Anti-racism is a struggle from below

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by David Theo Goldberg

In the age of the post-racial – of colourblindness and post-apartheid, an Obama presidency and majority rule – racist expression continues to proliferate. How is it that citizens of modern states, sometimes as agents of the state themselves, so readily engage in racist expression and practice?

One response is this, inspired by Hannah Arendt’s reflections on the Eichmann trial: racisms constitute thoughtlessness in the Arendtian sense of failing to exercise (self-)reflective critical judgment.

Those expressing themselves in racist ways and engaging in racist acts lack critical and indeed self-critical imagination, refusing or failing to take account of the other as having equal standing; they are an ignorant or arrogant refusal to consider conditions beyond one’s own.

Racisms, it could be said, are narcissisms: nihilistic self-regard of especially extreme kinds.

There is, to follow Arendt’s line, a banality to much racism, the shocking ordinariness of its everyday occurrences and the ordinariness with which its culture of shock has come to be received, to the point of oversight, neglect, a shrug. The shocking quality is buried in the ordinary, everyday, unresisting acceptance of the reduction of people to data points in the schedule of instrumental operation.[…]