What does race do?

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science on 2015-09-21 00:45Z by Steven

What does race do?

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 38, Issue 8, 2015
Special Issue: Ethnic and Racial Studies Review
pages 1401-1406
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1016064

Alana Lentin, Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis
University of Western Sydney, Australia

In writing on ‘John Rex’s Main Mistake’, Michael Banton reveals more about Banton than he does about Rex. I use Banton’s discussion of the differences between his own and John Rex’s ‘mistakes’ to explore why, in my view, race continues to have analytical purchase in a purportedly ‘post-racial’ age

Why race?

Michael Banton claims that while he ‘wanted to supersede the use of race in sociology altogether’, Rex argued that its meaning should be expanded to ‘cover other beliefs of a deterministic kind’ (Banton this volume, original emphasis). This was born of Rex’s insistence on the significance of class and colonialism for understanding racial categories. Banton notes Rex’s neglect of other concepts that may have been ‘fit for purpose’, such as ‘gender, faith, or social origin’ (Banton this volume). However, the search for alternatives seems a fruitless one, even for Banton, who has devoted his entire career precisely to attempting to answer the question ‘why race?’

…Race as ordering, as management, sedimentation, sifting, as correction and disciplining, as empowering some while causing others to buckle under that power has always relied on a plurality of processes. Racism’s genocidal impulses have been condemned by those who live by the logics of division that ultimately enable the other’s annihilation. To be clearer: I can be utterly opposed to deaths in police custody while doubting whether I should send my child to the public school in the Aboriginal neighbourhood. So, race, not as wrong-headed theorization of inherent difference, but as a logic that gathers a suite of rationales in its armoury, persists precisely because so much has been invested in dismissing it as unreasonable. This is why Jared Sexton (2008, 27), following Albert Memmi, rightly points to the problem of attempting to unveil racism’s ‘secure foundation’. The arguments of those who call for race to be abandoned because it somehow participates in the reproduction of racism miss the point that there is no way of separating between race and racism as though racism were easily definable in relation to a pre-prescribed series of actions, beliefs or policies. On the contrary, while racism is ‘incoherent, unjustified’, according to Sexton, this does not mean that it is not ‘systemic, structuring and governing for the whole racist complex’ (27). In other words, it is not by treating racism as irrational that that very irrationality dissipates. Rather, as Sexton so presciently remarks, ‘racism does its most essential work in the shadow of the very attempt to explain it’ (27). We can see this most clearly in the workings of the supposedly ‘anti-racist racist states’ that most readers, I wager, inhabit…

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François Hollande’s misguided move: taking ‘race’ out of the constitution

Posted in Articles, Europe, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2013-02-12 18:31Z by Steven

François Hollande’s misguided move: taking ‘race’ out of the constitution

The Guardian

Alana Lentin, Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Social Analysis
University of Western Sydney

Valérie Amiraux, Professor of Sociology
University of Montreal

Not talking about races does not lead naturally to the demise of ‘race thinking’ – it just obscures the persistent inequalities

It’s become something of a commonplace to speak of the US as having entered a post-racial age. Both the right and the left have heralded the end of race, either triumphantly or as a way of dismissing talk of racism as so much political correctness. However, in Europe, the debate about race – post- or otherwise – is virtually non-existent compared with North America, where race never really goes away as a topic no matter how much people wish it would. Which is why it is surprising that the issue has become a significant part of François Hollande’s term in office. During the French presidential elections last spring, the Socialist candidate pledged to remove the word “race” from the French constitution. Currently, it states that “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It guarantees equality before the law for all citizens without distinction of origin, race or religion.” He is promising to effect that change before the summer…

…If ending racism were as simple as banning the one word, racism would be a thing of the past in Europe where, following the Holocaust, “race” was rightly declared a scientifically bogus term and officially dismissed as adding nothing to the understanding of human difference. However, racism did not simply melt away, as the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose participation in the UNESCO anti-racist project which led the charge against race from the early 1950s, admitted later…

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