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“Race Over” Essay by Orlando Patterson Essay

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Updated: Aug 18th, 2021


Orlando Patterson uses the issue of race as a starting point for his investigation into the futures and paths of American society in the 21-th century which shows that he effectively combines historical insight with prognosis. Patterson claims in the beginning of his article that Du Bois prediction that the ‘color line’ and race would be the most important factors in the development of modern society is not relevant for the 21st century, as Patterson tries to show: ‘By the middle of the twenty-first century, America will have problems aplenty. But no racial problem whatsoever’. But as the following shows it does not mean that the issue of race should not be taken into consideration.

Main Text

One of the main point Patterson puts forward is that thanks to four important social patterns which are peculiar to a particular region of the US, the country would be totally reshaped in the coming years and several systems would be formed. The most dominant racial and cultural system would be a California system where the cultural mixture would lead to massive cultural consequences and racialization. As Patterson shows, massive inflow of Mexican population would cause exodus of Afro-Americans and Latin-American element would dominate in uppers and middle classes. Caucasians, Afro-Americans would play secondary roles in this spectacle of culture.

Another system which Patterson calls Caribbean-American system and representing future integration between Caribbean basin countries and the United States in the upcoming years looks visionary projection of some ungrounded and prejudiced theory. First of all, Patterson speaks about ‘social and economic integration’ between the United States and these countries and at the same time shows that they would have colonial patterns of relation.

Social integration in this case would mean that repressive social and economic structure implemented in Caribbean basin would be in the same time established in the United States. This is absolutely absurd claim in my view as centre-periphery relation could not lead to social integration between colony and metropolis because of power relations and dominance of the latter over the former.

Besides this, it seems totally ungrounded to say that, ‘Since the Caribbean is much closer than Asia, this system will also create a distinctive social type: genuinely transnational and post-national communities in which people feel equally at home in their native and American locations’. This claim can be a good example of author’s aberration over the issues of globalization and internationalization. He thinks that the state would cease to exist and some types of global citizenship and transnational communities will appear. What this type of argumentation conceals is the real role of state in supporting neoliberal policies and suppressing opposition in the third world countries.

In fact, the active role of state in transnational development is even higher than it was during Welfare state. Globalization does not mean that all borders are free what shows current American emigration legislation and existing appeals for stopping the flow of immigrant to the Western countries. So, in our view, Patterson seems to use some unjustified ideological claim which was produced by those who actively promotes the culture of globalization and neoliberal economic transformations.

Besides this, it should be noted that Patterson claim shows his ignorance in real nature of social and economic relation between economic centre and its colonial rudiment. He says that Caribbean people would have the same benefits in the United States as they have in their homes. These words conceal the fact that the very economic deterioration of their communities and homes forces them to move to the United States in search of better life.

To sum it up, the second cultural system looks totally absurd and visionary and shows nothing but author’s prejudices and misunderstanding of existing situation and relations between the United States and the Caribbean states. In this light the distinction between California and US-Caribbean system is problematic since the latter would never exist.

The analyses of the third system which as Patterson claim emerges in the Northeast and the urban Midwest is more grounded and understandable. Moreover, it provides social and economic dimension of the racialization issues, social conflicts articulated in race differences and other important problems. In Patterson’s own words, ‘Here, the economic situation for all classes of African Americans and native-born Latinos is likely to deteriorate-with the ending of affirmative action, a shrinking public sector, and competition from skilled and unskilled (mainly Caribbean basin) immigrant labor. The rise of work-fare without compensating provision for child care, combined with the growing pattern of paternal abandonment of children, will further undermine traditional family norms among African American, Latino, and increasingly, the European American lower classes’.

As Patterson further shows social polarization will continue to take racial forms as Latinos, Afro-Americans and other cultural groups would be oppressed by aggressive neoliberal policies and would be enclosed in ‘social ghettos’ in poor suburbs all over the United States. This problem is already evident almost in every sphere of the American society starting from public education ending with patterns of salary, social services provision and employment.

As the author rightly continued racialization of social differences would lead to the creating of new cultural proletariat consisting from oppressed national and racial minorities which would break the mold of racial, religious and cultural differences among them and would engage in active joint class policies against existing social and economic regime in the United States. Author claims that these minorities could be termed ‘lumpen-proletariat’ but in fact, these groups represent really existing proletariat distinct from office managers, service sector workers and other spheres’ employees which are different from traditional patterns of work.

The fourth cultural system within the United States which Patterson analyzes in South east system embracing the states with historical conflict between blacks and whites (former Confederacy states). Patterson claims that ‘African Americans and European Americans will cling to notions of racial purity and will remain highly (and voluntarily) segregated from each other. Affirmative action will be the bulwark of this system, the price the European American elite willingly pays for “racial” stability and the reassuring presence of a culturally familiar but socially distant African American group and a pliant working class’.

In my view this positions conceals the fact that racial differences in the South are also increasingly taking social form of class polarization and division. Hence, in my view, the South could be compared with other problematic cultural systems but not be opposed to them.

Patterson continues by saying that the issues of race would be succeeded by the development of gene engineering, class consciousness and other trends which would eliminate multiculturalism as the dominant ideology in the American society.

To sum it up, it should be said that notwithstanding some absurd claims and generalization, Patterson’s essay contains many brilliant insights and findings which are necessary for understanding existing social processes in the United States.

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