The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

"White Racial Consciousness" as a Dangerous Progressive Project


I have come across all sorts of interesting and sometimes distressing things while researching my forthcoming book, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classifications in America. My conclusion discusses the fact that classifying people by race increases their tendency to identify with that race. I googled around to look for writing on that topic, and I discovered that if one googles "white racial consciousness" you will find many articles praising it and encouraging more of it–the vast majority not from right-wing white nationalists, but from progressive academics, who somehow think this is a good thing that leads to positive social outcomes. The idea seems to be that if you make people  more conscious of their whiteness, they will recognize their white privilege, and this will lead them to be allies in the cause of anti-racism.

I suppose this should not come as a shock. Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.