage a post-racial paradigm (if one actually exists)? Are schools the most interesting site to examine these questions? I’ve noted a growing sense of an identity of victimhood and persecution among all segments of America - by neo-conservatives, liberal media, immigrants, secular atheists, Christians, whites, blacks, glbt community: everyone is persecuted by someone else. Might, as Tanaka suggests, the “future work of subjectivity and intersubjectivity . . . be used to help the ‘dominant’ members of a nation . . . to let go of privilege?” Of course this is only a brief set of positions from the article, filtered through my imperfect and somewhat skeptical fingers, but I would love to hear what others think of the whole thing.

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I am going to take a stab at this one. If there are any comprehension or interpretation errors, I concede that they are all mine and welcome constructive discussions of any mishap.

From my understanding, the ostensibly declining invisibility of Whiteness, and the concomitant work of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, according to Tanaka may be used to foster increasing awareness of privilege, but more importantly, shifts the focus of essentialized categories of race to a positionalities that are ever so precarious and transient, a la Foucault. This departure from former discourses of race and racialization to subject positions in flux must be accompanied by a serious scrutiny of power -- how it operates in particular contexts, including those in which White privilege intersects with socioeconomic disadvantage, or when one's racialized identity is subordinated to one's sexual identity. In other words, identity is not lost into the darkness; rather it is fluid, constantly changing, and repositioning, as it is being negotiated.

The notion of the potential invisibility of Whiteness implies that to begin with, it was easy to detect, and consequently, reinforces it as the Center, which Tanaka calls the "timeless, universal" against which everyone else is measured. Because of its incipient invisibility -- Orlando Patterson argued similar sentiments and called for an equalizing tactic that involved the labeling of "Euro-Americans" -- Whiteness tends to be sparingly espoused in practice, especially when intersected with class, as evidenced in Douglas Foley's Learning Capitalist Culture and the book that inspired me to go into anthropology, The Color of Class: Poor Whites and the Paradox by Kirby Moss. As long as Whiteness remains the norm, it will masquerade under the illusion of invisibility, while continuing to operate under the machinations of Power. That some studies show African-Americans' identities are reaffirmed by the rejection of dominant culture and Whiteness attests to its paradoxical (in)visibility. Thus, decentering Whiteness, as Tanaka suggests, entails diverging from previous discussion of "minorities" and instead, emphasizing interculturality, which allows for subject-to-subject interaction among individuals, all of whom tell their own stories.

The post-racial paradigm is meant to make college campuses more amenable to democratic and egalitarian participation. Rather than moving "beyond" race, this paradigm enables all, including students, researchers, and faculty members to acknowledge its layers, complexities, organicism, fluidity, as well as the power structures in which identity is inexorably embedded. This requires a self-reflexivity on the part of the researcher and academic, with which I concur, to locate one's positionality and how it is shaped by and shapes the research produced. As identities have become more complex and multilayered with the advent of "subject position" and the troubling of notions of "individual agency" by poststructuralists, the arduous task of fighting for social justice remains unscathed. My only question for Tanaka is how this postracial paradigm translates to or encapsulates the seed of potential for activism or community organizing -- Asian Pacific Islander causes, such as NAPAWF or Latino youth movements, such as MECHA -- which are predicated on the very premise which Tanaka attempts to dismantle.
By the way, thanks Alex for starting this discussion forum. =)
Thanks for the thoughtful reply Janny. I'm still not sure if I think we (mainstream U.S.) are really moving away from racialized subjects. Certainly, when I teach my very diverse intro anthro students, they find discussions of whiteness and blackness to be very relevant to their social worlds, while I imagine a discussion of subject-to-subject, post-structuralist positionality would just reinforce their understandings of society as being based completely upon individual choices and actions without broader underlying structures.

I know you're not saying that, but to me any theoretical position I take should be public-layman, accessible, which I usually think of through how I would introduce it in my intro classes. I'm also not sure that Tanaka was suggesting only a reflexive awareness of positionality, but a more radical departure from whiteness as a category even relevant to people. And although yes, there are multiply fluid identities going on, to many people I encounter every day it (race, whiteness, etc.) seems just as relevant as ever. I'm actually presenting a paper with Tanaka at AAA in December, so I can ask him then. I think that balance between subject-agent-person and structure is one of the most critical lines for us to untangle for ourselves as anthropologists, and I don't pretend to have done so.

Sorry, I haven't been more active in responding - been really buried and busy. May not see a reply for a long time. But you'll be too busy with the horrors of first semester colloquium anyway. Good luck!

Janny Chang said:
I am going to take a stab at this one. If there are any comprehension or interpretation errors, I concede that they are all mine and welcome constructive discussions of any mishap.
From my understanding, the ostensibly declining invisibility of Whiteness, and the concomitant work of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, according to Tanaka may be used to foster increasing awareness of privilege, but more importantly, shifts the focus of essentialized categories of race to a positionalities that are ever so precarious and transient, a la Foucault. This departure from former discourses of race and racialization to subject positions in flux must be accompanied by a serious scrutiny of power -- how it operates in particular contexts, including those in which White privilege intersects with socioeconomic disadvantage, or when one's racialized identity is subordinated to one's sexual identity. In other words, identity is not lost into the darkness; rather it is fluid, constantly changing, and repositioning, as it is being negotiated.
The notion of the potential invisibility of Whiteness implies that to begin with, it was easy to detect, and consequently, reinforces it as the Center, which Tanaka calls the "timeless, universal" against which everyone else is measured. Because of its incipient invisibility -- Orlando Patterson argued similar sentiments and called for an equalizing tactic that involved the labeling of "Euro-Americans" -- Whiteness tends to be sparingly espoused in practice, especially when intersected with class, as evidenced in Douglas Foley's Learning Capitalist Culture and the book that inspired me to go into anthropology, The Color of Class: Poor Whites and the Paradox by Kirby Moss. As long as Whiteness remains the norm, it will masquerade under the illusion of invisibility, while continuing to operate under the machinations of Power. That some studies show African-Americans' identities are reaffirmed by the rejection of dominant culture and Whiteness attests to its paradoxical (in)visibility. Thus, decentering Whiteness, as Tanaka suggests, entails diverging from previous discussion of "minorities" and instead, emphasizing interculturality, which allows for subject-to-subject interaction among individuals, all of whom tell their own stories.

The post-racial paradigm is meant to make college campuses more amenable to democratic and egalitarian participation. Rather than moving "beyond" race, this paradigm enables all, including students, researchers, and faculty members to acknowledge its layers, complexities, organicism, fluidity, as well as the power structures in which identity is inexorably embedded. This requires a self-reflexivity on the part of the researcher and academic, with which I concur, to locate one's positionality and how it is shaped by and shapes the research produced. As identities have become more complex and multilayered with the advent of "subject position" and the troubling of notions of "individual agency" by poststructuralists, the arduous task of fighting for social justice remains unscathed. My only question for Tanaka is how this postracial paradigm translates to or encapsulates the seed of potential for activism or community organizing -- Asian Pacific Islander causes, such as NAPAWF or Latino youth movements, such as MECHA -- which are predicated on the very premise which Tanaka attempts to dismantle.

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