Race: Conflict & Change 2 <ul><li>The Concept & Construction of Race </li></ul>
Today we shall examine… <ul><li>How race as a concept is constructed. </li></ul><ul><li>Race as a signifier </li></ul><ul>...
Defining race <ul><li>A system of domination based on racialisation. </li></ul><ul><li>Constrains equality. </li></ul><ul>...
Stuart Hall  Race: the floating signifier
Halls argument: “Race works as a language” <ul><li>Race as a key signifier </li></ul><ul><li>The genetic code </li></ul><u...
Racialization <ul><li>“ [W]e have found the idea of racialization useful for describing the processes by which racial mean...
Dehumanisation Invisibility LIVED EXPERIENCE Racialisation
Frantz Fanon 1st published: 1952
Racialisation <ul><li>Epidermilisation </li></ul><ul><li>Human characteristics naturalised </li></ul><ul><li>Subjugation <...
Dehumanisation <ul><li>No independent consciousness </li></ul><ul><li>Negative identity </li></ul><ul><li>Invisibility </l...
A universal brotherhood?
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The Concept and Construction of Race


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This week we will focus on the concept and construction of race, and the production of racial knowledge. We will examine race as a contingent historical, social, political, economic and cultural construction that has not only served as a mode of human differentiation, classification or categorization, but has justified various historical practices from colonialism and slavery to contemporary forms of legal discrimination and exclusion.
Emphasis will be placed on the concept of racialization (how people are naturalized by seeing them as racial) and on race as a signifier (or how race comes to be used to stand for a whole range of characteristics associated with the other).

We will explore the practices that the concept and construction of race has justified, the relationship between the concept and construction of race and racism itself, the role and function of the racial ‘other’ within the construction of one’s own identity, culture and ideology, and how the concept and construction of race has changed over time. Finally, we will discuss and debate the viability of race as a concept in/for social, political, cultural and theoretical identification, classification and analysis.

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  • Make link to week 1 Explain picture
  • How race as a concept is constructed: In week 1, we spoke about how race has no basis in biological fact. We are all members of one human race. Race is therefore a concept that was invented for particular political purposes. The invention of race accompanies events that are central to the history of modernity: especially, the birth of the nation-state and colonial expansion. 2. Race as a signifier This refers to the work of the ‘father of British cultural studies’, Stuart Hall (in this week’s reading) whose film, ‘Race, the floating signifier’, I will discuss at some length. 3. Racism as loved experience Last week, I spoke about the importance of basing our understanding of race on people’s experience of racism. This is because race itself means nothing without racism - this is what brings it into being, in the ordinary lives of many individuals. The idea of ‘crushing objecthood’ comes from Frantz Fanon who teaches us the importance of lived-experience. I will be talking about Fanon’s theorisation of the process of racialization.
  • Prominent cultural theorist - Birmingham cultural studies tradition. Film - focuses on race as a discursive practice rather than something objective. Race attaches meaning to arbitrary phenomena such as skin colour and makes them real in people’s experience.
  • Race as a key signifier: Linguistics: Divide signs into 2 components - signifier and signified. The signified is what is being talked about while the signifier is a representation. So, race is a signifier that represents something else. It comes to stand for characteristics associated with what we find different or strange - in the case of European racism, non-whites in the colonies (the so-called “natives”), non-Christians such as Jews and, today, Muslims, and migrants - people who we see as not belonging with us. Race is a key signifier because it cannot be swept under the carpet. Hall likens race to gender as being a key ordering principle. When we see someone who looks anatomically like a man we classify them under the gender ‘male’. In other words we use outward signs (the way someone looks) to define them internally as well as externally. Race works in the same way - we use signs to say a lot more about the person - e.g. making a link between skin colour and intelligence. But our approach to race is complicated by the fact that differences between people DO exist. Hall does not agree with the extreme postmodernist position that claims that differences are textual (insignificant) rather than real. NO, differences do exist and part of what we are doing when we think racially is trying to make sense of those differences. But, what Hall is interested in is understanding the systems of thought and the language we use to make sense of difference. Why race? 2. The Genetic Code: Race is a key signifier because it can base itself upon something which is unseen - something called the genetic code which determines how we look, how we act, and as Hall says, how large a behind we have or the fact that some people apparently have penises the size of cathederals. Race, therefore, represents something that is inside all of us but which cannot necessarily be identified. This internal ‘essence’ is what defines us above all else. Therefore, in the history of racism, one of the most virulent example was antisemitism. The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, said that what most frightened people about the Jews, in 19th and 20th century France or Germany, was that they generally looked exactly like any other citizen. Many Jews were completely assimilated. However, the popular belief, promoted by racial scientists and many politicians, was that no matter how assimilated a Jewish person became, and even if they converted to Christianity, they would always be racially Jewish because this is written on, what Stuart Hall would call, their ‘genetic code’. Jews were often referred to the ‘race within the race’ and hence doubly feared. Similar fears are in evidence today about Muslims. Think for example of the comments made by the perpetrators of the 7/7 bombings that they seemed to be ordinary guys, completely comfortable with living in Britain! 3. From language to culture: These ideas persist despite the fact that we know, because scientists have proved it, that race is not an objective fact. This is because the idea of race has entered into our culture through language. So, the way of thinking about different that began with the Enlightenment and justified slavery and colonialism became a way of speaking about difference that was so powerful that it embedded itself in our western culture. Without thinking about it or often even knowing it, we speak about humanity and society in racialized terms. This operates differently in different societies and over time. For example, the old Christian association of blackness with the devil was later extrapolated to black people who were often spoken about as being satanic or demonic. Today we use expressions such as ‘Black Monday’ or ‘to blacken someone’s name’ without necessarily thinking about the racialized dimensions of this use of language. For Hall, language is powerful because it orders our way of thinking and, consequently, shapes our culture. Language is an expression of our cultural, social and political institutions. However, we should ask, does simply changing the way we speak change the facts on the ground where racism is concerned? To some extent, yes, because the fact that it is no longer acceptable to use certain expressions that were once commonly used to describe non-whites for example, HAS changed the daily experiences of many people who no longer have to listen to themselves being described in negative terms. Nevertheless, changing language does not automatically change culture. The route Hall describes is from language to culture. And cultural norms take a lot longer to undo than language use. 4. Power/knowledge: Hall argues that these ways of speaking and thinking racially are important because they are harnessed to systems of knowledge which in turn is tied to power. We create knowledge about groups in the world that is used to dominate them, either explicitly as under colonialism, or in more subtle ways. A Contemporary example: The association of Muslims with terrorism is often explained by the assumption that there is something inherent to Islam or to the Arab world (the 2 are often confused) that makes people more prone to violence and destruction. For example, suicide bombing is explained by the assumption that Muslims value the sanctity of life less than others. What we are doing here is appealing to a knowledge about Muslims based on something that is internal to them - a genetic code - and translating this into a language that is the used in stereotyping them and, in many cases, submitting them to greater surveillance or punishment than other members of the population.
  • Racialization has been seen by some as a confusing concept that is bandied about too easily by many people who do not know what it really means. e.g. As Murji and Solomos explain in their introduction racialization is often seen as encapsulating everything to do with race and racism but it is rarely explained in detail. Murji and Solomos don’t want to get rid of the concept. In this quote they show that racialization is about the processes by which racial meanings are attached to various issues. The word processes is key. Let us look now at racialization in further detail, notably through the lens of the work of Frantz Fanon.
  • Racialization can be seen, therefore, as the process of endowing somebody or a group with racial characteristics. Using the term ‘Racialization’ implies that we understand that race is not an objective category. Rather, it is a system that gives meaning to the way in which the differences between groups of human beings are seen as problematic. i.e. it goes to the root of the question: why is the fact that someone looks or acts differently to ourselves ever considered to be a problem? 2. Racialisation is always understood through lived experience. The processes that racialization encompasses only come to light once we have engaged with the experiences of those who have lived through them. We will be focusing on two key aspects of racialisation – dehumanization and invisibility - both key concepts in the work of Frantz Fanon.
  • Who was Frantz Fanon? Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique, in the French Antilles, in 1925. He wrote Black Skins, White Masks (published in 1952) in Lyon where he was studying to be a psychiatrist. Fanon had previously served in the French army. His experiences were both of a colonised ´native´ and of a black man living in French society. His work constantly expressed this ambivalence. Fanon was a typical product of the French assimilationary educational system, that attempted to produce French citizens with no knowledge of their own culture or history. But, in practice, when they came to the ´mother land´, they found that the dreams of liberte, egalite and fraternite were more theoretical than practical. Fanon was sent to Algeria to practice psychiatry. There he became committed to the Algerian independence cause. He was a leading member of the Algerian Liberation Front. During this time he wrote famous books such as ’A Dying Colonialism’ and what was seen as the bible of the anti-colonialist movement, ’The Wretched of the Earth’. He also wrote countless articles and speeches. Fanon was a pan-africanist and represented Algeria at countless meetings of decolonizing or newly independent African nations. But Fanon himself was not a proto-type nationalist. He believed that a free Algerian nation should not be based on ethnicity but on belief in the values of society. He died of leukemia in 1961, after having been exiled to Tunisia.
  • Fanon’s work, particularly The Wretched of the Earth - which explained that the use of violence could not be avoided in overthrowing colonial domination - had a big influence over the Black Panther Party in the US and also on anti-colonialist inspired anti-racism in the UK. Fanon’s work was largely ignored in France and Algeria.
  • Let us look a little closer at Fanon’s understanding of racialization. Epidermilisation – the relationship between outward appearance (skin colour in his case) and the subjugation brought about by racism. Fanon is particularly concerned with the black experience of racism, and therefore stresses skin colour. But, it is important to note that racialisation also works by endowing immutable characteristics to human groups (regardless of skin colour). Epidermilisation therefore can be thought of as going beyond skin colour alone. e.g. the head scarf (which is an outward sign but which can be removed) can be thought of as a signifier by which people (Muslim women) are being racialised. 2. Naturalisation - Characteristics that are associated with racial attributes are seen as being fixed and unchangeable. Therefore, conditions that emerge out of racial domination are seen as being the ’natural’ condition of racialised people. For example, under slavery or segregation in the US, black people were seen as being naturally unable to be free or live in an integrated society. Their subjugation was seen as their natural position in society - quite simply they would be unable to rise beyond that condition. As is explained, by David Golderg (Ch. 2 of my book), racial historicists took a different view. The condition of racial inferiority was not seen as natural. The racially inferior could rise above their condition but only with the help of the racially superior (whites). As Goldberg explains, this position is as racist as the naturalist position because it patronises non-whites as less developed and thus in need of the protection of their white ’masters’ - much like the relationship between parents and children. Naturalisation persists alongside the more complex and subtle historicist view. We can see it at work in realtion to stereotypes (e.g. ALL black people are good at sport/music). 3. Subjugation - The processes of racialisation are always about domination and the subjugation of others. Whether racialised characteristics are explicitly negative (black as lazy) or stereotyping (oriental women as submissive) they always imply an uneven relationship of power. Racism is ultimately a system of domination and racialization the processes through which domination is fleshed out and given meaning - e.g. how those who suffer racism are made into racially inferior beings.
  • No independent consciousness In the context of colonisation: Fanon proposes that the very existence of black people in the colonies is defined by and in relation to the colonisers. Therefore, the black person has no independent consciousness of herself as an objective being. She is only aware of herself through the actions, speech and gaze of the coloniser. ’ For not only must the black man be black – he mjust be black in relation to the white man.’ Black Skins, White Masks : 110 ´The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.’ Black Skins, White Masks : 110 2. Negative identity As Fanon explains in relation to his own experience, black people do not think of themselves as black. They are brought into being black through the gaze of the powerful white coloniser who gives meaning to their blackness and associates it with inferiority. When Fano sees his own blackness for the first time, the only things he can identify this with is the negative connotations that blackness evokes for the colonisers. Until this time, his blackness had no particular meaning for him. This is why he says: ´I discovered my own blackness, my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency, fetichism, racial defects, slave-ships, and above else, above all: ”Sho´ good eatin´. ” Black Skin, White Masks : 112 3. Invisibility David Goldberg claims that being visible has positive connotations such as access, opportunity, ability and, therefore, power. For example, we talk about the necessity for the disabled to have visibility in society - there is an association made between visibility and empowerment. Invisibility, on the other hand, means absence, lack, incapacity and, so powerlessness. He says that whiteness has been equated with visibility and blackness with invisibility. Whiteness means light and learning, and blackness darkness and degeneration. This is directly related to the experience of dehumanisation or the idea that the racialised are not fully human which was at the heart of the race idea. T o be invisible means not to be wholly human because part of being human means being recognised by others as such. And if one is invisible, one cannot be recognised.   When people are rendered invisible it is possible for harm against them to go unnoticed, because their suffering is simply not seen. Within the colonial system, for example, this is justified by a dominant discourse which either sees ´natives´ as not fully human or at a lower stage of development than ´civilised people´. Goldberg claims that invisibility is enabled by racialisation. Race hides those targeted by it and shines light on those who are not affected by it. The racialised literally live in the shadows of those who are considered to be raceless – those of the dominant white culture. This explains why it was possible for the 2 Roma girls, Christina and Violetta to drown and for people to go on sunbathing and having lunch around them in Rome in July 2008.   So, the important point about invisibility is its purposefulness. The main character in Ralph Ellison´s The Invisible Man says that he is invisible because others choose not to see him. Making the racialised invisible means not recognising differences among them. It enables all black people, all Chinese people, all Roma people etc. to be put in the same box and treated as if they were all one and the same. By saying ´all x people look the same´, one is actually saying that there is no reason to treat them as individuals; i.e. fully human people worthy of recognition as such.   By rendering everyone else invisible, Goldberg argues, that white people could present themselves as the standard of humanity, as the norm and could, therefore, assume power.
  • Slide 12: A universal brotherhood of man? Falseness of equality discourse - The problem is that since the abolition of slavery, or later on segregation in the US or Apartheid, the fact that racism continues seems strange when we talk about human rights and the universal brotherhood of man. Fanon explains that in the colonial context, on the one hand, he was taught that he was an equal human being, but on the other, his experiences showed him the contrary – he was not treated equally. In the colonies, Fanon was taught that universal humanity includes everyone and that progress can be achieved by everyone through merit. When he came to Europe, he realised that this was not true. He recalls a Frenchman born in Algeria saying that ´”As long as the Arab is treated like a man [e.g. a human being], no solution is possible.”´ Black Skin, White Masks : 113 He realises that while all ´men´ are officially declared equal, the reality for Fanon is that he would always be treated as a black man and therefore not permitted to fully participate in society. As we shall see in the rest of the course, the point is not that there is official discrimination against the racialised. Rather, the fact that race has entered so deeply into our culture and shaped so many of our social, political and economic relationships means that racism persists despite the fact that officially everyone is supposed to be treated the same and have equal opportunities. It is this mismatch between the facts on the ground and the discourse or ideals that makes racism slippery and hard to grasp. It is also what makes it interesting to watch and learn about.
  • The Concept and Construction of Race

    1. 1. Race: Conflict & Change 2 <ul><li>The Concept & Construction of Race </li></ul>
    2. 2. Today we shall examine… <ul><li>How race as a concept is constructed. </li></ul><ul><li>Race as a signifier </li></ul><ul><li>Racism as lived experience of “crushing objecthood” </li></ul>
    3. 3. Defining race <ul><li>A system of domination based on racialisation. </li></ul><ul><li>Constrains equality. </li></ul><ul><li>Considers human traits to be immutable. </li></ul><ul><li>Affects both dominant and subordinate groups. </li></ul><ul><li>Sustained by the harnessing of racist ideas to the instruments of state power. </li></ul><ul><li>Brings about internalisation of racial identity. </li></ul>
    4. 4. Stuart Hall Race: the floating signifier
    5. 5. http://tinyurl.com/floatingrace
    6. 6. Halls argument: “Race works as a language” <ul><li>Race as a key signifier </li></ul><ul><li>The genetic code </li></ul><ul><li>From language to culture </li></ul><ul><li>Power/knowledge </li></ul>What assumptions do you think are being made by the onlookers here?
    7. 7. Racialization <ul><li>“ [W]e have found the idea of racialization useful for describing the processes by which racial meanings are attached to particular issues - often treated as social problems - and with the manner in which race appears to be a, or often the, key factor in the ways they are defined or understood. Racialization in this sense is the lens or medium through which race-thinking operates…” </li></ul><ul><li>Murji & Solomos, 2005 </li></ul>Race shaping perceptions of criminality
    8. 8. Dehumanisation Invisibility LIVED EXPERIENCE Racialisation
    9. 9. Frantz Fanon 1st published: 1952
    10. 11. Racialisation <ul><li>Epidermilisation </li></ul><ul><li>Human characteristics naturalised </li></ul><ul><li>Subjugation </li></ul>
    11. 12. Dehumanisation <ul><li>No independent consciousness </li></ul><ul><li>Negative identity </li></ul><ul><li>Invisibility </li></ul>July 2008: 2 Roma girls drowned on an Italian beach while sunbathers looked on
    12. 13. A universal brotherhood?