What is black culture? Does it have an essence? What do we lose and gain by assuming that it does, and by building our laws accordingly? This bold and provocative book questions the common presumption of political multiculturalism that social categories such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality are defined by distinctive cultural practices.
Richard Ford argues against law reform proposals that would attempt to apply civil rights protections to "cultural difference." Unlike many criticisms of multiculturalism, which worry about "reverse discrimination" or the erosion of core Western cultural values, the book's argument is primarily focused on the adverse effects of multicultural rhetoric and multicultural rights on their supposed beneficiaries.
In clear and compelling prose, Ford argues that multicultural accounts of cultural difference do not accurately describe the practices of social groups. Instead these accounts are prescriptive: they attempt to canonize a narrow, parochial, and contestable set of ideas about appropriate group culture and to discredit more cosmopolitan lifestyles, commitments, and values.
The book argues that far from remedying discrimination and status hierarchy, "cultural rights" share the ideological presuppositions, and participate in the discursive and institutional practices, of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Ford offers specific examples in support of this thesis, in diverse contexts such as employment discrimination, affirmative action, and transracial adoption.
This is a major contribution to our understanding of today's politics of race, by one of the most distinctive and important young voices in America's legal academy.