Devon Carbado

Associate Vice Chancellor of BruinX for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and The Honorable Harry Pregerson Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law



Kimberle Crenshaw:

We’ve been talking about how the election is a culmination of a lot of dynamics that we've seen in recent history, going all the way back to the founding of the Republic. There is now a response that seeks to normalize this election. These kinds of conversations are precisely the things that we have to worry about as we move to a more peaceful transition of power. What is your response to this? What should be our response to this? How do we think about this moment of neutralizing what got us here, and normalizing it as we move forward?


Devon Carbado:

It is surprising to me the extent to which there was this quick move to normalization. And it’s surprising not just because it happened, but from the quarters from which it is happening. Which is to say, it’s happening even in a liberal context. It’s certainly happening all over the media. I might understand why President Obama would extend an olive branch to Donald Trump, in the context of a peaceful transition of power. What I don’t understand is why the peaceful transition of power requires the normalization of the moment.

Presumably, we can have the peaceful transition of power and political contestation of the constellation of power that we are likely to see across the three branches of government under a Trump presidency. Why can’t we talk about that?

It might be particularly important to protest in this kind of moment, precisely because of the way racial change has typically occurred in the United States. It’s not as though racial change occurs in moments of harmony.

Racial change occurs when there’s disruption, when there are people willing to draw lines. It's not as though America says to African Americans, “Tell us what you want. We will give it to you. Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” That's not how it happens. This moment of closing ranks, this normalizing moment belies the ways in which racial change has historically occurred. Part of the pernicious way in which this has happened—which again, to me, it's quite surprising—is the race-neutral, color-blind explanations that are being proffered for this particular electoral result.

I spent far too much time yesterday, as many of you presumably were, watching television in a state of grief and mourning. In that context, I was trying to take note of what people were offering up to account for this particular result, to hear some of what people were saying. It’s about the "year of the outsider." Which is to say, it's not about race. It’s about the fact that Trump had a positive message, not about race. It’s about the difficulties of successfully winning a third term. It’s about popularism, it’s about anti-establishment politics. It’s about Republicans finally coming home. It’s about people not making Trump's negatives a deal breaker.

Now, we can pause and ask ourselves whether these are truly race-neutral explanations, but let's accept them as race-neutral explanations, and try and understand why there was this investment in eliding race, against a backdrop of a very racialized campaign. That, I completely do not understand. Or perhaps, I do. Some of you are familiar with the Shaggy song “It Wasn’t Me.” If racism could narrate its own song in this moment, it would say something like, “So you caught me red-handed. It wasn’t me. So you saw me at the Trump rally. It wasn’t me. So you heard me in the streets,” and you say, “It wasn’t me.” There's a kind of disavowal that's happening in this moment that I find quite shocking.

It’s a disavowal, it seems to me, that’s consistent with the way in which we continue to sweep race under the rug. This choice is not new. Think about the context in which Obama won. Immediately after he won, what did we do? We ushered in the moment of post-racialism. Something quite similar is going on here. It's a different kind of disavowal, to be sure, but it's a disavowal nonetheless. I want to say one thing to take us back to the idea of intersectionality before shutting up, as I just said.

What’s striking to me about the conversation about white women is that we have to keep in mind that the white women vote occurs against three important backdrops. A: you have a man on record of not just saying sexist things, but doing misogynistic things. B: you have a woman who’s on record of saying pro-feminist things and doing pro-feminist things. C: she’s not anybody’s radical. It’s not as though you have a real radical in Hillary Clinton. It’s against those three backdrops, in a way, that trying to understand white women’s votes becomes crucial. My own thinking is that we have not sufficiently interrogated white women’s relationship to whiteness. I think that needs to be more squarely on our political agenda.

It’s not to say that that is the explanation at its core for where white women are in this particular electoral cycle. There are other things going on, and the other speakers have named that. I do think we need to not hesitate, not be shy about, and instead speak truth to power, to the way in which whiteness historically has constituted white women's identity, and the extent to which that continues to play itself out in the context of contemporary politics.