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Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line
Paul Gilroy. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
When a prominent African American Studies and Sociology Professor decides to title his book Against Race, one is bound to be a little more than intrigued by it. The book, I think, will engage the author's admirers as well as his critics. Those who find Paul Gilroy's ideas stimulating will find in it a thought-provoking discussion on race. Those who were troubled by the parallelisms that Gilroy drew between afrocentrism and fascism in his previous work will not be happy because this book, if anything, is a further development of those ideas. Against Race defends and extends the argument about the unrecognized legacies of fascism and tracking them, especially, in the field of contemporary, globalized popular culture where they are "not usually associated with the critical theories of 'race.'"(7).
The book is divided into three sections. The first section contains a long, yet very useful discussion on the concepts of "race" and raciology. As the author points out, "the political will to liberate humankind from race-thinking must be complemented by precise historical reasons why these attempts are worth making" (12). Gilroy acknowledges that it is a difficult task both because of resistance from people on top of the racial hierarchy, and also from those who have been subordinated by race-thinking and its distinctive social structures. The latter, he argues,
have for centuries employed concepts and categories of their rulers, owners, and persecutors to resist the destiny that "race " has allocated to them and to dissent from the lowly value it placed upon their lives . . . For many racialized populations, "race" and the hard-won, oppositional identities it supports are not to be lightly or prematurely given up. (12)
So, why must there be a deliberate and conscious renunciation of "race" as the basis for solidarity and community? The short answer to this by Gilroy is that the "comfort zones" created by cultures of resistance and dissidence are fading fast. Black particularity today is being maintained by securing ultraconservative notions that do a disservice to the "cultural viability and ethical confidence" of the slaves and their descendants. Not only do these postures of ethnic absolutisms deny the complex cultural reality of today, but they serve as a "ready alibi for authoritarianism" by opening the doors to conservative forms of political culture and social regulation (14). This situation, according to Gilroy, represents the crisis of "race" and raciology and to free ourselves from the bondage of race-thinking that is devoid of political and ethical concerns is nothing less than a "novel and ambitious abolitionist project" (15).
The second, and perhaps the most controversial and disconcerting section, deals with cultural aspects of fascism and its contemporary articulation in Atlantic cultures, especially in the black popular culture that, according to Gilroy, has given the racialized black body a new prestige by unleashing a commerce in blackness. Corporate multiculturalism has been fairly successful in repackaging "race" as "ethnicity" and "culture" and marketing them as a "form of property to be owned rather than lived." Besides the racializing of the body in contemporary [End Page 1147] visual culture, this section also discusses the masculinist and militarized character of the black public sphere that has produced a new consciousness of race that has precious little to do with the old notion of freedom and solidarity and everything to do with reduction of politics to a mere aesthetic and commercial concern. He sees in the black communities the emergence of what he calls "revolutionary conservatism" that upholds the "presentation of violence as the key principle of social and political interaction" (211). In short, Gilroy's message is to point out that past victimization is no guarantee against the seduction of ultranationalism, militarism and fascism.
The third and final section contains a discussion of the various ways to reconfigure cosmopolitan response to the dangers of raciology and race-thinking. Gilroy's answer...