Abstract

Modern American racial politics remains sharply divided over racial policy issues, with coalitions of political activists, groups, and governing institutions aligned on opposing sides. A “color-blind” policy alliance urges government to act with as little regard to race as possible. A “race-conscious” alliance argues that policies should aim to reduce material racial inequalities and that race-targeted measures are often needed. These modern racial policy alliances are strongly identified with the two major parties; as a result, they contribute to modern political polarization. In a predominantly white electorate, color-blind policies are far more popular than race-conscious ones. President Barack Obama has responded by stressing goals of national unity and foregrounding color-blind policies, while quietly choosing among them on race-conscious grounds and adopting limited race-targeted measures. It remains to be seen whether his approach can succeed in reducing material racial inequalities or immunizing him from charges of reverse racism. It also faces challenges at home and abroad for privileging American national interests above multicultural and internationalist concerns.

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