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Under the Sign of the Gun

Welcome to the Postmodern Melancholy of Gordimer's Post-Apartheid World

Simon Lewis

Raymond Chandler used to say that whenever he got stuck writing a novel he would get going again by having a character come through the door with a gun in hand. Reading the opening pages of Nadine Gordimer’s new novel with its account of a sensational murder, one might wonder whether South Africa’s 1991 Nobel laureate, faced with the end of apartheid and the consequent lack of a subject, was operating according to Chandler’s principle. The House Gun, however, indicates not so much the lack of a subject as a new way of looking at an old subject facing new circumstances – the old subject being the psychological and material effects of white racism on whites, the new circumstances being those of post-apartheid South Africa. Moreover, the apparent narrowing of focus from the macropolitics of Gordimer’s three most recent preceding novels, None to Accompany Me (1994), My Son’s Story (1990), and A Sport of Nature (1987), to the micro-politics of The House Gun suggests that we can read South Africa’s transition to full democracy as a paradigmatic change from a modern to a postmodern condition. Gordimer’s post- 1994 publications, and The House Gun in particular, lend themselves to being read as illustrative of two of Michel Foucault’s central insights: the ubiquity of power, and the consequent idea that given that ubiquity, care of one’s self (‘souci de soi’) becomes a new kind of political obligation.

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Sharon Monteith

This year American scholar Patricia J. Williams was invited to Britain to speak as Reith Lecturer, only the fourth woman and the third black speaker to contribute to the prestigious series of lectures which has a 49-year history. Her chosen subject was as topical as it proved controversial. Professor Williams’s subtle and measured discussion of the persistence of racism in daily life – and in even the most liberal of consciousnesses – struck a chord in British society. The furore that broke in the press was based as much in a certain ‘British’ intransigent refusal to allow that the persistence of prejudice could possibly be as ‘bad’ here as across the Atlantic as it was in a basic reluctance to address distinctive realities in contemporary society. Richard H. King and I interviewed Williams immediately following the transmission of the lecture series on Radio 4 and the transcripts, published by Virago as Seeing a Colour-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, are reviewed in this issue by Larry Brown. Brown places Williams alongside fellow African-American scholar bell hooks in order to assess the different perspectives they take on issues of race and the politics of identity, and in order to decide on nature of the often very different roles of contemporary black intellectuals.

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Teresa Ramos

The Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) joins a long history of critique, challenge and transformation of higher education. EUI courses are an important site for the creation of non-traditional narratives in which students challenge 'business-as-usual' in higher education. For under-represented students, this includes inquiry and analysis of the racial status quo at the University. In this article, I provide a student's perspective on EUI through my own experiences with EUI research as both an undergraduate and later graduate student investigating race and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). Using ethnographic methods and drawing on critical race theory, I provide two examples of EUI research that critiqued the University's management of race. The first example is a collaborative ethnography of the Brown versus Board of Education Commemoration at U of I – a project that I joined as an undergraduate (Abelmann et al. 2007); and the second is my own dissertation on 'racial risk management', a project that emerged from my encounter with EUI. I discuss both projects as examples of Critical Race Ethnography, namely works based on empirical research that challenge institutions' racial composition, structure and climate.

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Champagne Liberals and the New "Dangerous Classes"

Reconfiguration of Class, Identity and Cultural Production in the Contemporary Global System

Jonathan Friedman

This is an era of millenarianism. The millennium is here, the twenty-first century is here. It has been advertised as the new globalized world, that for many we have finally achieved. This is a world that will be characterized by openness. I sit here watching the talk show, Jenny Jones, this time (10- 4-00) dealing with racism. An African American intellectual talks about openness, against other African Americans in the studio who express strong criticism toward immigrants. A man replies angrily: “you can say that flying around in your airplanes and living on top of your hotels.” Jones breaks off the discussion. The enlightened are truly higher in this world, they are the élite in a way that concretizes the metaphor of globalization. Up there, above the masses, delighting in a new found mobility, consuming the world. This is striking in the reactions to EU, to say nothing of larger international organizations. The populism of the people and the élitism of the élites are ever more marked in this era-to-be.

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Patricia Anne Simpson

In this article, I analyze the social and cultural trends from within the music scene that counter challenges the moderate and extreme right. This music centers on the issue of ethnic exclusivity and aggressively insists on accepting Germany as a diverse society, however uncomfortable a fit that may still be for many. Certain bands and musicians move from politics to identity politics, in an attempt to generate a discourse about racism and national identity. By foregrounding the contingent relationship between citizen and nation, bands like Advanced Chemistry destabilize any naturalized or motivated link between self and state. Songs like "Fremd im eigenen Land" dismantle any proprietary relationship between German ethnicity and entitlement to the rights of citizenship. An image of a new Germany emerges that insists on the political acceptance of diversity. Nevertheless, this vision is subject to the pressures of reality: Germany is not by any stretch of the imagination a hate-free zone. Structured in part by responses to alienation within Germany, as well as by imported musical forms of male affinity, some bands, rappers, and musicians are organizing themselves into new fraternities. While criticizing or rejecting certain Americanized clichés of masculinity, the bands I discuss look beyond the caricatures of yuppies and cowboys to different models.

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Black Solidarity

A Philosophical Defense

Mabogo P. More

How should black people, indeed any other group of people in general, respond when they are grouped together and oppressed on the basis of the contingency of their physical characteristics? Questions of liberation from oppression involve questions about the means to overcome that oppression. Throughout the ages of struggle against racial oppression, for example, collective black identity and solidarity has been one of the favourite responses and rallying call for racial justice and liberation. In South Africa this response has recently emerged through the formation of a number of highly controversial groups such as: The Native Club, The African Forum, and The Forum for Black Journalists. Critics of these formations think that such black solidarity, divisive, irrational, morally objectionable and, above all, racist. This paper defends the emancipatory racial solidarity tradition, examplified by The Native Club and similar constituted organisations, against such serious charges and critiques mounted by contemporary leading thinkers on identity. The tools for such a defense are primarily derived from Jean-Paul Sartre's conception of group formation in his Critique Of Dialectical Reason. I argue that since anti-black racist consciousness always operates at the level of collectives, it is therefore impossible to fight such racism as an individual; that collective black solidarity is a necessary condition for racial emancipation.

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Tao Zhang

Despite some scholarly attention, the Native-American–Chinese association is mainly studied from the White perspective. One may get the impression that connections between the two similarly marginalized groups are either imagined or promoted by Whites for their own benefit. But, as a matter of fact, American Indians, joined by their White friends, did initiate associations with the Chinese out of their own racial considerations. One case in point is Pan-Indians’ reference to the Chinese in the process of forging a united and unique identity for the Indian race at the turn of the twentieth century. With those allusions, Native Americans were constructed into a group that was exceptional and progressive, benevolent and cosmopolitan—in short, a group that Whites should accept and respect as fellow Americans. Passively involved in proving Indians’ eligibility for American nationality, the Chinese emerged as racialized but less repugnant than they had been in Whites’ racist depictions. Pan-Indians’ citation of the Chinese thus registers the caution with which they navigated the constraints imposed by American racism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Critical Studies of Whiteness, USA

Origins and Arguments

David R. Roediger

The call-in show on Wisconsin Public Radio in 1995 began with the host skilfully introducing me as an historian who tried to explain how a white identity had come to seem so important to so many working people in the United States. We talked about efforts to understand why such significant numbers of people came to see themselves not as workers, but as white workers; not as women but as white women, and so on. And then to the phones and eager callers: Why do African countries make so little progress? Aren’t African Americans racist too? Isn’t their “reverse racism” the biggest problem? Hasn’t the welfare system enlarged a parasitic, amoral nonwhite underclass? The barrage of such questions, on public radio in a quite liberal city, took virtually the whole hour. The last caller, an African American worker at the University of Wisconsin, initially offered no question but a comment. All of the prior questions, she observed, focused on people of colour. Despite the subject of my work, she continued, and despite the moderator’s unambiguous introduction, no caller had deigned to discuss whiteness at all. If I were an expert on race, the white callers had been certain that my role was to contest or to endorse accusations and generalisations concerning those who were not white. Why was it so hard to discuss whiteness?

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A Spectre Haunting Europe

Angela Merkel and the Challenges of Far-Right Populism

Joyce Marie Mushaben

Abstract

Germany's 2017 elections marked the first time since 1949 that a far-right party with neo-Nazi adherents crossed the 5 percent threshold, entering the Bundestag. Securing nearly 13 percent of the vote, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) impeded Chancellor Angela Merkel's ability to pull together a sustainable national coalition for nearly six months. Violating long-standing partisan taboos, the AfD “victory” is a weak reflection of national-populist forces that have gained control of other European governments over the last decade. This paper addresses the ostensible causes of resurgent ethno-nationalism across eu states, especially the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 and Merkel's principled stance on refugees and asylum seekers as of 2015. The primary causes fueling this negative resurgence are systemic in nature, reflecting the deconstruction of welfare states, shifts in political discourse, and opportunistic, albeit misguided responses to demographic change. It highlights a curious gender-twist underlying AfD support, particularly in the East, stressing eight factors that have led disproportionate numbers of middle-aged men to gravitate to such movements. It offers an exploratory treatment of the “psychology of aging” and recent neuro-scientific findings involving right-wing biases towards authoritarianism, social aggression and racism.

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Kristina Aikens

While permitting other types of exploitation such as racism. With its emphasis on separate spheres, its depiction of Florence's superhuman healing powers, and its concern with redeeming the patriarch, Dombey and Son certainly seems more interested in a mildly gradual improvement of the status quo than in radical change. Yet to ignore Florence's desire, however conveniently that desire sometimes feeds into patriarchal dominance, is to overlook not only a complex portrayal of female sexuality that is neither condemned nor entirely denied, but also a depiction of the painful and difficult task of molding desire into culturally acceptable forms. Although the novel cannot imagine a full integration of women into the 'masculine' realm of politics and business, the dilemma of Florence and Edith in some ways reflects the problematic posed by conflicting concepts of twentieth and even twenty-first century feminism: does one, like Florence, focus on inclusion and acceptance in an attempt to change patriarchal structures from within, thereby abandoning truly radical change; or does one, like Edith, insist on rebellion from the margins, sacrificing community and risking the possibility that the center will conveniently ignore the margin's demands?