Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s Alternative Progressive Vision

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins interviews Roberto Unger in The Nation:

ROBERTO MANGABEIRA UNGER: To grasp the meaning of this moment for the future of the country, it is useful to begin by distinguishing the immediate background—the failure of the established approach to racial injustice in the United States—from the larger context of which this failure forms a part: the disorientation of American progressives and the long-standing absence in American politics of any program responsive to the needs, interests, and aspirations of the working-class majority of the country, white or black.

The prevailing response to racial injustice in the United States has been the integrationist orthodoxy. It treats racial injustice as a threshold issue, to be addressed before all problems of economic equality and opportunity. Its signature expression is affirmative action. It has done little for those who most require protection, the vast number of black people who languish in prisons and dead-end jobs. This approach has offended the white working-class majority, who believe themselves to be victims of a conspiracy between sanctimonious white elites and the representatives of black workers. And it has provided a model for the identity politics that has addressed legitimate demands for respect and recognition only by diverting the country from engagement with its structural problems.

There is an alternative. The alternative is to distinguish individualized racial discrimination from the advancement of the unequipped, the excluded, and the impoverished.

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