During an interview in Holland in the early 1970s, the essayist and novelist James Baldwin said, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.” It became one of his most famous lines, and many commentators still quote it today, including best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars in critical race studies who call for “abolishing whiteness.”
Meanwhile, right-wing populists claim to speak for “the people,” but they often mean people socially defined as white, especially those who see themselves as victims of immigration, demographic change, and egalitarian social policies. In this respect, right-wing populism amounts to a form of “white identity politics.” Many liberals respond by advocating color-blind policies that ignore the social reality of race and racism.
This presentation locates a more promising (but also problematic) response in the recent growth of white antiracist activism. For a growing number of white activists, abolishing whiteness, and race itself, is a worthy long-term goal. But they also recognize that they inevitably benefit from being socially defined as white. Therefore, they seek to take responsibility for the history and effects of racism, not simply as individuals or as human beings, but as white people.
In contrast to those who assume a fixed and homogenous conception of whiteness, these activists seek to politicize white identity. Rather than abolish white identity, they want to reconstruct it. This presentation will examine different kinds of white identity politics, focusing on the critical assessment of emerging forms of white antiracist activism.
Mark B. Brown is professor in the Department of Political Science at California State University, Sacramento. He studied at UC Santa Cruz and the University of Göttingen, and he received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Rutgers University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, Bielefeld University. He is the author of Science in Democracy: Expertise, Institutions, and Representation (MIT Press, 2009), and various publications on the politics of expertise, political representation, climate change, and related topics. He teaches courses on modern and contemporary political theory, democratic theory, and the politics of science, technology, and the environment. His recent research is on James Baldwin and the politics of white identity.
In this seminar series the relevance and irrelevance of race is being discussed as an object and concept of research in order to explore ways to talk about race without naturalizing differences. The series goes beyond a standard definition of race, one that is allegedly relevant everywhere, and situates race in specific practices of research. In addition, the series gives room to the various different versions of race that can be found in the European context and explores when and how populations, religions, and cultures become naturalized and racialized. Scholars from different (inter)disciplinary fields (such as genetics, anthropology, philosophy, cultural studies, history, political sciences, science and technology studies) are invited to address the issue of race through a paper presentation.