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Racial Culture: A Critique


What is black culture? Does it have an essence? What do we lose and gain by assuming that it does, and by building our laws accordingly? This bold and provocative book questions the common presumption of political multiculturalism that social categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are defined by distinctive cultural practices.

Richard Ford argues against law reform proposals that would attempt to apply civil rights protections to "cultural difference." Unlike many criticisms of multiculturalism, which worry about "reverse discrimination" or the erosion of core Western cultural values, the book's argument is primarily focused on the adverse effects of multicultural rhetoric and multicultural rights on their supposed beneficiaries.

In clear and compelling prose, Ford argues that multicultural accounts of cultural difference do not accurately describe the practices of social groups. Instead these accounts are prescriptive: they attempt to canonize a narrow, parochial, and contestable set of ideas about appropriate group culture and to discredit more cosmopolitan lifestyles, commitments, and values.

The book argues that far from remedying discrimination and status hierarchy, "cultural rights" share the ideological presuppositions, and participate in the discursive and institutional practices, of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Ford offers specific examples in support of this thesis, in diverse contexts such as employment discrimination, affirmative action, and transracial adoption.

This is a major contribution to our understanding of today's politics of race, by one of the most distinctive and important young voices in America's legal academy.

A well-informed polemic
Richard Ford is a law professor at Stanford, and his book "Racial Culture : A Critique" is a reaction to a particularly robust form of multiculturalism, which he terms "difference discourse." He takes the reader through a story where activists began to combat perceived white dominance by emphasizing the differences between Black and white culture. They didn't do a great job of seeing if the differences they were talking about (1) even existed or (2) were worth celebrating. And then the "difference discourse" took on a life of its own, holding Black people up to a racial authenticity test that would previously have been unheard of, and convincing white people that, yes, Blacks really were different than them. Worst of all, dishonest brokers, forced by the Supreme Court to show that "diversity" is so profound that it is a compelling state interest, now largely peddle this "difference discourse." A noble intention has become mired in its own logic.

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