Chris Chen, Notes Toward an Abolitionist Antiracism


[excerpted from an article forthcoming in Endnotes 3]

Without an account of the relationship between “race” and the systematic reproduction of the class relation, the question of revolution as the overcoming of entrenched social divisions can only be posed in a distorted and incomplete form. And without an understanding of the dynamics of racialisation — from capitalism’s historical origins in “primitive accumulation” to the US state’s restructuring in the post-World War II era — continuing struggles against evolving forms of racial rule can only be misrecognised as peripheral to an ultimately race-neutral conflict between capital and labour. Rather than waning with the decline of what is sometimes construed as a vestigial system of folk beliefs, resistance to racial subordination in the US has continued. “Race” has not withered away: rather, it has been reconfigured in the face of austerity measures and an augmented “post-racial” security state which has come into being to manage the ostensible racial threats to the nation posed by black wage­less life, Latino immigrant labour, and “Islamic fundamentalism”.

“Race” has been variously described as an illusion, a social construction, a cultural identity, a biological fiction but social fact, and an evolving complex of social mean­ings. It is difficult to avoid attributing independent causal properties to objects defined by ascriptive processes. Simply put, “race” is the consequence and not the cause of racial ascription or racialisation processes which justify historically asymmetrical power relationships through reference to phenotypical characteristics and ancestry.

“Race” is an index of varieties of material inequality, a bundle of ideologies and processes which create a racially stratified social order, and as an evolving history of struggle against racism and racial domination — a his­tory which has often risked reifying “race” by revaluing imposed identities, or reifying “racelessness” by affirm­ing liberal fictions of atomistically isolated individuality. The intertwining of racial domination with the class relation holds out the hope of systematically dismantling “race” as an indicator of unequal structural relations of power. “Race” can now be imagined as an emancipatory category not from the point of view of its affirmation, but through its abolition.

Antiracist political movements now confront a structurally racist social order, with its own array of state-sanctioned “race leaders” and spokespeople, which has appropriated the language of past movements of liberation and narrowed the legacy of these movements to inclusion within existing hierarchies of power. An antiracist poetry would begin here antagonistic to the material conditions of the emergence of “race,” and to its “organic” systems of value, which have yoked fictions of cultural representativeness to a pervasive politics of racial respectability and uplift.


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