ACRAWSA Conference 2014

State of Race Panel I. Photo courtesy of ACRAWSA
State of Race Panel I. Photo courtesy of ACRAWSA

I just got back from Brisbane where I co-coordinated two panels at the 2014 Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Conference with my colleagues from the Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding at the University of South Australia, Gilbert Caluya and Yassir Morsi.

The first panel, on ‘The State of Race I: Postracialism and its Limits’ had papers by myself, Angela Mitropolous, Gilbert Caluya and Yassir Morsi.The brief for the panel was as follows:

The heralding of a ‘postracial’ era demands new lines of questioning. This panel asks what do race and racism mean, both conceptually and practically in the current age. While some have argued for the need to embrace the postracial as the ultimate antiracist endeavour, others have denounced this as impossible given the persistence of the racism that begets race in its diverse formations. Still others have come to question the utility of conceptualizing that which we are opposed to as ‘racism’ given the ubiquitous acceptance of racism as morally unacceptable. Along these lines, we might ask, when racism is universalized, disconnected from its ‘severity, history and power’ (Song 2014), to what extent is its analytical force preserved? Might we wish to follow Hesse’s (2013) suggestion of relinquishing the eurocentrism of ‘racism’ in favour of ‘raceocracy’ which is descriptive of the performativity of race: what race does rather than what it is taken to be? Along these lines, and cognizant of the importance of drawing connections between scholarly and activist discussions around how to best make sense of race in the aim of ‘antiracism’, the panel intends to explore the following questions:

  • Given the ‘ethnonormative’ constraints imposed by official multicultural or diversity agendas, which reproduce race in nominally antiracist arenas, what are the implications of postracialism for antiracist activism and race critical scholarship with antiracist intents?
  • considering the Janus-faced relationship of states and institutions to race and the divergent ways in which ‘freedom of speech’ is used both to permit and police racist speech, who is permitted to name an act or attitude as racist? what is the function of describing something as racist today in the context of ‘reverse racism’?
  • What are the functions of race, and the racialised figures it creates (e.g. the ‘authentic representative’, the ‘dangerous subject’, the ‘comforter of racialised anxieties’) in societies both governed by racial logics but which officially oppose racism?

A second panel discussed ‘Islamophobia and the postracial’ and, in addition to a paper by Yassir Morsi included three papers from brilliant doctoral candidates, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Mohammed Tabbaa and Faisal Al-Asaad.

The panel continued on from debates raised in the State of Race I to focus specifically on Islamophobia as one prominent manifestation of ‘raceocracy’. While an emergent field has coalesced around the term ‘Islamophobia’, it remains a hotly contested term. Some commentators and public intellectuals are quick to dismiss the term as a trumped up charge designed to deflect legitimate criticism of Muslims/Islam. Such criticisms are often defended by insisting on a distinction between ‘race’ and ‘religion’. On the other hand, proponents of the term often use it to name anything remotely negative about Islam or Muslims and thus fail to recognise the problematic role that the demand for ‘positive representations’ often plays in the disciplinary politics of normalisation. In this public quandary, one popular response has been to insist upon the racialization of Muslims. Yet another approach may be to see this debate itself as a symptom of the current problematic of the representation of difference in the post-racial horizon.

Alana Lentin