History & Literature 90de. After Affirmative Action: Race, Justice, and Inequality in America since the 1990s

Instructor: Patricia Chu
Terms: Spring Term

Thursdays, 2-4 pm | Location: TBA

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

In this course our exploration surrounds four contemporary novels by African American and Asian American authors with the theory and history of the new political, economic and social context these authors were confronting while writing political literature. We examine the roots of changes in American racial politics while also studying how minority artists urgently seek new ways to represent injustice and imagine new strategies of fighting it.  We will discuss the juridical, administrative and cultural repudiation of civil rights-era understandings of and remedies for racial inequality that form the backdrop of these novels. Many of these trends began to take hold in the 1990s. Affirmative action was replaced by “diversity.” “Reverse discrimination” lawsuits were on the rise and turned white people into victims of racial remedies, making Proposition 187 and Proposition 209 possible. White identity politics was reconfigured to make it acceptable in the mainstream. The war on poverty became the war on drugs, and thus a war on poor communities and families. Public education was resegregated and privatized, and the school to prison pipeline was established. Criminal law and immigration law, once firmly separated, converged. Homeland Security took priority over civil rights. “Value” could only mean monetary value, and justice had to make financial sense rather than moral sense. The post-Katrina era is one in which these trends created the conditions for first, the racist emergency response launched in the immediate wake of the storm and second, the less-publicized but even more consequential “restructuring” of the region along lines of race, class and corporate profit. Our work in this course, guided by historians, legal scholars, creative writers, and political theorists, is to understand both how we got here and how we might imagine and engender a new destination.

View Site