restricted access Situating 'Race' and Racisms in Space, Time, and Theory: Critical Essays for Activists and Scholars (review)
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Reviewed by
Jo-Anne Lee and John Lutz, editors. Situating ‘Race’ and Racisms in Space, Time, and Theory: Critical Essays for Activists and Scholars McGill-Queen’s University Press. x, 216. $29.95

In 1996, a Bermudan man living in London named Archie O'Brien appealed to the far-right British National Party (bnp) for help to 'return' to Africa, where he and his family wished to settle. The bnp, which campaigns for the repatriation of black British people and a halt to immigration, wrote letters in support of O'Brien and put him in touch with organizations which might be able to finance him. That O'Brien, who complained that he could not 'survive as a black man ... in London,' sought help from Britain's most openly racist political party highlights, among other things, the lability and pervasiveness of racist discourse, its imbrications with nationalism and class, and the discursive proximity of 'oppressor' and 'oppressed.'

Given such complexities and interconnections, the diversity of approaches represented in this volume is a challenging but appropriate response to the problem of formulating a workable anti-racist theory and praxis. In their introduction, Jo-Anne Lee and John Lutz promise that the book will provide 'a new arsenal of tools, a new literacy of "race" and racism' in order to work towards a world in which difference is embraced. They argue that 'we need a clearly articulated vision of a post-racist world and strategies to move forward.' To that end, the eight chapters that follow engage in discourse analyses of newspaper articles, as well as historiographical case studies and theoretical discussions. Several of the essays are Canadian in focus, while others discuss manifestations of racism in South Africa, France, and the United Kingdom. Particularly compelling is Ann Laura Stoler's Foucauldian account of discursive tactics deployed by the French radical-right party, the National Front, in the late 1990s. Emphasizing the quotidian face of contemporary racist politics, Stoler also insists that racist discourse permeates 'liberal' cultures which assume that race-thinking has been transcended through the official embrace of multiculturalism.

Stoler's essay loses nothing from having been written before the 2005 suburban uprisings in France; indeed, her insights seem particularly prescient. Other essays in this collection were first presented as papers at the 'Making History, Constructing Race' conference at the University of Victoria in 1998, and perhaps inevitably, the editors' promised 'new arsenal of tools' already risks obsolescence in the light of events since September 11, 2001. The volume gains some contemporaneity from Yasmin Jiwani's essay, which scrutinizes the Montreal Gazette's representations of gendered [End Page 327] Muslim bodies after 9/11. A number of other chapters contain postscripts and updates. Nevertheless, such additions and amendments raise the tricky question of how it is possible to formulate an anti-racist praxis when racist discourse is so highly malleable, mutable, and folded into the same episteme as its anti-racist counterpart.

This issue is particularly germane to activists, who, along with scholars, are identified in the book's subtitle as the intended readership. However, the papers collected here are academic in focus, and the practical tools they provide are mostly hermeneutic ones. The introduction follows Foucault, Gramsci, and Hall in arguing that '[a] few intellectuals in each generation' are capable of contesting cultural hegemony. This particular narrative of anti-racist struggle risks leaving the majority of people on the sidelines, waiting to be indoctrinated into a community of scholar-activists. Many of the essays posit such a constituent 'we' of shared interests and ideals, but the example of Archie O'Brien and the bnp highlights the instabilities and contingencies of alliances that create the sense of an 'us.' Negotiating the problem of inclusion and its inevitable exclusions is a difficult, dangerous cultural project – and in undertaking it, the essays in this volume make a valuable contribution to critical race studies.

Sara Salih

Sara Salih, Department of English, University of Toronto

Robert McGill

Robert McGill, Department of English, University of Toronto

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