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'Race', Racism and Anti-racism: Challenging Contemporary Classifications

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This argues for the revisiting of classificatory concepts currently in use in the study of 'race', racism and anti-racism. It examines the proposition that racist movements no longer promote discrimination on the grounds of a belief in biological differences but espouse a 'differentialist' racism based on a conviction in the fixity of culture, paradoxically 'borrowed' from culturally relativist anti-racist arguments. A critique of the differentialist thesis developed by Pierre-Andre Taguieff is presented based upon the writings of Etienne Balibar and Paul Gilroy. The former, by grounding modern racism in the ideological universalism of the European Enlightenment project, argues that the apportioning of blame to anti-racism for abetting the advent of culturalist racism is unhelpfully conceived from a perspective which seeks to deny the legitimacy of black and ethnic minority led alliances as a basis for anti-racist struggles. The novel connection is made between these arguments and those of Paul Gilroy (1998) who proposes the redundancy of the term 'race', even from pragmatist perspectives, in the revitalisation of anti-racism as a viable opposition to contemporary racist discourses. The argument is made that in order to dissect normative understandings of 'race' it is necessary to follow the historical trajectory taken by racism in becoming an inextricable component of the modern project. Anti-racism, thus, must be seen as a multi-layered conflict and, therefore, separate from its anti-fascist, anticolonialist, leftist and institutionalised forms. Evidence from recent interviews with anti-racist activists points to their rejection of both 'culturalist' and 'biological' approaches to racism and towards broad alliances of community-led activists against overt but also covert, institutionalised racist discrimination.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2000

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