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Anti-Racism and Existential Philosophy

An interview with Kathryn Sophia Bell

Kathryn Sophia Belle and Edward O’Byrn

Kathryn Sophia Belle’s (formerly Kathryn T. Gines’) publications engaged in this interview:

2003 (Fanon/Sartre 50 yrs) “Sartre and Fanon Fifty Years Later: To Retain or Reject the Concept of Race,” Sartre Studies International, Vol. 9, Issue 2 (2003): 55-67, https://doi.org/10.3167/135715503781800213.

2010 (Convergences) “Sartre, Beauvoir, and the Race/Gender Analogy: A Case for Black Feminist Philosophy” in Convergences: Black Feminism and Continental Philosophy, pages 35-51. Eds. Maria Davidson, Kathryn T. Gines, Donna Dale Marcano. New York: SUNY, 2010.

2011 (Wright/Legacy) “The Man Who Lived Underground: Jean-Paul Sartre and the Philosophical Legacy of Richard Wright,” Sartre Studies International, Vol. 17, Issue 2 (2011): 42-59, https://doi.org/10.3167/ssi.2011.170204.

2012 (Reflections) “Reflections on the Legacy and Future of Continental Philosophy with Regard to Critical Philosophy of Race,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 50, Issue 2 (June 2012): 329-344, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2041-6962.2012.00109.x.

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Emma McNicol

The analogy Simone de Beauvoir draws between “les femmes” and “des Noirs d’Amérique” is a key part of the intersectional critique of The Second Sex. Intersectional critics persuasively argue that Beauvoir’s analogy reveals the white, middle-class identity of The Second Sex's ostensibly universal “woman”, emphasizing the fact that the text does not account for the experiences of black, Jewish, proletariat or indigenous women. In this essay, I point to multiple instances in The Second Sex in which Beauvoir endorses a coalition between workers black and white, male and female. When Beauvoir writes on economic injustice, she advocates for an inclusive workers party where racial and sexual differences become immaterial as workers come together in a collective struggle. I thus propose that Beauvoir’s Marxism is an overlooked, yet important, counterpoint to the intersectional critique of The Second Sex.

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Decolonization as Existential Paradox

Lewis Gordon’s Political Commitment to Thinking Otherwise and Setting Afoot a New Humanity

Justin Fugo

This article offers a critical analysis of Euromodernity through an engagement with the Africana existentialism of Lewis R. Gordon. Drawing on Gordon’s recent work Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (Routledge, 2021) as well as Frantz Fanon, the author argues for the need to decolonize modernity by decoupling Europe and reason, freedom, knowledge, and power. Understanding what it means to be a human being involves an ongoing commitment understanding its relationship to the larger structures of reality, including social reality.

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Thomas Meagher

This article explores Sartre’s existential psychoanalysis as a phenomenological method for apprehending the fundamental project of the existent through an examination of the anonymous features of human desire. In grasping the anonymity underlying the “I want,” existential psychoanalysis seeks the meaning of freedom from a standpoint of alterity. I then analyze Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks as a work of existential psychoanalysis which hinges on his use of “sociogeny” to diagnose the alienation of Black existents. Finally, I conclude by examining the implications of a Fanonian existential psychoanalysis for anti-racism through a discussion of Michael Monahan’s critical reflections on the notion of being nonracist.

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T Storm Heter

This special issue explores how existential thinking can be a living, global force that opposes racist praxis and thought. We are used to hearing that the “heyday” of existentialism was the middle of the twentieth century. In truth, because existential thought is future-oriented, the heyday of existentialism may be yet to come.

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Mabogo Percy More

In an important article published last year (2020), Tal Sela asserts that Sartre’s contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa throughout the 1960s are overblown and overestimated. Sartre was motivated, Sela argues, by a desire for self-aggrandizement rather than by any genuine concern for the victims of apartheid racism. This article refutes those claims. In countering Sela’s arguments, I revisit in detail Sartre’s interventions denouncing the phenomenon of apartheid and establish the importance of Sartre’s tireless struggle against racism to highlight the force of his opposition to South Africa’s infamous policy and his equally firm commitment to freedom both in his philosophy and personal life.

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Elhadji Fallou Samb

Résumé: Cet article propose de comprendre la lutte contre le racisme dans laquelle Sartre s’est inlassablement engagé à partir des concepts clés de son existentialisme. Dès les premières formulations de la pensée de Sartre, la notion de liberté est à mettre en rapport avec la formule même qui résume l’existentialisme : l’existence précède l’essence. Je démontre dans cet article qu’à l’instar de son combat contre l’antisémitisme et contre la mauvaise foi de la pensée raciste, le combat de Sartre contre le racisme est construit sur l’idée que l’homme est libre de se définir et que sa race même ne saurait être un déterminisme contraignant cette liberté.

Abstract: This article will examine Sartre’s fight against racism in the light of the most basic concepts of existentialism. From its very first articulations, the notion of freedom is connected to existentialism’s founding tenet: existence precedes essence. My article demonstrates that just as in his fight against anti-Semitism and the Bad Faith of racist thinking, Sartre holds that every human being is free to determine herself and that race must never be constructed as a determinism constraining that freedom.

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The Poverty and Richness of the Imaginary

Sartre on (Anti-)racist Ways of Seeing

Laura McMahon

There is an ambiguity in Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Imaginary (1940). On the one hand, Sartre describes mental images as impoverished in contrast to the fullness and depth of the world of perception. On the other hand, Sartre identifies the imagination with human freedom, and in this sense the imaginary can be seen as an enrichment of the real. This paper explores this ambiguity and its import for understanding both racist and antiracist ways of relating to others. Part One explores Sartre’s argument for the “essential poverty” of the image through examples of racist images. Part Two discusses the enriching power of the imaginary for cultivating more just social and political arrangements in the context of racial oppression. Part Three argues that bad faith can take the form either of fleeing from reality into the impoverished world of the imaginary, or of failing to see the imaginary possibilities implicitly enriching the real.

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Sartre

The Civil Code and the Rights of Arabs

Nathalie Nya

This article addresses an area of French colonialism, specifically French Algeria, through the critical lens of Jean-Paul Sartre’s theories on race and colonialism developed in Colonialism and Neocolonialism. I focus in particular on two key components of Sartre’s critical commentary: first, the way in which French colonialism established practices that assigned full humanity only to the European colonizers; indigenous Muslim Arabs were systematically confined to the category of “sub-humans.” Second, my article examines in detail how promised reforms to colonial rule were consistently thwarted by practices mired in deception and fraud. Finally, I suggest that the application of liberal humanist principles in this colonial context was designed to create further inequality between Arabs and Europeans.

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Leshaba Lechaba

This article explores the concept of bad faith as conceptualized by Sartre within the context of the existential lived experiences of those Fanon (1965) refers to as the condemned, the racialized, and the dehumanized subjects of the world. I explore the logic of authenticity as a liberatory intervention in relation to decolonial interventions and anti-racist movements such as Black Lives Matter in the USA and across the globe and recently, the #EndSars movement in Nigeria. I will therefore argue that the repudiation of the entrenched universal logic of Euro-American modernity requires one to be authentic in their praxis in order to escape bad faith.