“The Euphemization of Race”

By Seth Freed Wessler Sep 19, 2007

‘Don’t call it that’ is the line when it comes to race and policy. Last weekend I strolled over to Berkeley campus to attend a couple sessions at a conference called “Race and the Republic”, a comparative symposium on race in France and the United States. The point made by some of these French and American academics was basic and fairly accurate: laws or political culture make it difficult to talk about and legislate racially just policy. French policy makers, especially after the riots in Paris, have looked for ways around the country’s constitutional ban on “using race” by considering geographic and economic indicators in its place. In the United States, after Ward Connerly’s devastating campaigns and the recent Supreme Court decision mandating race silence, progressives have tried to deal with racism without actually talking about it. The effect according to one of these academics: a “euphemization of race”. In other words, to address racism and racial disparities, policy has had to use “race-neutral” criteria such as class and geography. But we know that these strategies can only go so far as has been the case for universities in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi and now Michigan that have tried to get around the affirmative action ban by considering class or geography in admissions. The policies fail because to deal with racism and disparities, we’ve got to talk about race. We’ve got to call it what it is. While their descriptions of the political climates in the United States and France may be right-on, these academics lacked vision, generally resigned to not being able to talk about race. But, if racial disparities in education and other areas are to be addressed it will take more creative and aggressive efforts not just among racial justice activists but also among thinkers like those at Berkeley last week. The challenge to academics is to be brave enough to envision and prioritize racial justice rather than just describe the status quo with defeated resignation.