"Implicit in Agamben's conception of bare life is the notion that inclusion can be a social vehicle for exclusion and that inclusive exclusions can have constitutive power. This understanding allows us to conceive of blackness itself as a form of bare life. Simply put, the notion is this: blackness has often been included in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion (that is, its capacity to be subordinated). This inclusive exclusion historically has positioned black people both inside and outside Americas national imagination - as a matter of law, politics, and social life. Blackness, in this sense, might be thought of as an insular identity; like Puerto Rico, blackness is foreign in a domestic sense. This racial liminality - outside and inside the borders of the American body, not quite not American - is precisely what I enlist the term racial naturalization to convey. To borrow from Gloria Anzaldua, racial naturalization produces a borderlands space within which "you are at home, a stranger."
As will become clear, the foregoing claims eschew the rubric of second-class citizenship. By and large, the literature on second-class citizenship understands this status to be constituted by (a) the acquisition of the legal or formal rights of citizenship (such as the right to vote) and (b) economic and social inequality. Thus, in the context of Jim Crow, both black Americans and Japanese Americans were second-class citizens; while both groups had acquired formal citizenship, or citizenship as legal status, neither group had achieved social equality.
This essay avoids the language of second-class citizenship because the process of naturalization it describes does not necessarily culminate in, and is not exhausted by the acquisition of, formal citizenship status. In short, one need not be an American citizen to racially belong to America. To racially belong to America as a nonwhite is to experience racial inequality. To become an American citizen is often to cross the border into, not outside of, this racial inequality.
The above claim is not intended to suggest that people of color experience only racism in America. Nor is the argument that the American national identity is constituted only by racism. Because significant racial progress has been made in the United States, the weight of racism on our national identity, and in the lives of people of color, has significantly diminished. Still, racism persists in the United States - rarely in its Jim Crow iteration, to be sure - but the practice persists nonetheless. Examining the relationship between racism and Americanization helps to explain why - namely, that racism not only divides us as Americans; it also binds us as a nation in a multiracial hierarchy."
- Devon W. Carbado, "Racial Naturalization" (September 2005).