Harry Chang: A Seminal Theorist of Racial Justice

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-05-01 20:39Z by Steven

Harry Chang: A Seminal Theorist of Racial Justice

Monthly Review
January 2007

Bob Wing

It is little known that a shy Korean immigrant named Harry Chang made vital contributions to the theory and practice of racial justice in the United States. In his most fruitful period, the 1970s, his work shaped the thinking and political work of numerous movement organizations, mostly led by people of color. Although he died prematurely in 1979, his work helped lay the foundations of two of the most progressive and influential theories of racism: the theory of racial formation and critical race theory.

To one degree or another, Harry may be credited with a number of ideas that were highly controversial in the 1970s but which in recent years have become much more accepted. His starting point was to highlight the centrality of the “one drop” rule that determines race in the United States (only). By analyzing this rule, he showed that racial categories are socio-historical categories, not genetic or genealogical, and that they are qualitatively distinct from class, ethnicity, or nation/nationality categories. Harry coined the term racial formation to underscore the necessity of analyzing racism as a historical process that encompasses the origins of racism, how and why it has changed over time, and the process of eliminating it in a given historical context. He also argued for the centrality of law to racial formation and the inseparability and mutual determination of racial and class formation. Clarifying the distinctiveness of racism also laid the basis for analyzing the intersection of race and nationality…

…Harry’s experience as an immigrant, his study of Cuba, and his analysis of racial categories highlighted the peculiarity of the dialectic of U.S. racial categories: the so-called hypodescent rule by which anyone who appeared to have a single drop of “black blood” was considered black. He commented on how U.S. racism often viciously divided immigrant siblings from Latin America and the Caribbean into black and white. Such anti-human racial categories, Harry recognized, are peculiar to the United States alone.

In fact, he argued, these categories themselves harbor a chauvinistic logic: “Inherent in the notion of ‘White’ is the requirement of genetic ‘purity’ while the notion of ‘Black’ harbors the assumption of genetic ‘contamination.’ One of the peculiarities of the racist psyche in the U.S. is that its sense of a ‘drop of African blood’ is unbelievably acute but it is practically blind to ‘a drop of European blood.’” “White” and “black” are not the least bit neutral; they contained the chauvinistic logic of pure versus contaminated, clean versus dirty, and pure breed versus mongrel. Racial categories, in other words, are not determined by natural science or genealogy, and were certainly not an attempt at neutral physical description. “Racial categories are not biological categories, but social-relational categories that fetishize genetic diversity.” The logic of racial categories is itself racist…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,