WELCOME TO THE CENTER FOR NEW RACIAL STUDIES A University of California Multi-Campus Research Program

INTRODUCTION

In 2009 a group of University of California faculty located at all ten campuses received a significant grant from the UC Office of the President to launch the University of California Center for New Racial Studies (UCCNRS), a Multi-Campus Research Program. The UCCNRS made its debut in July 2010 and has been offered UC system-wide support for five subsequent academic years (until June 2015). Our Steering Committee includes scholars in the social sciences and humanities, ethnic studies, area studies, public policy, and law.

The mission of the Center is to support innovation in UC-based race/ethnicity research and teaching and to encourage interdisciplinary and collaborative work focused on advancing social/racial justice in an era of changing racial dynamics and persistent racial/ethnic conflict and inequality. While our primary commitment is to establish a research network of UC scholars, we expect to forge links with other academic networks and institutions, as well as non-academic groups, that are working on issues of race and racism.

During a year of planning (2009-2010) the UCCNRS developed its research agenda, established contacts at each of the UC campuses, and conducted our first round of grant-making, which focused on the topic "The Nation and Its Peoples: Citizens, Denizens, Migrants."  During the 2010-2011 academic year, as the first faculty and graduate student grantees carried out their research, the UCCNRS made its second round of grants for research to be done in the 2011-2012 academic year on the theme of Race/Gender/Class "Intersectionality."  (More on these research areas below.).

WHAT IS NEW ABOUT NEW RACIAL STUDIES?

The election of Barack Obama as President was popularly interpreted and greeted as the dawning of a new, "post-racial" era in the United States. The fact that a black man now occupied the highest post in the land was presented as evidence that the nation had moved "beyond race."

Yes, Obama's election was inspiring. But often lost in such celebrations of post-racialism is the persistence, and in many cases the deepening, of racial stratification, inequality, and difference. Consider, for example, the glaring injustice of our system of crime and punishment; the racial inequalities embedded in the subprime mortgage crisis; the endemic racial dimensions of neoliberalism with its disinvestment in the public sector; the ongoing health costs of environmental racism; the deep linkages between race, poverty, and the denigration of women; and the continuing elective affinities between racism and empire.

So what's "new"? Certainly, since WWII there have massive changes -- worldwide shifts and ruptures -- in the meaning of race and the dynamics of racism. Not only in the United States but all around the world the previously taken-for-granted dimensions of racism -- the white supremacy that went unquestioned before -- has been challenged and reconfigured. There has been a real -- but still only partial -- repudiation of that "old racism," the system that was visible in state-sanctioned Jim Crow segregation, in South African apartheid, and in the planetary archipelago of empire and colony.  That system has been replaced by a more complex, sophisticated, and incorporative logic of race.

In short, there has been a shift from racial domination to racial hegemony. The new world racial system enables more mobility, both geographic and socioeconomic, across racial lines; it grants more political rights and acknowledges socio-cultural difference under the banners of pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity. But these transformations, though significant, do not fundamentally alter the racially-based structures of contemporary society, globally, nationally, locally, and indeed experientially. Indeed it is not a shock to recognize that the reforms we just mentioned have had contradictory effects: they simultaneously UNDERMINE and REINFORCE racial inequality and racial domination.  Despite the epochal struggles of the post-WWII period, we still live in a world of racial contradictions, where democracy and despotism collide and clash, where what Robin Kelley describes as "freedom dreams" - coexist with what Pierre-André Taguieff calls the force du préjugé, the “force of prejudice.”  It is this contradiction that defines what is "new" about "new racial studies."

In the US, and especially in California, the transition to a "majority/minority society" encourages a rethinking of the color-line and a reconceptualization of racial hierarchy in numerous ways -- for example sparking debates between a white/non-white versus black/non-black binary concept of race, about the racial position of "middleman" minorities, and about the "Latin Americanization" of US racial dynamics. The growth and increased visibility of "mixed race" individuals and collectivities destabilizes fixed notions of race, racial identity, and the performance of race. New racialized categories such as "Middle Eastern and South Asian American" (MEASA) are appearing as a result of neo-imperial warfare (notably the global "war on terror") and the geopolitical realignments that go with it.  Intersectionality also pervades the political-economic realm, as the US transitions rather definitively to a postindustrial and financialized model of accumulation, with its attendant neoliberal social practices: mass incarceration, privatization, subemployment, etc.  Even in the biosocial sphere there are a host of new (or "re-newed") questions about race.  An examples here is genomic approaches to race, which both reiterate and repudiate the eugenicism of the past.  Consider that such areas as pharmacogenomics and criminal forensics  both renew and reinvent long-running debates about "racial science."

Changes in the racial system are indeed evident.

PRIORITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

Enormous areas of research are opened up by the racial contradictions that pervade the contemporary social order -- more than we could possibly detail here or perhaps even imagine. Rather than enumerate particular topics about which a new racial studies approach can foster meaningful inquiry, in what follows we enumerate our priorities for CNRS’s development. Our list takes the form of five broad categories of interest, five proposed research clusters. To introduce our direction here, to signal what UCCNRS will be doing over the next five years, we simply offer some themes that seem to us to possess potential for further exploration. No attempt is made here to be comprehensive; our more modest objective is to highlight potential issues.

Here are the five research areas we have tentatively defined:

1.The Nation and its Peoples: Citizens, Denizens, Migrants

2.Race/Gender/Class "Intersectionality"

3.Race-Making, Race-Neutrality, and Race-Consciousness

4.The Racial State: Despotic and Democratic Dimensions

5.Global Race: Empire, PostColoniality, and DeColoniality

To read brief descriptions of these areas, please click on their titles here, or on our home page.

A CONCLUDING NOTE

The goals of the UCCNRS are strategic: to contribute to the production of new knowledge and new approaches to contemporary dilemmas of race and racism; to model what an innovative research/teaching center in the general area of racial studies can be under the new racial conditions of the 21st century; to establish new intellectual pathways for promising students; and to promote a racially diverse university at all levels.

The logic for focusing scholarship on new racial studies in California is compelling. Much of the "colorblind" discourse and policy agenda was pioneered in California. Our state has the largest and most diverse population in the country, and debates have loomed large over such issues as affirmative action and the democratization of access to higher education; immigration policy; the links between race, class, and gender; and the pipeline through which so many young men of color end up in prison. California, a state that should be offering the rest of the nation positive lessons on the transition to a multiracial society, has instead been the political battleground for contentious state propositions to restrict immigrant rights (Proposition 187) and curtail affirmative action (Proposition 209).

That said, among first-class universities across the globe, the UC system possesses perhaps the widest and deepest "bench" of scholarly talent devoted to these issues. The UC system has in the past created important group-specific initiatives, including various Multi-Campus Research Programs (MRPs) dealing with specific ethno-racial communities in California. Such efforts continue to have our strong support. Yet there has been no overall effort to systematize UC researchers' work on changing racial dynamics, to network among race scholars broadly, or to disseminate and render visible our findings. Neither in California, nor on the national level, has that kind of organizational effort taken place. In sum, the University of California is uniquely situated to take a leadership role in addressing the issues, concerns, and questions posed by - new racial studies.

We look forward to discussing these ideas and approaches more broadly with scholars and activists working in a variety of parallel initiatives and settings.