Does Difference Make a Difference? The Cultural Politics of Racial Differences

Click here, here, here, here, here and here


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."

Click here, here, here, here (warning: difficult images of violence in this segment of the video), here and here













Stuart Hall suggests that an anti-essentialist approach to raced identity is necessary, and particularly one

that recognizes 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 Saigon














Orientalism, Edward Said

Three interwoven ways of defining Orientalism:

1) An academic designation or label (eg. "Oriental Studies");










2) A style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction

between "the Orient" and "the Occident";

Marco Polo









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 either."











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 dominative mode."












"Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance," bell hooks

Key Ideas:

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.

They are 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 Consumption/Cannibal Cultures

"The over-riding fear is that cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commmodified

and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate -- that the Other will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten."













"Racist Ideologies and the Media," Stuart Hall

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 following ways:

1) By polarising around fixed relations of subordination and domination;

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.'