Encountering liberalism: devaluing the economics of racism.

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Stein, Robert E. “Encountering liberalism: devaluing the economics of racism.” Diss. Michigan U, 1999. 275 pages.


See especially Chapter 1, pages 7-14 and 20-21; Chapter 6, “Constraining encounters: race, identity, and economics in Lumbee 'Indian' history,” pages 165-220; Chapter 7, “Recognition and politics in the Lumbee Indian community,” pages 221-244, and Chapter 8, “Freedom and openness at the center of liberalism,” pages 250-258.

Stein uses the history of the Lumbee as a case study to illustrate theoretical discussions about economic individualism, liberalism, and identity politics. In particular, he uses the works of Richard Rorty and W. E. B. Du Bois. He explains, in his Introduction, that after his theoretical discussions, his last two chapters return to discuss the Lumbee. He states, “The case of the Lumbee Indians . . . is especially illuminating of the relationship between freedom, economic individualism, and race. Their history is at the intersection of two manifestations of racism in the United States, one directed at Native Americans and the other at African Americans. The dynamics of using race to bolster economic chances is therefore amply evident in the Lumbee history. The Lumbee also occupy a unique place in U.S. politics, akin to Native Americans [with] sovereignty enough to make group distinction legal, but far enough away from sovereignty to be analogous to non-Indian minority groups. This position makes the group dynamics--and the effects of group recognition on these dynamics--particularly interesting for the identity politics debate” (pp. 20-21).

Stein illustrates W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of economic individualism as it relates to racism with examples from Lumbee history. He also looks at a different kind of racism--that aimed at Native Americans. This discussion begins with a detailed overview of issues related to federal recognition, particularly the way in which the Lumbee situation does not fit the patterns assumed by both past and present government criteria for recognition. Stein gives a good explanation of the (possibly misunderstood or overlooked) fact that Lumbee ancestors have not always thought of themselves as Indian, because “. . . the category would not have been as important to the people who fit into it as it was to the people fitting them into it” (p. 180).

Stein also discusses the Lumbee status as free persons of color, and ways in which Henry Berry Lowry and his deeds prompted the Lumbee to begin thinking of themselves as one people and as Indian. He then explains the Lumbee's efforts to create a separate status for themselves in Robeson County as Indians (rather than accept classification as Blacks) in terms of  W. E. B. Du Bois's ideas about “. . . the color line as a tool for those privileged by the economic conditions of the day” (p. 196). Then, he illustrates economic racism against Native Americans with examples of Lumbee efforts to gain assistance for their school (1888) and federal recognition. In the BIA's administration of services for Indians as well as (through the petition process) determining which nonrecognized tribes will be eligible for services, Stein finds “leakage” (a concept related to liberalism). Other barriers he identifies are (1) the seeming focus of the federal acknowledgement process on keeping “non-Indian” groups out, rather than getting non-federally recognized tribes in, and (2) racism, and adherence to the “small pie” theory, by recognized tribes. In the conclusion of this chapter, Stein presents strong, effective arguments against valuing the frequently-heard argument against Lumbee federal recognition that “. . . 'even Indians don't think that [the Lumbee] are Indians' or 'even Indians don't think [the Lumbee] should get any money' ” (p. 217).

Chapter 7, “Recognition and politics in the Lumbee community,” presents arguments for and against recognition for the Lumbee in light of liberalism and identity politics. It discusses arguments against legislative recognition including fairness (the Lumbee should go through the petition process); lack of federal funding; and inexplicit, illiberal arguments based on race. Then, Stein discusses tangible and intangible aspects of the fight, relating them to group rights and identity politics. He presents a liberal argument against recognizing the Lumbee as a discriminated minority: “limiting equal treatment to people who belong to groups which have experienced decades or centuries of discrimination still leaves a vast population equally in need of federal resources” (p. 227). He then explains why “these [liberal] arguments work better at the theoretical level than in practice” (p. 227). Further, “wielding one's identity out of economic need . . . detracts from identity by straining relationships among the group” (p. 228), as evidenced by strains between the Lumbee and Tuscarora. And there is “. . . the danger of papering over important divisions [within the Lumbee community] by stressing a common identity” (p. 229). Finally, Stein explains how “the recognition process is fraught with problems which liberal theorists can learn from” (pp. 240-241). He also explores the problems that would come from deconstructing race as a category.

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