Gotanda evaluates U.S. racial climate

Last Thursday, Neil Gotanda, W. Ford Schumann visiting professor in democratic studies, delivered a lecture named “Post-Racial America? Racial Subordination and Legal Remedies.” Margaret Chon, professor at the Seattle University School of Law, commented on and responded to Gotanda’s talk following his final comments.

The foremost question raised by Gotanda’s lecture discussed whether or not the U.S. is indeed post-racial. The answer to this question was the main message of the talk, which suggested a need for understanding the limits of racial discrimination as framed by the Supreme Court and a need for acknowledging the existence of deep-rooted racial subordinations that require new legal remedies.

How did things change over the last few decades? Gotanda noted that, in the last decade, under the Roberts Court, aspiration of a color-blind society was replaced by a presupposition of racial equality. Racial harm has been reduced to “racial discrimination,” which is an active question in the court. “[Roberts] will say the whole point of something like the Equal Protection Clause is to take race off the table,” but Gotanda claimed that race and racial politics are, in fact, not over.  Despite the legal remedies for institutional discrimination provided by the fact that Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides legal remedies for institutional discrimination, individual disparate discrimination, past employer discrimination and the general questions of race are still prominent within today’s society. Racial discrimination is just a part of racial subordination, and it is a narrow form of discrimination recognized by the Court.

Gotanda went on to outline other, more prominent forms of racial subordination in our society. He focused extensively on the so-called “racial profiles” as historically-derived body type categories that are constantly attached to different people. Racial profiles he introduced during the talk included model minority, foreigner, terrorist, Chinese spy, immigrant. He then showed the connections among what he called racial body, a racial category that is supported by law and racial trope or racial profile. Racial bodies of Euro, African, Asiatic and Brown were correlated with racial categories of White, Black, Asian and Latino and then further aligned with mainstream, criminal, foreigner and immigrant, respectively. This scheme underscored that racial profiles represent an issue, and that their existence in society should be recognized.

In her comments and responses, Chon pointed at the necessity of getting outside of the constitutional doctrines to think about possible legal remedies for racial subordination. She endorsed the critical race theorists’ critique of formalism adopted by the Constitution. Chon also raised the problem of the ambiguity of body types, which often do not fall within strictly demarcated categories. Gotanda responded that the actual problem is the inevitability of having bodies that are being categorized in one way or the other, even though they may be ambiguous, as noted by Chon.

Throughout the talk, the main message was reiterated: We need the legal remedies for the kind of racial subordination (the example of racial profiles, for instance) that is not included in the “racial discrimination” question addressed by the Court.