- Editor's ColumnTraversing the Fantasy of Postraciality
This issue focuses on figuring race, exploring the ways we imagine, represent, and construct race today. In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates poetically notes, "Race is the child of racism, not the father."1 If race is the child, and not the father, of racism, then race is the product of racist ideology. Race is posited retrospectively as the condition of possibility for racism, and this misreading plays a significant part in the perpetuation of racism in a society that putatively strives to overcome its violence. The events of Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017 serve as a tragic reminder of the persistence of race, a reminder that we are not living in an age of postraciality. A color-blind, raceless society remains at best a distant future, at worst an ideological idea that dangerously distorts how we understand race and racism. At one level, what Charlottesville revealed has been well documented: the persistence of racism in the United States, spurred today by the Alt-Right. Charlottesville showed the obstinacy and unabashed display of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, antiblackness, and anti-immigrant sentiment. We heard from the protesters that "Jews will not replace us."2 This chant sends us back to Nazi Germany: it recycles and reactivates the myth of the Jewish plot, that is, the notion that Jews are running society, as well as Aryan supremacist tropes. Transported to contemporary American society, this white supremacist racism targets Jews and other figures deemed too powerful, too threatening: blacks, so-called "illegals," and Muslims.
We might think of this hatred as a racist cocktail of old anti-Jewish conspiracy theories mixed with fantasies of threats from non-whites and backlashes against the civil rights movement and ongoing globalization. The chant "Jews will not replace us" smacks of the kind of racial thinking we can also hear in assertions that blacks and "illegals" will not take "our" (white) jobs, and that Sharia law will not replace the US constitution. In their painful familiarity, the events of Charlottesville feel on the one hand like a dangerous resurgence, a return of a racism easily named and described—though, clearly, not so easily combatted—and on the other hand, for those more optimistic about different futures, like a remnant, a remainder or final gasp of a long-discredited and socially condemned pseudo-biologism. Viewed from either of these positions, Charlottesville, for anti-racism activists, primarily raises questions of tactics—how can separatist thinking be shifted? Why has racial division persisted? In what ways have previous tactics succeeded and failed? [End Page 1]
Yet, to take the culprits of Charlottesville as a paradigm for today's racism—as the vulgar exception to our post-racial, post-ideological reality—is to run the risk of limiting how we imagine the face and challenge of racism. The familiarity of white separatism and the arguments against it could give white liberal America a false sense of enlightened security: a false belief that mainstream Americans are not like them. Even if this mainstream spoke with one voice denouncing the vulgar racism of white supremacists, it would not be enough. We should not too quickly pat ourselves on the back, turning our disgust into an index or proof of our post-raciality. As David Theo Goldberg critically asks, "What racial work is the post-racial doing, what racist expression is it enabling, legitimating, rationalizing?"3 Seeing racism "over there," exclusively or primarily as an anomaly, a problem with bad apples (white extremists and fringe groups), at best distorts the ordinary social reality of racism and, at worst, makes us complicit with everyday racism and reinforces the depoliticization of race by neoliberalism (racism is a matter of individualized self-responsibility and not about structural societal problems).
The articles in this volume take up the interpretive challenges and difficulties in talk about race today. They compel us to traverse the fantasy of postraciality, to critically rethink the question of race in an ideologically color blind society. The articles perform the necessary and urgent work of critique, seeking to weaken neoliberalism's hold on our collective psyche in the hope of opening a space to...