Slide 1: Antiracism post-race? alana Lentin
...antiracialism subverts complex critiques of race
...in ‘post-racial’, anti-multiculturalist times, racism is departicularized and antiracism deradicalized
...this hampers a truly intersectional politics of resistance
Stuart Hall and others invites us to avoid arguments that privilege race - as genetic code - as explanations for either disadvantage or success. Race is a floating signifier, thus what is important is the Du Boisian ‘badge of race’ and the resultant racism.
This highly important critique has been subverted by a variety of actors who oppose race because they see it as a figleaf behind which the racialised can hide or because they think the emphasis on racism means other problems of disadvantage are ignored.
Those with an anti-multiculturalist, postracial agenda - which includes people on both the right and the left, those who wish to deny racism outright as well as those who feel it has been more or less successfully overcome - have used a version of the argument that race, as Paul Gilroy put it, must ‘end here’.
Postracialism can be read as a simplistic misappropriation of the call to work towards the end of race through working towards dismantling the structures of racism.
Postracialism does not believe these structures exist. The call to look at how discourse creates the structures and strictures of race (and gender) is reinterpreted as ‘it’s just discourse’. In this sense, as I shall show, racism has come to mean everything and nothing.
In the paper I give the example of Peter Tatchell, founder of militant gay rights group, Outrage!.
Tatchell is an example of how wearing the badge of antiracism protects the wearer from being associated with racism. By saying, I am an antiracist and making several, repeated disclaimers about the importance of tolerance, respect for diversity, and freedom of speech, it allows me to go on to make racist claims and carry out racist actions.
This paper does not permit a full character assassination of Tatchell (recommend other articles in Feminist Legal Studies issue 19 by Jasbir Puar and Sara Ahmed, as well as googling Out of Place as well as Gay Imperialism by Haritaworn et al.).
This short clip is exemplary of the way in which nominally antiracist speech masks the postracialist universalism that the paper critiques.
PT appropriates critiques coming from black feminism, for example, of how the reification inherent to prescriptive multiculturalism has stifled the internal hybridity of ‘minority groups’. But he uses these critiques to say that human rights, based on individual-centred universalism should prevail. Autonomous, self-defined modes of resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. that are critical of the hegemony of human rights frameworks have no place.
However, Tatchell is contradictory because his own brand of radical gay resistance - Outrage! - which works very much against the current, refusing negotiation and appeasement, is obviously OK.
What is rejected is any attempt by the racialised to act against racism on their own terms which may mean rejecting the tutelage of white activists such as Tatchell.
The quote from African LGBTQI activists sums up the reaction of most QPOC to Tatchell’s stance.
Tatchell is exemplary of my argument in the paper that the assimilation of certain critiques of essentialisation, emerging from autonomous antiracisms, as well as feminist and queer movements, has led to an appropriation of the label of anti-racism - ‘I am an anti-racist’ as a shield against critique - but also of the experience of racism itself - racism becomes generalised and thus ownable.
Everyone can be a racist, thus everyone can be a victim of racisms (which becomes another word for discrimination, as already pointed by M. Wieviorka in the 1980s). What results is the silencing of racialised experience which, when stifled, contains the risk of extinguishing the struggle against racism which, as Fanon and so many other have taught us, can only be a response to racism as a lived experience.
The distinction between antiracialism and antiracism that I take from Goldberg helps in understanding the genealogy of what I am describing.
Antiracialism means taking a stand against the category of race - the very word. This was the main form taken by post-war European approaches to racism - expunging racism by not talking about race and replacing it terminologically with what are seen as more useful or descriptive terms such as ethnicity or culture.
Goldberg: it does not entail taking a stand against ‘a set of conditions of being or living...’
In contrast, antiracism can mean ‘the risk of death’ in extreme circumstances. In a sense, it has no time to get caught up in discussions about correct terminology because it is about refusing ‘the imposition and constraint... the devaluation and attendant humiliation’ of racism.
However, antiracialism is not named as such. Both antiracialism and antiracism go under the name of antiracism which thus encapsulates a diversity of phenomena, both institutionally endorsed and radically opposed to the state. Indeed, the embroilment of antiracism with state sanctioned positions has led the Indigenes de la Republique in France to reject the label antiracism in favour of the appelation ‘decolonial movement’.
The logic of antiracialism becomes dominant particularly at times that when what we can think of as autonomous, self-defined antiracism makes some gains. The paper gives examples from Britain and France over the last 30 years.
The cooptation of the language of diversity that emerged from the civil rights movement in the US into the political and capitalist mainstream is another example of how antiracialism - a lipservice to ending racism - usurps antiracism. I want to go on to talk about how these legacies have a particularly pernicious effect in purportedly postracial times before ending with some examples of alternatives.
Antiracialism can be usefully read as a precursor to postracialism. Postracialism relativises the experience of racism - variably making claims about racism as a thing of the past or about ‘reverse’ or anti-white racism. Racism becomes either nothing or everything (e.g. universally applicable) under postracialism.
Postracialism is accompanied by a focus on diversity. In our book we theorise the backlash against multiculturalism as part of the postracial moment. Diversity, as a replacement for multiculturalism, conceals the productive ‘histories of antagonism and struggle’ (Ahmed) that were crucial to antiracist (but also antisexist, antihomophobic, etc.) ‘identity politics’.
The fertile complexities and conflicts inherent to what Davina Cooper calls ‘diversity politics’ (as opposed to the coopted ‘politics of diversity’) are reduced to risk-free ‘equal but different’ identities in the space of diversity.
The space of diversity is inhabited by a variety of actors many of whom continue to be shielded by the label of antiracism long since it has been subsumed under antiracialism. So while antiracism as a risky endeavour (in Goldberg’s sense) has been put paid to, it still functions as a label that protects the user from critique.
State institutions as well as individual actors (such as Tatchell) continue to use the antiracist label (clearly seen in the recent UK case of ‘Asian’ grooming gangs: ‘of course we are committed to getting rid of racial disadvantage, but there is a particular problem with Muslims men who ‘prey on young girls’, etc...).
I argue that the emphasis on the experience of racism insisted upon by autonomous antiracism has been silenced, first by antiracialism and now under postracialism. In the space of diversity, racism, sexism, homophobia, ablism, transphobia, etc. have been rewritten as discriminations (plural).
There is no longer any need to place emphasis on the individual trajectory of each of these as lived experience, historicised and contextualised. The mainstreaming of intersectionality and the increasing use of this language in institution-speak dilutes each category rather than working on their commonalties through paying attention to their particularities (which is surely what a real intersectional politics requires).
This can only be done through the explicit exclusion of POC from the space of diversity. As every individual is diverse, so each of us can be discriminated upon on the basis of that diversity (now understood as individual uniqueness).
Our structural placing within the ‘colonial power matrix’ becomes irrelevant to the ability of each and every one of us to participate in defining the space of diversity which replaces and silences resistances (we see this as much in institutions - e.g. European Youth Campaigns, EU Campaigns, as well as spaces such as Occupy which has come under critique for being blind to racism and sexism).
Peter Tatchell’s brand of antiracism, which is an echo of the secularist, liberal centre which writes in panic about imminent ‘Eurabia’, minority white cities and anti-white racism, demands that antiracists accept the universalism of racism - if diversity applies to us all, so too can racism, repathologised as a perennial individual disease.
We need to stop making the West feel guilty for the long-gone past and allow us all to move on in the shared space of diversity where we all suffer from discrimination, but where we can all overcome it if only we let go our tenacious grip on the ‘race card’ (many examples in the book - e.g. nouveaux philosophes).
In answer to this (and so as not to end on a pessimistic note), several examples of resistance are around: resistance both to the hegemony of postracialism and to the cooptation of the antiracist struggle by those who still seek to act on behalf of, rather than in alliance with, those who know racism.
One example, very dear to my heart, is the Comitato Immigrati in Italia. The CII is made up of immigrants living in Italy. It is an autonomous network of individuals and organisations originating in at least 30 different nations. While it has Italian allies, it does not include white Italians in its organisation.
The CII was in part established to counteract the type of sentiment expressed in an interview I carried out with a white, Italian antiracist activist. In it he complained that migrants are often only interested in obtaining their residence permits and once they do that they drop out of political organising. It is thus often easier to campaign against the migration regime without dealing with migrants.
One of the biggest complaints is the so-called culturalism (read apolitical stance) of migrants in Italy. Here is a short quote: “They are often strongly culturalist and I think that culturalist tendencies neutralise the more radical aspects of the issues that migration highlights.”
It thus buys into the Zizekian critique of multiculturalism which sees it as a depoliticising action foisted upon us by ‘minorities’ eager for cultural recognition in collusion with their liberal defenders in the political mainstream.
So, organising autonomously and very politically, the CII regularly mobilises tens of thousands of activists nationally to protest against the institutionalised racism of the Italian migration system and its denial of regularisation to hundreds of thousand of tax-paying migrant workers, the racism of the police and judiciary, of employers, and of individuals such as Gianluca Casseri who shot three Senegalese street vendors in Florence in February this year.
In 2010, the CII helped organise the first national migrant worker strike, which they called ‘A Day Without Us’. In Bologna alone 10,000 migrants striked. I will end with this short video of the day.