The Nadir of Race Relations: Analysis of John Boles’ Argument Regarding the Existence of Racial Inequality in the United States
Issues involved in the discussions of race and inequality reached their lowest point in the same period that The Bell Curve argued for the genetic inferiority of minorities supported by the welfare state. Before this period, however, it was argued that racial inequality within the United States ended with the demise of the Jim Crow System. In his article “The Nadir of Race Relations”, John Boles however argued that such is not the case. In lieu of this, this paper seeks to explicate Boles’ argument in relation to the aforementioned issue.
According to Boles (1998), the nadir of race relations occurred during the early 20th century when “Populist revolt used white hate… (and) white politicians played the race card to push down blacks…to weld together a cross-class coalition of white support” (p.235). Within this scenario, Boles notes that “the poorest class of white women were elevated by political rhetoric… (and) white economic interests were trumped by social fears” (p.235). Such a situation may be understood if one considers the manner in which the Jim Crow System ended.
The Jim Crow System is also called “segregation”. It is a process in and through which Southerners may be said to legitimize their racial supremacy over the Blacks or Negroes. It is a system in and through which the central idea is “differentiation”. The aforementioned differentiation is done on the basis of ethnicity or race. It is therefore not difficult to see that such a system will encounter numerous criticisms due to the implications that result from it. Differentiation entails the recognition that races are different and as such, it creates a political setting that “separates” races such as the Whites from the Blacks. In addition to this, it also separates and ultimately, limits or confines races such as the Blacks to a social sphere with corresponding social functions that are imposed on them. The Civil Rights Movement may be seen as a result of such a differentiation and segregation within the social sphere, in the sense that it reflects the recognition of the unjust and inhumane aspect of such methods of social differentiation and social segregation.
After the aforementioned movement, it has been argued that racial differentiation and segregation no longer exists within the social sphere of the United States, and due to this [in a sense] the Civil Rights Movement has been successful. However, as I reckon there is a contention to such a perspective. It is important to note that the effects of the expedited implementation of civil rights on all facets and areas of society, especially in the North, combined with the break from the traditional means of social integration helped spark the violent white backlash of the early 20th century. The White Backlash, as Boles argues is a reactionary populism involving the middle, working class moved by a sense of threat regarding the policies implemented during the time. Thus, race and racism are not to be seen as the main factors involved for they cannot account for the White Backlash in a manner that is altogether acceptable. It is of equal importance that we take into consideration the fact that the White’s resistance to the policies implemented during the time was also brought about by a general feeling of threat and the idea of being displaced in their communities. The discussions regarding racial segregation in schools and communities and forced busing further strengthens this point. Another issue of vital importance that may be related to Boles’ idea [that the White Backlash was moved not simply by racism] is the issue of “gentrification”. As Boles argues, the Whites reactionary stance on the implemented policies generated feelings of threat; regarding both their sense of security and sense of community.
Within this context, one might note that the fast-paced implementation [that is, of the recognition of civil rights be regarded as fundamental rights that ought to be granted to every citizen of the state and not only to a selected few, the Whites] unraveled structures and ideologies of society too fast [most importantly the historically embedded ideas of race and class] without providing or setting up new structures for what was unraveled. I contend that the appropriate treatments of race and racism should be viewed in the context of culture and history, in this case, of the American society. The dynamics then of a people’s culture and history are constitutive of that people’s social construal of race and racism. It is by positing that our notions of race and racism have a background that we may begin to understand what these notions are. Hence, the expedited implementation of civil rights on all facets and areas of society created “changes” on the realms of the social, political, and economic but there remains a question whether such huge and radical changes are “effective” since the phenomenon in itself is deeply embedded in the culture of the American society. True, the American society and its political culture do have problems. In the case of racial and educational equality and the expedited implementation of the civil rights, however, the issues are more intricate.
One ay thus state in relation to Boles’ claim that the construction of a just and humane society, just like other social and institutional fact is a long and tedious process, nevertheless, the task needs to be done. The expedited implementation of the civil rights with the attempt to address problems regarding racial and educational equality revealed that the interrelated and interweaving patterns of the power structures, power relations, political, ideological and economic orientations, history and culture are all constitutive of what it means for a society to be considered just and humane. True, the society may have flaws embedded in its very core [its history and culture and granting that there is indeed a necessity that society be reconstructed, these however, do not justify that the changes be implemented hastily]. Since the American society is not ready for such huge and radical changes [for such a reconstruction, as what King called for in his campaigns], in a sense one may thereby state that the Civil Rights Movement was unable to present the long lasting changes that it opted to enable and hence was ultimately unable to improve race relations.
Boles, J. (1998). “The Nadir of Race Relations.” The South Through Time. London: Prentice Hall.