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Annals of academia: Professors resurrect South African apartheid theory of “honorary whites” to describe Asian-Americans, light-skinned Latinos

October 26, 2018

Here’s s how Harvard can win that pesky lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against Asian-Americans in its admissions policies:

Just reclassify them as “honorary whites.”

Honorary whites? That sounds scientific! And also–wasn’t that term–“honorary whites”–actually coined by the South African government during apartheid days to give Asians who lived there most of the privileges of white people?

No matter. The term has been given new life in a theory floating around academia these days. On Oct. 19 Pawan H. Dhingra, a professor of American studies at Amherst College, gave a lecture at the City of New York University’s Graduate Center arguing that what America needs now are “new conceptions of race.”

Apparently the old conception was that there are just two races: “whites” (with their all-pervasive ideas about white supremacy) and “collective blacks” (a victimological catchall for everyone else). Dhingra’s argument,  according to his lecture summary, is that that’s too “binary,” and we need to expand the classification system to three races:

Whites and collective blacks represent the binary poles of race and racism, where practically all attention to race has fallen. Honorary whites, however, are minorities who approximate or even surpass whites in terms of many measures. In the category are many Asian Americans, light-skinned Latinos, and Middle-Eastern Americans.

Dhingra’s ideas aren’t original. They were invented more than a a decade ago by Duke University sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in a 2006 paper titled “From Bi-Racial to Tri-Racial: Towards a New System of Racial Stratification in the USA”:

Because of drastic changes in the demography of the nation as well as changes in the racial structure of the world-system, the United States is developing a complex, Latin America-like racial order. Specifically, I suggest that the new order will have two central features: three loosely organized racial strata (white, honorary white, and the collective black) and a pigmentocratic logic.

According to Bonilla-Silva’s own pigmentocratic logic, we ought to look at ourselves as less like a melting pot of ethnicities and more like a Central American banana republic:

I conclude this article by outlining some of the potential implications of Latin Americanization for the future of race relations in the United States.

So Dhingra is simply running with Bonilla-Silva’s ball:

But, it is a mistake to interpret such trends as signaling the declining significance of race or of white supremacy. Race matters even as, and arguably especially when, some groups appear to threaten whites’ privileged status.

In other words, by creating the new category of “honorary whites,” instead of moving toward a post-racial society, we’ll be able to reproduce the elaborate casta system that prevails south of the border, where everyone is scrutinized by exact shade of skin tone.

But not to worry. At least Harvard will be off the hook for being accused of deeming Asian applicants deficient in “humor” and “grit”.

Because they’ll now be “honorary whites,” won’t they? So no discrimination there!

Posted by Charlotte Allen

From → Uncategorized

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