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The Creolizing Subject

Race, Reason, and the Politics of Purity

Michael J. Monahan

Publication Year: 2011

How does our understanding of the reality (or lack thereof ) of race as a category of being affect our understanding of racism as a social phenomenon, and vice versa? How should we envision the aims andmethods of our struggles against racism? Traditionally, the Western political and philosophical tradition held that true social justice points toward a raceless future-that racial categories are themselves inherently racist, and a sincere advocacy for social justice requires a commitment to the elimination or abolition of race altogether. This book focuses on the underlying assumptions that inform this view of race and racism, arguing that it is ultimately bound up in a politics of purity-an understanding of human agency, and reality itself, as requiring all-or-nothing categories with clear and unambiguous boundaries. Racism, being organized around a conception of whiteness as the purest manifestation of the human, thus demands a constant policing of the boundaries among racialcategories.Drawing upon a close engagement with historical treatments of the development of racial categories and identities, the book argues that races should be understood not as clear and distinct categories of being but rather as ambiguous and indeterminate (yet importantly real) processes of social negotiation. As one of its central examples, it lays out the case of the Irish in seventeenth-century Barbados, who occasionallyunited with black slaves to fight white supremacy-and did so as white people, not as nonwhites who later became white when they capitulated to white supremacy.Against the politics of purity, Monahan calls for the emergence of a creolizing subjectivitythat would place such ambiguity at the center of our understanding of race. The Creolizing Subject takes seriously the way in which racial categories, in all of their variety and ambiguity, situate and condition our identity, while emphasizing our capacity, as agents, to engage in the ongoing contestation and negotiation of the meaningand significance of those very categories.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xii

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pp. 1-18

In the spring of 2008 I went to Barbados for a few months to conduct research for and begin the writing of this book. During my stay I rented a house in the Parish of Christchurch, in the southern part of the island. One afternoon, my landlord...

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1. Contingency, History, and Ontology: On Abolishing Whiteness

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pp. 19-50

One of the truths that emerge rather quickly when one is attempting to theorize race and racism, and which I emphasize explicitly in my classroom, is that ontological questions about the reality of race, or lack thereof, lead quickly to more ethical and political questions...

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2. Turbulent and Dangerous Spirits: Irish Servitude in Barbados

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pp. 51-76

I first visited Barbados in the summer of 2004 to attend the initial meeting of the newly formed Caribbean Philosophical Association. While a few friends and I were exploring the city of Bridgetown on a steamy May afternoon, we turned a corner and came upon a large...

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3. Race and Biology: Scientific Reason and the Politics of Purity

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pp. 77-105

In order to articulate an account of racial ontology that transcends the politics of purity, it is necessary to spell out in more detail exactly what the politics of purity is and how it operates. Broadly understood, the politics of purity holds that the norm toward which racial categories and racialized individuals ought to strive, or are even...

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4. “Becoming” White: Race, Reality, and Agency

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pp. 106-135

I have suggested that much of the discourse on the relation between race and biology is mired in positivism. In other words, it is presumed that, in order for something to be biologically real, it will admit of necessary and sufficient conditions that effectively...

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5. The Politics of Purity: Colonialism, Reason, and Modernity

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pp. 136-182

In terms of racial ontology, as described in the previous chapter, the politics of purity operates normatively to prescribe clearly bounded categories of being admitting of necessary and sufficient conditions for membership such that each individual is unambiguously a member of one and only one racial category. As a corrective to the politics...

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6. Creolizing Subjects: Antiracism and the Future of Philosophy

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pp. 183-224

My account so far has focused upon the way in which the politics of purity serves as an organizing theme and driving force behind racial reality. The politics of purity is to be understood as informing both the ontology of race itself and the practice of racial oppression...


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pp. 225-236

Works Cited

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pp. 237-244


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pp. 245-248

Further Reading

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pp. 249

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247400
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823234493
Print-ISBN-10: 0823234495

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2011