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Publication Details

Reference
Alexander, Amanda (2004) Representation, Recognition and Race: Evaluating Spaces for the Reproduction of White Dominance
WE WRITE : 1-11.

Summary
“No one is shushing us anymore; no one is intimidated or quiet. The voices are loud, the accents various, and the result is not harmony – as in the old image of pluralism as a symphony, with each group playing its own instrument (but who wrote the music?); the result is a jangling discord.”
-- Michael Walzer, On Toleration (96)

In his reflections on American multiculturalism, Michael Walzer describes what he views as the transition, over the course of the 20th century, from minority politics marked by timidity and silence to those of noisy arguments and assertiveness. The radical character of American pluralism, he argues, is much more apparent today; minorities are no longer expected to play their instrument in agreeable harmony in a symphony composed by white, Christian, Englishspeaking, male power-holders. Or are they? Walzer correctly asserts that the US is a far more egalitarian place socially, though not economically, than it was sixty years ago, yet, upon close analysis of the politics of recognition and representation, it becomes less clear whether we are beyond the reach of a white symphony or script. Though changes in the social atmosphere may allow for a cacophony of minority voices within formal politics, this has not prevented white dominance from reproducing itself within movements for representation and recognition. This paper will explore the philosophical commitments connected to the politics of representation and recognition (together, the politics which strive for an acknowledgement of the identities of marginalized groups), and will question whether members of a dominant group can help to promote sounder representations of marginalized groups without recreating forms of dominance in the process. I will focus on efforts to make gains for black Americans, and will argue that the practice of such politics may leave blacks more silent, and less in control of their projected identities, than we would hope. I will finally turn my analysis to the reproduction of white dominance within the realm of student activism, particularly on Harvard’s campus.

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