From the introduction to Clarissa Rile Hayward’s How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces (Cambridge, 2013):
Nevertheless, people do not only learn their identities in narrative form. They learn them practically, as well, as they navigate institutional settings structured by identitarian norms and expectations, and as they experience corporeally the material forms in which those norms and expectations are objectified.
I’m intrigued by this formulation both because it places racialization and because it seems to push back against certain forms of soft multiculturalism that insist on the fluidity of identity or its voluntary nature. As a historian, I work to reconstruct the agency and consciousness of people in the past, and am particularly concerned with the racialized metropolis in the post-civil rights era. This was a time when narrative was in flux, and, in places like Atlanta, segments of an urban Black political elite did tend toward the triumphal in the story they told about race and place, while old institutions changed slowly and metropolitan expansion (white flight and the inmigration of a half million whites to the Atlanta suburbs in the 1980s and early 1990s) created new ones with a new set of identitarian norms.