Laughing To Keep From Crying: Resisting “Race” Through Irony

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Philosophy on 2010-09-06 20:59Z by Steven

Laughing To Keep From Crying: Resisting “Race” Through Irony

Tympanum: A Journal of Comparative Literary Studies
Number 4, (2000)
issn# 1522-7723

Ronald Sundstrom, Director and Associate Professor of African American Studies
University of San Francisco

He wanted to rise-a malicious, ironic voice insisted that he rise-and, at once, to leave this temple and go out into the world.

“Race,” whatever it may be, is something that we are not yet done with. We may never be done with it. It may be a category that we will always be present in some form or another in our societies. Or, it may be the case that the category is on the verge of extinction, and that it will fade as its social usefulness, importance, and its descriptive and explanatory power fades. Whatever its future is, a case can be made that at present “race” is descriptive of social life and organization in the U.S., as well as other parts of the globe. This is a descriptive, and not a normative claim.

As a human category “race” is invaluable part our attempts to explain and understand the history and realities of oppression, bigotry, and violence in the U.S. Deprived of the use of “race” as a social category, the social sciences would not be able to provide nuanced and insightful explanations of U.S. history and this society’s social landscape. This history and social landscape is what I refer to as the American “racial” politic. In addition plays a role in our attempts to organize communities in our struggle to redress “racial” wrongs, and to end racism and “racial” oppression. For the limited purposes of social science and politics, “race” is legitimate and ought to be conserved. That “race” is useful, descriptive, or explanatory now is not to say that will always be true. The future of “race” is going to be determined by future forms of social organization. What I have argued for above is a pragmatic and limited role for race.

A pragmatic and limited role for “race,” however, does not placate those, like myself, who are leery of it. The conservation of “race,” in any form, is worrisome. Social identities are powerful elements of our social worlds. They are thickly wrapped in complicated and often troublesome histories. Their durations and the twists and turns they make through our worlds during their tenures are unpredictable. Such is the case with “race.” The history of “race” in the U.S. is soaked in blood. Yet, and for good reasons, “race” is the centerpiece of identity for many individuals and communities. Still, worries and doubts remain about the social utility of “race.”…

Read the entire essay here.

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