What Kennedy wrote of Matsuda was equally true of Bell: By claiming that being a member of a minority group automatically connotes a certain and superior worldview, he argued, she “stereotypes scholars.” The CLS racialism simply inverted pernicious white stereotypes about black people: Instead of being inherently inferior, they were inherently superior.
Language changes over time. It is an act of invention that reflects social norms, generational change, technological developments and new ways of understanding mediated reality. For example, before 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq words such as "IED," "UAVs," "counter-insurgency," "Predator" and "Reaper" were not in common use.
American political culture has reflected a similar evolution/devolution in language. The phrase "political correctness" has been radically transformed from its original meaning by the Right. The post-civil rights era has also brought such Orwellian newspeak as "reverse racism" and "the race card." These are empty phrases that are easily deconstructed and revealed for the conservative, neoliberal, political work which they do--"reverse racism" is a paradox and non sequitur; "race card" involves the assumption that white supremacy and racism are shared sins across the colorline, and that identifying social inequality rooted in racial bias is somehow a greater sin than racism itself.
One of the newest words in the contemporary public discourse is the word "racialist." It has old roots in the race science eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the last two to three decades, "racialism" (or its cousin "racialist" or "race realism") has been adopted by "polite" white supremacists such as David Duke, the Christian White Nationalist identity movement, and the human biodiversity crowd. In the recent Breitbart inspired muckraking about Derrick Bell and President Obama, "racialist" has circulated throughout the Right-wing blogosphere and media. Most of the conservative public which is using this language has not thought critically about its deployment--they are simply parroting the talking points of the day as offered by the Right-wing media and blogosphere.
However, I was surprised to see this vague and ill defined word, one which I suggest is an onerous and subversive way of calling black and brown people racists, used by Salon's Gary Kamiya:
As befit his racialist ideology, Bell was also a consummate race-card player. His academic career consisted of a long series of racial confrontations with the institutions he worked for. After being hired as an avowed racial token at Harvard, Bell left for Oregon, where he became the first black dean of a non-black school. But he resigned his deanship when the faculty voted against giving tenure to an Asian woman. He then went to Stanford, where a bizarre incident unfolded. Many of the students in his constitutional law course complained about his teaching, saying it was disorganized and excessively politicized.
I am a fan of Kamiya. He is usually a very careful and considerate writer. There is a real danger here: once such language circulates, it becomes part of the public discourse, and opinion leaders use such phrases in the context of a given type of commonsense, where "racialist" is just one more addition to an already muddy vocabulary that already fails to adequately capture the complex nature of race and white supremacy in the decades which followed the 1960s. Kamiya's use of such language is also problematic because once a centrist adopts the language of the fringe, it gives words such as "racialist" and "racialism" both currency and legitimacy.
At the same time, Obama was not a racial bomb-thrower. As Sugrue notes, Obama’s racial views were not yet fully formed, but Obama never subscribed to Bell’s crude racial essentialism and guilt-card playing. If he had been forced to openly state whether he agreed with Bell’s racialist theories, he would have been caught in a bind, trapped between the racial solidarity that was expected of him and the universalism he was inwardly inclined toward. But he was not forced to.
So what exactly is a "racialist?" What is "racialist" thinking or behavior? Is racialist just another way of conflating those who understand the empirical reality that "race matters," it over-determines life chances, and that American society is one structured in many different types of inequality (race, class, gender, and sexuality) with white bigotry and hate?
Teach me something. Please help me understand what all this "racialist" mess is all about.