Ignatiev and the “Race Traitor Journal” – How Realizable is his Theory?

Term Paper 2009 12 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



1. Introduction

2. Noel Ignatiev
2.1. Autobiographical account
2.2. Political and sociological views
2.3. New Abolitionist Society

3. “What we believe” – critique and check for actability

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

In 2003 a critical issue aroused the interest of many people in the United States and the term race traitor was on everyone’s lips. The officiating president, George W. Bush, militated against the Affirmative Action Practice at the University of Michigan Law School . This school used a points system for their admissions procedure, which granted people of certain ethnicities (e.g. African Americans) 20 extra points a priori. In the United States it is unconstitutional to put up quotas and , thereby, treat certain people preferentially. This procedure in Michigan was a hidden quota system for President Bush and, therefore, he wanted to prohibit it. Nonetheless, affirmative action in general has been a welcome means of providing for equality after a long time of harsh inequalities and harassment of many people of color. Due to a statement of the White House, it seemed as if National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who is African American, was highly supportive of the President’s decision. Because of her skin color, she was perceived to be a beneficiary of that law. Many people, especially in the African American community, felt betrayed because one of them supported the supersession of a system that had been established to support suppressed African Americans, who still suffer from inequalities. Rice was allowed to publish her own statement in which she declared that she believes that “it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others” but that in fact she is convinced that “race neutral means are preferable” (qtd. in “Rice Statement on Campus diversity”).

From that point on, Rice was considered to be the ultimate race traitor. She was said to betray her own people and to be in favor of a system that oppresses minorities. She was even said to have been used by the administration as a tool to dulcify the African Americans and to show that even a colored person does support this decision. The overall effect of all this was not only that Condoleezza Rice lost the support of the African American community, but also that at that point she had to realize that “her Blackness gradually lost its value as a cloak for her patrons’ [George Bush] racism” which questioned her usefulness to the Bush government, and even worse, that “[t]he affirmative action opinions of a loyal Black servant carry little weight” as The Internet Magazine The Black Commentator argues. Her support from the Bush administration afterwards decreased perceptibly. So Rice tripped up herself and lost the esteem of both racial groups she tried to do the splits between. One could argue that all her hard work and dedication was pointless.

At the end of the 20th century, the New Abolitionist Movement and a redefining of the term race traitor, kindled by Noel Ignatiev, a famous American history professor, started to provoke the interest of predominantly academic people. The main focus was on the question how it can even be useful to be a race traitor for anti-racist purposes and how it can help to destroy an unfair system.

Ignatiev, as the most famous participant in that discourse, is best-known for his new-abolitionist claim that “the point is not to interpret whiteness but to abolish it”. He and his co-editors at the Race Traitor Journal interpret the term quite differently: to them, a race traitor is not primarily a disloyal person to his or her own race, as it was understood before the New-Abolitionist Movement, but it is the only true fighter for humanity and a race-less society. They want white people, who enjoy the unearned privileges of their whiteness, as it is argued in Critical Race Theory, to be race traitors in order to cater for equality and to abolish whiteness. They declare that “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity” (Ignatiev).

This paper will argue that the claim is not practical enough and that it only addresses a small group of people who have academic background knowledge about Critical Race Theory already. It will also show that people, who try to act along Ignatiev’s guide lines, only harm themselves even when they mean well. The case of Condoleezza Rice is the opposite of what Ignatiev is talking about, because of Rice being African American and not Caucasian and, obviously, it was not a clever move to start her fight for equality by taking away one of the few privileges the African Americans have, but her intention was genuine. A Caucasian would not be judged differently at all if he behaved like Rice did. He would be accused just the same, although he would fight for equality and would want to get rid of race distinctions. Rice was called a race traitor and completely misunderstood, and so would be any other person, no matter the skin color or ethnicity.

The paper will proof that the theses are inapplicable to neither mainstream nor individual and that they are too theoretical to be acted out. The intention of Ignatiev’s claim is good, but his ideas are doomed to remain simple theory. He is naïve to believe that by following his rules, racism and suppression of the suppressed can be ended.



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ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Ignatiev Traitor Journal” Realizable Theory



Title: Ignatiev and the “Race Traitor Journal” – How Realizable is his Theory?