Harvey on the Real Problem of Race

Problems with the reconciliation paradigm and the assumptions about difference on which it rests become most clear when we move away from a “universalist” way of talking about race and difference and, instead, bring a “particularist ethic” to bear on the discussion. A particularist ethic recognizes that there is no one shared standard against which we might measure or interpret our experiences of race, nor one to which we may all be held similarly accountable. Rather, we can begin to speak of the “particular” problem white racial identity brings to bear on reconciliation, the particular relationship of white people to matters of race and racial injustice…

Allowing particularity or distinction to be our starting point allows us to analyze and meaningfully discuss the differences between blackness and whiteness, as well as to ascertain the different work required of differently racialized groups in the context of white supremacy.

Another outcome is that the structures, histories, and injustices that result in such particularity – that, in fact, give our identities (and our agency in response to those realities) distinct meanings – become central in our attempts to envision and work for racial justice… given the construction of race and US racial history, only a particularist ethic is able to support the kind of understanding imperative for meaningful and effective responses to our actual racial situation.

Racial division is a real problem… but the racial problem… is not separateness itself. And togetherness is certainly no solution. Separateness is merely a symptom. The real problem is what our differences represent, how they came to be historically, and what they mean materially and structurally still. Racial separateness is evidence of the extent to which our differences embody legacies of unjust material structures. Racial separateness is a to-be-expected outcome of the reality that our differences literally contain still painful and violent histories that remain unredressed and unrepaired. Racial separateness reveals that our differences are the very manifestation of ongoing forms of racial injustice and white supremacy…

Racism and racial injustice are actual material conditions that shape all of our lives and mediate all of our relationships with one another. These material conditions, which began in an era of enslavement and continue powerfully still today, are the source of our alienation from each other. Loving difference without addressing these conditions as a way of demonstrating that love is a recipe for failure…

As important as genuinely appreciating difference may be for an array of other reasons, setting our souls right can be done only through justice-filled engagement with and responses to those very same structures that racialized our human bodies in the first place and continue to racialize us on a daily basis.

Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation, pgs. 59-61.


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