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World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy since WWII

World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy since WWII

by Howard Winant

Why is racism so hard to overcome? Why is the world still beset by racial inequality and injustice, even after the supposed successes of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements? In The World Is a Ghetto Howard Winant reinterprets post-WWII racial dynamics on a global scale by comparing postwar racial politics in four world centers: the U.S., South Africa,


Why is racism so hard to overcome? Why is the world still beset by racial inequality and injustice, even after the supposed successes of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements? In The World Is a Ghetto Howard Winant reinterprets post-WWII racial dynamics on a global scale by comparing postwar racial politics in four world centers: the U.S., South Africa, Brazil, and the European Union.Winant suggests that as the twenty-first century dawns, movements for racial justice are confronted by new obstacles. His critique of new forms of racial exclusion and inequality (for example, the supposedly "color-blind" racial policies and largely symbolic multiculturalism now in vogue around the world) provides provocative views on such global questions as continuing hostility to immigration, the breakdown of the welfare state, and the weakening of social movements.This is a timely and important book by a major theoretician of race relations. Winant not only deepens our understanding of race as both a contemporary and historical phenomenon but he also explains the continuing significance of racial justice for our ideals of democracy, of human well-being, and for cultural innovation in the years ahead.

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Publishers Weekly
A groundbreaking book, deeply instructive and thoughtfully provocative.

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Chapter One


Race has been fundamental in global politics and culture for half a millennium. It continues to signify and structure social life not only experientially and locally, but nationally and globally. Race is present everywhere: it is evident in the distribution of resources and power, and in the desires and fears of individuals from Alberta to Zimbabwe. Race has shaped the modern economy and nation-state. It has permeated all available social identities, cultural forms, and systems of signification. Infinitely incarnated in institution and personality, etched on the human body, racial phenomena affect the thought, experience, and accomplishments of human individuals and collectivities in many familiar ways, and in a host of unconscious patterns as well.

    of racial inequality and thoroughgoing racial difference was taken for granted. Although there was always both small- and large-scale resistance, this was widely seen as exceptional, anomalous, or at least containable. In the ruling circles—the metropoles, the world's capitals both imperial and peripheral—it was taken for granted as natural, ineluctable, an "objective" reality, that to be white (however that is defined) conferred a deserved advantage on those so identified, while a dark skin properly signified inferiority. The name for this set of beliefs, this racial ideology, is white supremacy.

    challenge to the continuity of worldwide white supremacy. It has seen the Holocaust and the massive population shifts accompanying and succeeding World War II. There have been powerful movements for decolonization, civil rights, and the end of official apartheid. And we have lived through the "twilight struggle" that neo-colonialism and the Cold War brought to the jungles and deserts of the world's South.

    worldwide rupture of the racial status quo, the ironic view has emerged that we are now in a post-racial, color-blind world. At present, serious arguments are being made that the race-concept is outmoded, atavistic, a relic of earlier times. The very idea of race has come in for deprecation. And what remains of racial discourse has a new tone, as evidenced in claims about "color-blindness" and "multiculturalism." Race-talk today presents itself as egalitarian, respectful of "cultural difference," and, above all, humane. The appearance and consolidation of such post-racial sentiments is a recent phenomenon; it has reshaped contemporary understanding and debates over race.

    racial hierarchy lives on; that it correlates very well with worldwide and national systems of stratification and inequality; that it corresponds to glaring disparities in labor conditions and reflects differential access to democratic and communicative instrumentalities and life chances. My view is that the race-concept is anything but obsolete and that its significance is not declining. We are not "beyond race."

    matter of race. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, at the dawn of a new millennium, there is a pressing need for a new global approach to race that takes into account the new, "cleaned-up" racial ideologies or post-racial perspectives I have mentioned. Adequately to understand the importance of race—historical and contemporary—requires us to reconsider many of our ideas and assumptions about modernity, development, labor, democracy, identity, culture, and indeed, our concepts of social action and agency. Taken as a whole, these are the coordinates of all social theory. We need a new, racially more adequate, theoretical compass if we want to navigate properly in the twenty-first-century world.

    a fundamental and historical shift, a global rupture or "break," in the continuity of worldwide white supremacy. Throughout this book I use the term break to refer to the mid-century challenge to the continuity of world racial rule over the longue duree of the modern epoch. The origins and contours of that shift are at the center of this work.

Part I. From the Abyss: Race and Modern History

The first section of the book examines the historical sociology of race. In Chapters Two through Five I consider the ways that race has been a key force driving world development, one of the central pillars of the edifice of modernity. The book locates the foundations of race, both conceptually and social structurally, at the dawn of the modern epoch around the year 1500. It then traces the world that race built, from the appearance of Columbus's sails on the Atlantic horizon to the post-World War II break.

    world system. The fifteenth century, when the planet was first circumnavigated, first knitted together into a single and finite entity, first subjected, albeit unevenly and imperfectly, to the rule of a core group of nation-states, was also when racial rule first appeared in something approximating modern form. Through Part I of the book I trace out this historical sociology of race, culminating with the crucial ruptural moment of World War II.

    which sees the phenomenon as a key factor in the creation of the modern world. Here I argue that the foundation of modern nation-states, the construction of an international economy, and the articulation of a unified world culture were all deeply racialized processes. The chapter documents the ways that development occurred in complex interaction with a series of different modes of racial domination, racially based resistances, and racial significations. It shows how the problematic of race came to permeate most of the formative struggles of the modern age, shaping debates and conflicts over labor regimes, democracy, national independence and identity, and citizenship.

    theory of circular and cumulative causation (Myrdal 1963): the racialization of the world is both the cause and consequence of modernity. It is important to bear in mind, as one ventures deeper into this text, the centrality I claim for race, both historically and in the present day. Race must be grasped as a fundamental condition of individual and collective identity, a permanent, although tremendously flexible, dimension of the modern global social structure. The epochal phenomenon of race has been the basis for the most comprehensive systems of oppression and injustice ever organized, and simultaneously the foundation for every dream of liberation, at least since the inception of the modern world. The theory presented in Chapter Two is that race "accumulated" in all the fissures and faultlines of modern society.

    of the world racial system from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Here I highlight the relationship of conquest and slavery to the origins of modernity. I first consider precursors to racial modernity, exploring the creation of Europe as a racial project. The foundation and consolidation of nation-states along the European Atlantic raised crucial questions about the tension between peoplehood (the "national") and the structure of domination ("statism"), questions that were never more than partially resolved by intra- and extra-European imperial initiatives.

    "others": Africa and the Americas. Both these vast regions underwent extensive mutations as their fates were linked to the global system of exploitation and stratification. These social relationships were comprehensively racialized, a reality that flew back to Europe as well as hierarchizing the periphery. Thus the lower strata at home were increasingly ruled by techniques perfected in the colonies, and indeed found their cultural traits (including their resistance to exploitation and absolutism) equated to those of colonial subjects (Cooper and Stoler 1997). The chapter concludes by considering the dawning of obstacles to imperial rule, the increasing tensions brought about by slavery, and the impact of these factors on democratization.

    chapters, and more generally in Part I of this book—that of Europe and its modern "others"—has some decided limitations. In its fundamental bipolarity it neglects the highly divergent patterns of historical encounter among various peoples and indeed continents. In other writings I have criticized bipolar concepts of race. Although I do not reduce race in this book to a matter of black and white, there are certainly points at which I verge on a similar error in my attempts to explain the historical intersection between the modern world's racialization and its explosive development as a capitalist, statist, and secularizing planet. In any case, there were certainly many "others": not white, not black, not Native American (how inadequate these classifications seem in world-historical perspective!). Indeed there were many European identities as well as the myriad of "others." There were many localized racial systems too. In the Americas systems of racial classification varied, schematically speaking. Some sought to distinguish as absolutely as possible between whites and "others," employing for this purpose a hypodescent (Harris 1964) or one-drop rule system of racial categorization. Others relied on a racial continuum concept that admitted more intermediate positions (mestizo, mulato, moreno, and a large variety of other hybridized identities). Predominance of the former scheme has been linked to British- (and Protestant-) based systems of enslavement and colonization, particularly (but not exclusively) in the Americas, while the latter variants have been linked (again, especially in the Americas) with Latin European- (and Catholic-) based systems. While particularities were significant, they were by no means clear-cut: there was a lot of overlap between the "two variants in race relations" identified by Hoetink (1971; see also Davis 1991). Most telling: throughout the Americas and indeed across the merging world racial system, racial hierarchy prevailed.

    complex project of knitting together the modern world; all would inescapably be involved in fracturing world society too. No writer I know could adequately delineate this vast panorama of multiple connections and faultlines. I have already mentioned my decision to focus in general on the Atlantic complex as the central locus of modernization; I acknowledge my relative neglect of Asia and Asian peoples, and of their particular rendezvous with modernity. But this is just the most telling of the many oversights I have committed in my quest to present the world of today as possessing a racial lineage, a racialized gestation, a genealogy of racial formation.

    the praxis of the subjugated. Here I consider the dynamics and consequences of resistance to conquest and enslavement, looking at everyday hindrance and strife, slave rebellion and marronage, and finally arriving at abolitionism, revolution, and anti-colonialism. Resistance and opposition, like racial rule itself, traversed successive historical stages, in general moving from what Gramsci (1971, 229-235) called "war of maneuver" to "war of position." The chapter begins with the early stages of racial resistance, when enslaved subjects lacked virtually all rights and were effectively deprived of personhood (not to mention citizenship); in such circumstances resistance logically focused on subversion, escape, and, where possible, on revolt. As racial rule evolved in world-historical (and national-political) terms, the forms of resistance and opposition shifted as well. Slowly and unevenly, political and cultural conflict became more possible. Opponents of racial rule found themselves gradually or intermittently acquiring leverage and allies. They were now able to press some claims on the state, and even to operate in the transnational political system. The chapter concludes by examining the first global social movement, abolitionism, comparing its North American, British, and Brazilian manifestations.

    explores the aftermath of slavery and the emergence of contemporary antiracism and anti-colonialism. With the general obsolescence of slavery and the success/incorporation of abolitionist demands, the world racial system entered a new, twilight phase of racial subjugation. The destruction of slavery occupied the entire nineteenth century, although its crucial battle was the U.S. Civil War. With chattel-based forms of coerced mass labor on the wane, colonial and plantation-based labor demand gave rise to systems of peonage based in primary goods-exporting economies and racial policies of segregation (aka demarcation of "native reserves"). This situation combined unevenly with massive new waves of migration (both coerced and "free"), expanding industrialization and urbanization of labor (both white and non-white), and military mobilization, particularly that occasioned by World War I. As a significant population of ex-slaves and former colonials (or their progeny) made their way to the cities, they formed political and cultural movements that would barely have been conceivable a century earlier: anti-colonialism, civil rights, pan-Africanism. They sought to express and encompass, to lead or at least to aid, the hosts remaining "down home," whom Du Bois characterized in 1900 as "the millions of black men (sic) in Africa, and the Islands of the Sea, not to speak of the brown and yellow myriads everywhere" (Du Bois 1995 [1900], 639). Often linking their fortunes with Marxist and socialist currents (as well as with such other alternatives as existed: Wilsonian self-determination, negritude, etc.), these movements paved the way for the massive upsurges of World War II and after. This chapter details these developments and shows how they laid the groundwork for the break.

    century. This brings the analysis to the threshold of Part II of this book. There the optic shifts, so to speak, from the diachronic to the synchronic, from the genealogy of the world racial system to the comparison of some of that system's main present-day instances.

    that subject in Part I is more than an effort to set the stage for contemporary studies of race, although it is that as well. It is an effort to reclaim the centrality of race, both historically and in the present day. This argument links to the pressing political agenda of the present age, which once more I take to be a racial matter. To say that race endures is to recognize that both the range of "social problems" associated with racial stratification—inequality, exclusion, bigotry, indeed disdain and ignorance—endure. But it is also to recognize something more, something racial that is not a "problem" but is the opposite of a problem: the dream of liberation endures, the goal of democracy endures. The epochal phenomenon of race has been both the basis for the most comprehensive system of oppression and injustice ever organized, and simultaneously the foundation for every dream of liberation, at least since the inception of the modern world. Why is the concept of race subject to such continual conflict and reinterpretation? Not because it is a social problem, but because it is a fundamental social fact! To say that race endures is to say that the modern world endures.

Part II. The Contemporary Sociology of Race

The post-World War II break was at best a partial shift away from formally avowed white supremacy. The demolition of the racial subjugation that created the modern world is far from complete. Rather, we are in a racial interregnum: we are on a voyage between the discredited but undead racial past and the much anticipated but far from realized racial future.

    equilibrium between the old and the new world racial orders. Since that time, two openly contradictory world-historical racial projects have coexisted: deeply rooted and dearly held attachments to white supremacy on the one hand, and fierce and implacable and partially institutionalized legal and social commitments to racial justice, universalism, pluralism, and democracy on the other.

    tracks the process of this transition in four distinct settings. It traces the vicissitudes of the race-concept and of the various national and global experiences of race (or racialized social structures), thus elucidating how the break—a massive shift away from official white supremacy—operated in different global and national contexts. Separate chapters on the United States, South Africa, Brazil, and the European Union seek to shed light on how the break has played itself out in the world's North and South, in its "developed" and "less developed" countries, in its post-colonial northern metropoles and its newly emancipated southern settings.

    after World War II. The war itself had significant racial dimensions, and left a legacy of revulsion at racism and genocide. The social movements and revolutionary upsurges that succeeded the war and brought the colonial era to an end also raised the question of race to a new level of moral and political prominence. The civil rights movement in the United States and the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa are but the most prominent examples. As it gained its independence, the post-colonial world quickly became embroiled in the competition of the Cold War, a situation that placed not only the legacy of imperial rule but also the racial policies of the superpowers (especially those of the United States) under additional scrutiny. Another consequence of the war was enormous migratory flows from the world's rural South to its metropolitan North; in these demographic shifts "the empire struck back," pluralizing the former "mother-countries" (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies 1982). All these developments raised significant questions about the meaning of race.

    taking the break as their point of departure. After an initial discussion of my approach to these studies, which frames and explains the political-sociological method, these chapters concentrate on selected national cases. The nation-state is a necessary unit of analysis for any comparative political sociology. Yet at the same time country-specific studies of global racial dynamics—even those concerned most centrally with the political dimensions of race—have clear limitations. In the contemporary period, the years since the postwar break, racial themes, which have been global in scope ever since their first appearance on the world-historical stage, have become in many ways even more planetary, even more transnational.

    dimensions of racial politics: the sphere of civil society, and indeed that of personal politics, or the "micro-level." As I have detailed in other work (Omi and Winant 1994; Winant 1994a), racial politics can hardly be grasped merely as matters of state management or of contention within established political institutions (courts, legislatures, etc.). One must also consider the extent and dynamics of the "public sphere" (Habermas 1989; Calhoun, ed. 1992), the emergence and "political process" of social movements (McAdam et al, eds. 1996), and the whole matter of "cultural politics" (Axford 1995; Beverley 1996; Bhabha 1994; Lowe and Lloyd, eds. 1997). At the "micro-level," race is "signifying action" (Perinbanayagam 1985), a kind of politics best theorized through the pragmatist tradition of Mead (1938; see also Joas 1993, 1996), through Blumer's symbolic interactionism (1958; 1969), and through Du Bois's thought (West 1989, 138-150).

So, as the world lurches forward into the next millennium, widespread confusion and anxiety remain about race: about its political significance and even its meaning. Around the world, a kind of split or dualistic mentality has developed on the subject. On the one hand, there is continuing concern to oppose racism and undo the weighty legacy of racial inequality left by centuries of colonialism, slavery, and white supremacy. On the other hand, there is a prominent, indeed growing, tendency to consider this task as largely accomplished: to operate, in other words, as if racial oppression had already been largely overcome, as if the errors of white supremacy had already been corrected. To sort out and analyze the variations of this new racial dualism is the aim of this part of the book.

Excerpted from The World Is a Ghetto by HOWARD WINANT. Copyright © 2001 by Howard Winant. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

Robin D. G. Kelley
As this magnificent study demonstrates, we cannot change the racial world we've inherited with empty appeals to color blindness. Like race itself, we can¹t afford to ignore this book; read it if you¹re ready to rumble.
—(Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History at New York University and author of Yo' Mama's DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America )
Cornel West
The unique fusion of analytical insight, historical interpretation and political passion sets Winant apart from the others.
—(Cornel West, Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor, Harvard University and author of The African-American Century : How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country)
George M. Fredrickson
Howard Winant has written an enormously stimulating and provocative assessment of 'race' as a factor in world politics and culture during the past half-century.
—(George M Fredrickson, Edgar E. Robinson Professor of United States History, Stanford University and author of Black Liberation : A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa)

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