Does Difference Make a Difference? The Cultural
Politics of Racial Differences
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In Race, the Floating Signifier, Hall
argues that we know a great deal
about the effects that racism has had on the
world, but relatively little about the mechanics
of how it works in our heads.
Turning his attention to the visible signs of "racial difference,"
he asks why we are so invested, psychologically, in these divisions
- what W.E.B.
DuBois called the difference of "hair, skin and bone."
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Stuart Hall suggests that an anti-essentialist
approach to raced identity is necessary, and particularly one
the differences that the category of "black" can never fully contain.
Here the idea is that "race" is also a cultural construct that needs
to viewed as fluid.
If this is the case, Hall argues, we must look at how racial
difference is deployed in order to support a value-laden, exclusionary, hierarchical,
and problematic idea of "whiteness."
Busta Rhymes and Still from Miss
Orientalism, Edward Said
Three interwoven ways of defining Orientalism:
1) An academic designation or label (eg. "Oriental
2) A style of thought based upon an ontological
and epistemological distinction
between "the Orient" and "the
3) A Western style for dominating, restructuring,
and having authority over the Orient (a definition indebted to Foucault's power/knowledge).
Gandhi's Salt March, India, 1930
In March 1930, Mahatma Gandhi (with walking stick) embarks on a 25-day, 241-mile
walk across India to protest Britain's salt tax, inspiring a massive wave of
civil disobedience throughout the country.
"[T]he Orient is not an inert fact of nature.
It is not merely there, just as the Occident itself is not just there
The "Orient" is neither simply an idea,
nor essentially an idea with not corresponding reality.
It is an idea with a
reality. It is an idea that is able to conjure realities.
Image from the Algerian War of Independence
from France, 1960
Why analyse "the Orient" and "Orientalism"?
To eliminate the terms altogether, and to advance an unlearning of the "inherent
"Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,"
Our ways of imagining and desiring the "Other"
are not neutral.
Fantasies that include the formerly taboo Other
are not "progressive," nor do they overturn white supremacy.
part and parcel of other strategies that either aim to disavow white supremacy,
suggesting we are "past" it, or are strategies of nostalgia designed
to both assuage guilt or to relive the past.
Pocahontas and John Smith
Difference, while remaining a subject of social control,
is now also a fabrication in the service of commodity innovation and advertising.
Controversial Axe Ad, "Dark Temptation" (2008)
Commodification strips political
integrity and meaning from messages,
flattening out their ability to serve as a catalyst for
concrete political action or critical consciousness.
Public Enemy Action Dools
Communities of Resistance vs. Communities of
"The over-riding fear is that cultural,
ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commmodified
up as new dishes to enhance the white palate -- that the Other will be eaten,
consumed, and forgotten."
"Racist Ideologies and the Media,"
Hall's 3 Things to Remember about Ideology to Connect
to Race as Ideology:
1) Ideologies do not consist of isolated and
separate concepts, but are the articulation of different elements into a distinctive
set or chain of meanings;
2) Ideological statements are made by individuals
but ideologies are not the product of individual consciousness or intention;
3) Ideologies "work" by constructing
individual and collective subject positions of identification and knowledge
which allow them to "utter" ideological truths as though they were
their authentic authors.
Overt vs. Inferential Racism
"By inferential racism I mean those apparently
naturalised representations of
events and situations relating to race, whether
'factual' or 'fictional',
which have racist premises and propositions inscribed
in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions."
Histories to be accounted for: relations of slavery
and diaspora, colonialism, economic exploitation, and Imperialism.
Power/Knowledge historically constructed in the
1) By polarising around fixed relations of subordination
2) Stereotypes clustered around poles of 'superior'
and 'inferior' natural species;
3) Both were displaced from the 'language of
history' into the 'language of Nature.'