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  • AfterwordFrom Apartheid to Precarity: On the Politics of Separation
  • Imre Szeman (bio)

It seems impossible to write about separation today without having to tarry—even if only briefly—with the politics of current U.S. president Donald Trump. I do not live in the United States and am not a U.S. citizen. Even so, Trump looms large in my political and cultural imaginary, seeping like an invisible toxic substance past whatever affective, psychological, and electronic barriers I have erected to mitigate his impact on my daily life. This is a president defined by separations—divisions he creates, engenders, and enables and others for which he longs (e.g., immigrants from Scandinavia in lieu of ones from the Caribbean). For Trump, separation means the construction of a border wall with Mexico, the enactment of bans for individuals traveling from certain countries or holding certain passports, or a myriad of social and civil divisions created within the United States between those who support him and those who oppose him. Many of Trump's separations are underwritten by a populist nationalism that envisions an America for Americans alone and a racism that unblinkingly names which Americans are truly American and which are unwelcome interlopers. Still other separations come from policies that amplify class divisions even while publicly insisting that the opposite is taking [End Page 252] place. Long-standing divisions have been enhanced and expanded; others have been created anew and now look set to remain in place even after Trump departs Washington, D.C.

In other respects, however, the Trump administration has been intent on undoing existing separations. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages about 500 million acres of land and 1.5 billion acres offshore, has typically (i.e., under other recent administrations whatever their political orientation) protected environmentally and/or culturally sensitive portions of the landscape and seascape by drawing borders around them—separating them from development. Under the Trump administrations, these borders are being erased. The size of national monuments, such as Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument (both in Utah), has been slashed dramatically. Previously established moratoriums on offshore drilling and on new leases on coal mines are disappearing in the stroke of a pen. Bears Ears is being shrunk by the Trump administration in large part to enable the reopening of uranium mining in the region. The legacy of uranium mining in Bear Ears is a tragic one. The five hundred abandoned mines tainted groundwater and poisoned air and soil, creating serious health problems for the Navajos living in the region.1 The conservative impulse to undo what they see as government interference in public life has led to the repeal of a host of other separations, including, for example, which guns one is permitted to carry and where one can carry them.

As these example show, the politics of separation are neither clear nor obvious. Separation is a fundamental dimension of politics, key to the operations of the dynamics and practices of belonging and exclusion and of permission and prohibition. Carl Schmitt's famous and influential characterization of the sovereign as the one who determines the state of exception—the situation or circumstance in which the law no longer holds—might be seen as the founding separation around which politics has been shaped. Other separations follow from this one: Giorgio Agamben's assessment of the reduction of some subjects to "bare life," separated from the human and human rights; Achille Mbembe's theorization of "necropolitics" and decisions over life and death; and the divisions between black and white explored by Frantz Fanon and between red and white examined by Glen Coulthard.2 These examples offer but the barest outline of the ways in which theorists have addressed how power operates via divisions and separations.

Given the prominence of separation at the heart of modern power, it should come as no surprise that many thinkers and political figures have imagined that more just and equitable political and [End Page 253] social circumstances might come about by unraveling the mechanics of separation. This includes everything from the reproach of cosmopolitanisms to nationalist separations, the Marxist project of undoing class divisions...


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pp. 252-262
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