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Racial Spectacles: Promoting a Colorblind Agenda through Direct Democracy

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-78052-080-3, eISBN: 978-1-78052-081-0

Publication date: 30 June 2011


Direct democracy by citizen initiatives is often heralded as the avenue for the true will of the people to be heard. While scholars have debated whether this leads to a form of Madison's “tyranny of the majority,” the debate over the concrete impact of such initiatives on racially marginalized groups remains unsettled. We examine a different question about racially marginalized groups' interests in this process: the symbolic assertion of white supremacy expressed through this mechanism of majority will. We develop the concept of “racial spectacles” to describe the narrative vehicles that serve to symbolically reassert and reinforce real existing racial hierarchies and inequalities. We explore the creation of these spectacles through the initiative process because it is a state-sanctioned vehicle that enables white dominance. Paradoxically, these campaigns that purport to be colorblind depend on the enactment of these racial spectacles. Through an analysis of five statewide anti-affirmative action initiative campaigns from 1996 to 2008, we explore both macro and micro political dynamics: public displays of these campaigns as well as individual, private agency expressed in the public and private act of voting; court decisions in initiative litigation as well as individual and interest group participation in these cases. Ultimately, we argue that this form of racial spectacle further inculcates the public in the postracial ideology of colorblindness.


Davis, A.M. and Ernst, R. (2011), "Racial Spectacles: Promoting a Colorblind Agenda through Direct Democracy", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 55), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 133-171.



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