Omi, M. & Winant, H. (1994). Racial formation. In Racial formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s (pp. 53-76). New York: Routledge.
Frankenburg, R. (1999). Introduction. Displacing whiteness: Essays in social and cultural criticism (pp. 1-34). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Farred, G. (2007). The event of the black body at rest: Mêlée in Motown. Critical Inquiry, 66, 58-77.
Omi and Winant start with the premise that alone and collectively we are shaped and haunted by race. And yet, we are unsure of what race and racism really denote. Historically and socially the dominant discourse oscillates between constructing race as an intrinsic essence versus an extrinsic illusion.
Race is defined as “a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies” (p. 55). The role of critical race theory is then to explain the representation and structuring of race in the social world; this is bound to the evolving understanding of hegemony. This should be done without essentialist premises or imaginary utopias extraneous of racial identities and prejudices. Racial formations describe the creation, transformation, and destruction of racial categorization. Racial projects seek to amalgamate race’s position in multiple discourses and the mechanisms that facilitate the penetration of these discourses into individual and structural experience.
To address macro-level racial formation Omi and Winant outline how race is integrated into the political rhetoric of neoconservative, far right, new right, and left wing ideologies. Similarly race is understood through common sense, large-scale meaning, and policy, each influencing everyday individual experiences. However, these knowledges about race are destabilized through social struggle. The development of modern racial comprehensions are traced from European exploration and Christian understanding of the human being, suggesting that different races may instead be different species. Yet, as biological race claims were disavowed social elucidations are offered in their place. As the USA moved from “racial dictatorship” to “racial democracy” the concept of racism is demarcated as separate from bigotry.
Frankenburg provides a number of descriptors for whiteness including: an empty signifier, pluralistic, a daily practice, a social construction, in flux, a cultural assemblage, and cite of identification and identity. From this perspective scholars in this anthology articulate that whiteness can only operate because of its invisibility, which facilitates its position as the hegemonic standard juxtaposed against all persons of colour, non-whites, racialized individuals and groups who are located as the “Other.”
From the onset of racializing discourses, race has been attached to hierarchical power structures. This was accomplished by naming whiteness as Anglo-Saxon, superior to non-whiteness, and as a stable, readable, and exclusive category against all Other races. Other races became named against whiteness, and were decreed inferior. Thus, from the emergence of race as a social construction it has been enmeshed with racism. Over time whiteness accomplished invisibility by defining itself by what it is not: such as black or enslaved.
Frankenburg outlines that critical whiteness studies have been picked up across myriad disciplines, each finding unique ways of incorporating whiteness their analyses. Critical whiteness studies facilitate unveiling the mechanisms by which whiteness is inaccurately naturalized. This work has the potential to affect the cultural understanding of immigration policies, crime crackdowns, social welfare, and hiring policies. By denaturalizing whiteness we can broach the question of how the nation (in this case the US but also Canada) constructs citizens and Others. However, Frankenburg warns us of potential pitfalls of critical whiteness studies put to poor use including the risk of: privileging white narratives, “me-too-ism,” and forgetting the varying degrees of power available to white bodies.
In “The Event of the Black Body at Rest: Melee in Motown” Farred is employing Badiou’s philosophy of the non-event to analyze the violent eruption that took place between basketball fans and Ron Artest (Pacers player) in a game against the Pistons. Firstly, for a quick and assessable outline of Badiou’s philosophic work I recommend visiting http://www.egs.edu/faculty/badiou.html. Farred draws our attention to the way that temporality is experienced differently in sport than other areas, by players as well as sports fans.
Farred is particularly interested in the moment of the Melee in Motown after Artest committed a foul against Ben Wallace, which Wallace responded to by violently shoving Artest. Artest responded by walking away from his confrontation, and laid down upon the score’s table. This is the moment of non-event, which Farred cautions us against confusing with an interstice and instead challenges us to see the symbol of this moment in and off itself. Farred argues that by examining this moment and the violent response white fans had to it, we can see how the black athletic body interacts with space. In the case of this sporting event it points to the role of the black body as spectacle; one that need always be in motion and be performing for its audience. Farred alludes to Artest’s body upon the score table as reminiscent of the historic ways that rest has been utilized as points of resistance (Rosa Parks seems the most obvious example, though he does not mention her by name). This moment had the power to change, if only for the moment it lasted, the way that sport was understood.
Given the thematic nature of these readings my questions did not often discretely respond to a single article and instead came from the way they followed after one another, so I have decided to not separate the questions by article and instead let them flow one after the other.
Who does the discourse of colour blindness serve and why does dominant discourse still cling to it as the answer to racism?
In addressing the history of racist perspective Omi and Winant point out that several of the founders of Western intellectual thinking espoused racist propaganda masqueraded as philosophy and fact; how do we address this in curricula that still draws on these thinkers but seeks to erase this history?
Is it important, and if so why, to delineate between different kinds of oppression; separating classism, racism, ableism, homophobia, sexism, and more rather than discussing bigotry and prejudice?
Can we compare Artest’s body at rest as a site of resistance to the resistance of actions such as die-ins over HIV?
Is it ever appropriate to compare resistances across different kinds of oppressions?
Thinking back to a few years ago where a student dressed in black face for Halloween on Queen’s campus, what does it mean to wear race as a costume? http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2005-12-01/news/race-racism-and-blackface/
To reiterate one of Frankenburg’s questions “What, or who, do white people want to be?” (p. 16).
What do people think about the move from whiteness as a racial categorical to a cultural one?
Why is it that a crowd responds more violently to rest than acts of violence between players? Is it that we hate laziness and quitters more than aggressors, or is it something else? Or is it as Farred postulates that it is too paradigm shifting for a white audience to see the black body resting?