The Creolizing Subject: Race, Reason, and the Politics of Purity

The Creolizing Subject: Race, Reason, and the Politics of Purity

Michael J. Monahan
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    The Creolizing Subject: Race, Reason, and the Politics of Purity
    Book Description:

    How does our understanding of the reality (or lack thereof ) of race as a category of being affect our understanding of racism as a social phenomenon, and vice versa? How should we envision the aims andmethods of our struggles against racism? Traditionally, the Western political and philosophical tradition held that true social justice points toward a raceless future-that racial categories are themselves inherently racist, and a sincere advocacy for social justice requires a commitment to the elimination or abolition of race altogether. This book focuses on the underlying assumptions that inform this view of race and racism, arguing that it is ultimately bound up in a politics of purity-an understanding of human agency, and reality itself, as requiring all-or-nothing categories with clear and unambiguous boundaries. Racism, being organized around a conception of whiteness as the purest manifestation of the human, thus demands a constant policing of the boundaries among racialcategories.Drawing upon a close engagement with historical treatments of the development of racial categories and identities, the book argues that races should be understood not as clear and distinct categories of being but rather as ambiguous and indeterminate (yet importantly real) processes of social negotiation. As one of its central examples, it lays out the case of the Irish in seventeenth-century Barbados, who occasionallyunited with black slaves to fight white supremacy-and did so as white people, not as nonwhites who later became white when they capitulated to white supremacy.Against the politics of purity, Monahan calls for the emergence of a creolizing subjectivitythat would place such ambiguity at the center of our understanding of race. The Creolizing Subject takes seriously the way in which racial categories, in all of their variety and ambiguity, situate and condition our identity, while emphasizing our capacity, as agents, to engage in the ongoing contestation and negotiation of the meaningand significance of those very categories.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4740-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-XII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the spring of 2008 I went to Barbados for a few months to conduct research for and begin the writing of this book. During my stay I rented a house in the Parish of Christchurch, in the southern part of the island. One afternoon, my landlord—I’ll call him Terrence—was giving me a tour of the apartment building next door, which he also owned. We stood on the balcony at the back of the building in the top-floor apartment, looking inland over a small gully at the main road connecting the nearby airport (to the east) with the...

  5. 1 Contingency, History, and Ontology: On Abolishing Whiteness
    (pp. 19-50)

    One of the truths that emerge rather quickly when one is attempting to theorize race and racism, and which I emphasize explicitly in my classroom, is that ontological questions about the reality of race, or lack thereof, lead quickly to more ethical and political questions about the nature of racism as a social phenomenon and vice-versa. That is, if I want to offer a definition of racism as a form of oppression or injustice, something must be said about what race itself might be—what makes the oppression or injustice specifically racial. At the same time, our understanding of race...

  6. 2 Turbulent and Dangerous Spirits: Irish Servitude in Barbados
    (pp. 51-76)

    I first visited Barbados in the summer of 2004 to attend the initial meeting of the newly formed Caribbean Philosophical Association. While a few friends and I were exploring the city of Bridgetown on a steamy May afternoon, we turned a corner and came upon a large church. Of course, churches are quite common on the island, but what struck me at the time about this particular church was the large Celtic cross on its brilliant green roof, and the windows lining the sides of the building in the shape of traditional Celtic knots. As we neared the building, I...

  7. 3 Race and Biology: Scientific Reason and the Politics of Purity
    (pp. 77-105)

    In order to articulate an account of racial ontology that transcends the politics of purity, it is necessary to spell out in more detail exactly what the politics of purity is and how it operates. Broadly understood, the politics of purity holds that the norm toward which racial categories and racialized individuals ought to strive, or are even driven, is one of purity. The claim is not that the categories and individuals actually are pure but only that they ideally should be—it is in this way that it is the politics, and not thereality, of purity. The normative...

  8. 4 “Becoming” White: Race, Reality, and Agency
    (pp. 106-135)

    I have suggested that much of the discourse on the relation between race and biology is mired in positivism. In other words, it is presumed that, in order for something to be biologically real, it will admit of necessary and sufficient conditions that effectively carve nature up “at its joints” in a way that is mind-independent. This is a manifestation of the politics of purity insofar as it demands of biological taxonomy that it produce discrete groupings with clear and distinct boundaries, in that it takes biological reality to be distinct from cultural production, and in its appeal to these...

  9. 5 The Politics of Purity: Colonialism, Reason, and Modernity
    (pp. 136-182)

    In terms of racial ontology, as described in the previous chapter, the politics of purity operates normatively to prescribe clearly bounded categories of being admitting of necessary and sufficient conditions for membership such that each individual is unambiguously a member of one and only one racial category. As a corrective to the politics of purity, I advanced an approach to race such that we understand it as a dynamic process of contesting and negotiating the position from and through which we constitute meaning in and of the world, including especially the meaning of race itself. It is a kind of...

  10. 6 Creolizing Subjects: Antiracism and the Future of Philosophy
    (pp. 183-224)

    My account so far has focused upon the way in which the politics of purity serves as an organizing theme and driving force behind racial reality. The politics of purity is to be understood as informing both the ontology of race itself and the practice of racial oppression (racism), emphasizing the way in which these two moments are constitutively interrelated and interdependent. If, as I claimed in the Introduction, this project is motivated by a desire to confront and address the problem of racial oppression, then it is necessary at this point to offer an account of antiracist praxis—of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 225-236)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 237-244)
  13. Index
    (pp. 245-248)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)