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A little bit about Understanding Race

In the age of Black Lives Matter, we have become accustomed to hearing concepts like ‘institutional’ and ‘systemic racism’ openly discussed. On one side, there are calls to recognise the extent to which race shapes experience, access and opportunity even in so-called ‘successful multicultural’ societies like Australia. On the other hand, some feel there is too much talk of race and racism. They ask why can’t Indigenous, Black and other negatively racialized peoples ‘get over’ the past and move on. However, while race is subject to constant debate, we generally have poor racial literacy to make sense of them. This is due to the fact that there is little-to-no commitment to teaching about the origins of race as a ‘technology of power’ that is ‘colonially constituted’ and tied to other systems of oppression under capitalism and modernity, such as class, gender, sexuality and ability. We are left with a vague idea that racism is morally wrong and must be opposed, but how to do so is a question with many, often conflicting answers. Therefore, while race has an enormous impact on society, politics, and economics, it is not treated as a serious object of study because, to treat it as such, is to call into question some of the principle tenets of liberal democracy and, if done to the fullest extent, this has a destabilising effect on the forces of power in societies ‘structured by dominance’.

To counteract this, this unit looks at the history and theories of race and connects them to pressing issues of the day, such as racialised policing, gendered racism, racialised health disparities, etc. It does so by recognising that race is a historically manufactured idea that is used to ensure European rule in colonial situations and enduring structures that are marked by coloniality. Hence, the unit pays particular attention to how race takes effect in settler colonial Australia while drawing parallels with other contexts to reveal the global nature of race as a force that endures, but which we must struggle to defeat.

Alana Lentin