- 1 The line of anti stretch racism to everyone
- 2 Unrepentant essentialism
The line of anti stretch racism to everyone
Anti-anti-anti… When you see a long line of ants surrounding a word like this, it means that it is dying, after too many contradictory uses. This is indeed the case for the cadaverous ‘racism’, a victim of its (semantic) popularity. Each of us has heard it so often and in such contrasting circumstances that we think of it in our own way. Odious and repudiated in some, identity in others. Blasted with a thousand murderous daggers, it still grinds its teeth and pierces us with its magnetic eyes.
With a few anti(s) in brackets, ‘racism’ becomes a label that sticks to every human being. What is anti-racism after all but ostracism targeting racists? To be anti-racist is to suspect that anyone you meet is a racist, in their dress, their attitude, their way of speaking. One does not go without the other, any more than the atheist goes without the theist. Agnostics are rare, even more before the race than before God. An agnostic would casually ask “What’s your racial affair?” to quickly find that people are talking about them and not some supposedly universal concept. Researchers who denigrate race in genetics should be among those agnostics rather than providing grist for the mill of activists. Not finding race in the genes means having already thought of it there, and therefore having chosen a personal meaning for the term.
Two aspects of the word
Because there is no universal one. If the race lacks a genetic explanation, it does not lack symbolic value. A concept always has two meanings: the one it lends itself and the one we lend to it. How can a word lend its own meaning, by the way? It does so in a collegial way, defined by other words. Mimicry repeated from one mind to another. But the word also translates a mental motive, a pattern of beliefs which remains personal.
In this dualism are born the two meanings, the one that the individual lends to the word and the collective —a sort of fusion of the most famous versions. The scholar, the psychologist or the journalist know their personal version but also the tendencies of the collective, so that they easily separate the meanings. While remaining in one’s opinion group one confuses the personal and the universal.
Marylin and Norman’s argument
Why this course in semantics? Agreement on a sensitive subject such as racism begins with agreement on the word. But consensus has disappeared in contemporary society. This word, biologists would like to eradicate it, wokists make it an immortal battle horse. Philosophers would like to explain its different meanings, like Marylin Maeso and Norman Ajari, promising authors published by Philomag (in french). She’s Jewish, he’s black. Before writing this common and stormy book, they were already torn apart in ‘Flammable essence’, a 2020 debate, which reveals diametrically opposed anti-racisms.
“My anti-racism is fairer than yours!” I could summarize in the introduction. Marylin and Norman speak well of themselves and not of a universal principle, on which they fail to agree. They struggle to free themselves from essentialism —from a personal identity that remains essential. Norman wants to reclaim his black identity. Marylin urges him to put it aside but is unaware that her own identity has been formed on the diminishment of others when she finds them too conquering. Dance of individuals with their asserted identities. True universalism, which consists in accepting others as they are, even at one’s own expense, is not found.
To fully understand the discordances among anti-racists requires returning for a moment to the controversy between existentialism and essentialism.
In the relationship between the mind and the world, where is the starting point? Who builds the other? A story of chicken and egg in which philosophers have nevertheless firmly committed themselves. Sartre, with “Existence precedes essence”, sets his milestone on the virgin mind. It is the egg, the human in the making. She is nothing at this stage, says Sartre, and therefore fully owns her future, through the concepts she will build. Plato, on the contrary, thinks that there is a “world of essences”, from which that of the human comes into existence.
Sartrean existentialists versus theistic and Platonic essentialists. The controversy is taken up in the human sciences between constructivism and determinism. Culture against nature. Constructivism is summed up in Simone de Beauvoir’s famous phrase “We are not born a woman; we become” —society makes the woman. Opposite, the determinism is that of the biological innate.
A serial egg or a unique egg?
Controversy is at the heart of our subject. It is the choice of the starting point that separates the positions on race. Racists consider their cultural identity as the origin, the ancestry, what to remain faithful to. Whether this identity is rooted in genes, Platonic ideals, or divine heritage is almost secondary. Something is given to us and we must protect this essence, otherwise we risk losing ourselves.
A non-racist —we will see in a moment why I avoid the “anti”— considers that the origin is an indeterminate existence. The egg is virgin, so that it can become indifferently black, white, yellow, stupid, brilliant, man, woman… All this is up to decide. Existence before essence. There is nothing to lose, only to gain.
Both positions are untenable
Which side are you leaning towards? None ? Your reservations are welcome. Both positions are untenable. Science blurs cultural and genetic identity when looked at closely. As for the existentialist, if she sees the human master of her destiny, then she can choose to become… racist and then the worst is permitted. The idea that there is everything to gain is collapsing.
But the egg is obviously not a virgin. It acquires language without learning, proof that the mind has preexisting forms awaiting translation. We do have an inscribed identity, which even in its initial coarseness must be taken into account in the debate on racism.
No universal endorsement for anti-racism
Why did I use ‘non’racism instead of ‘anti’? We have seen with the reaction of Norman Ajari, who seeks his negritude, and to a lesser degree that of Marylin Maeso, in rebellion against identities, that racists and anti-racists are in fact on the same side: they refuse to get rid of essential identity which is theirs. On the contrary, they want to protect it. For the anti-racists it is to extract it from the shackles historically imposed by that of the racists. They are right of course, and I would refrain from criticizing Norman’s struggle. I would do the same in his place.
We must nevertheless make an observation: anti-racism is a struggle for identity rather than collectivism. Impossible to give yourself a universal endorsement in anti-racism! Because it is based on the concept of race which is individualistic in essence. No one agrees to give up their identity because no one experiences themselves as a virgin egg. The real non-racists are to be found in small children, for whom the concept of race means nothing.
Anti-racism without race?
It becomes easy to understand how more anti is concatenated with the anti of ‘racism’: it is a new identity which opposes the previous ones. The total does not make a collectivism but a collection of conflicting individualisms, vying for the title of most essential identity… with the racists themselves. Lots of bombs in perspective.
So is it possible to do anti-racism without race? After Maeso and Ajari, Philomag publishes a commentary by Étienne Balibar, a philosopher who was interested in “racism without race”. Can we specify a truly universal concept of racism without race, a word that the non-racism that I have mentioned seeks to get rid of?
Leonora Miano’s Third Way
It’s a pity that Etienne’s text makes so many convolutions so as not to upset anyone; it becomes obscure for the uninitiated. Read him twice, because his remarks are all deeply on point. He recalls the existence of a third way, that of peaceful identity, promoted by Léonora Miano in ‘Afropea’. It highlights the “competition of victims”, a reflection of the clash between identities that we have just mentioned. He remarks that the racist’s obsession with the gene is a quest for genealogy rather than nature.
Étienne Balibar brilliantly concludes “We know where racism ‘begins’, at least we can look for it, but we still don’t know where it ends”. That is to say, to include all these ‘anti’ identities in struggle with each other, we end up including everyone in the field of racism and non-racism no longer contains anyone. Even the most “tolerant” such as Maeso and Balibar, by remaining adversaries of the militant identities that found racism, left the pure collectivist posture, which is to accept others as they are, with all the disadvantages that entails for self.
Anti-racism is a setting
This is not the posture that I recommend of course, since it consists in accepting the unacceptable. But it is important to consider since it will ultimately be necessary to find the appropriate adjustment between this unbearable collectivism and unacceptable individualism. Anti-racism happens to be a setting. Unique to each of us. Positioned very soliDary at Balibar, much more soliTary at Ajari.
This setting is a temper at the start. We start with a talent for aggression and a talent for empathy, which are the initial forms of the soliTary individual and the soliDary collectivist in our minds. From this given setting, it is the gain of personal confidence that allows you to become more concerned about others. Paradoxically, soliDarity is reinforced by the firmness of soliTarity. The less our identity feels threatened, the more it opens up to others.
A strong isolated identity is harmful
This is the astonishing operation of the T<>D principle, soliTary vs soliDary, which I constantly use to unravel the mysteries of the physical and human sciences. This conflicting engine works effectively when the setting avoids tending excessively towards the T or the D. In other words, don’t be too soliTary or too soliDary. Otherwise the two forms of depression that are misanthropy and the collapse of the self lie in wait for you.
Another way to state this principle: your strong identity is harmful, whatever it is, if it is not associated with an equally strong solidarity. I am going to make an analogy, which will no doubt seem surprising to you, with the treatment of addiction. The identity of a drug addict is generally as repugnant to us as that of a white supremacist. They are unable to get rid of desires that are unbearable to us. How can we bring them back into the collective? Excluding them with our reluctance? Not efficient.
The race junkie
What prevents them from leaving this identity is that they do not have conscious access to it. Most insurmountable barrier. But also because they have no other identity. This barrier is more accessible. To get a drug addict out of addiction is to offer her an identity capable of competing with drugs. Who did it ? What do we offer the drug addict in lieu of a shitty life? Other shitty lives? We treat her with discouragement rather than encouragement. Since she already contains a lot of the first, the level accumulates. Certainly we must keep grievances against her. No identity without responsibility. She missed her social race, and I’m not saying we should give her a medal. Nevertheless, let us understand that our strong personal assurance is more harmful to her than useful, because without such strong solidarity, and that our hope of helping her is illusory.
The same goes for the racist. Note that the term ‘anti-racist’ denigrates the possibility of help. The idea is unbearable to most anti-racists. Confirmation that it is an environment that recruits less soliDary than soliTaries. However, the more the anti-racists enrich themselves with strong heads, the more the racists become radicalized. Raceless anti-racism is the D of soliDarity, the rebalancing of our soliTary identity with the pool of others, none of whom should be excluded.
Still pissed at the seatbelt?
We should have reduced discussions of racism long ago, as laws reduced the most egregious injustices on the subject. Getting mad at race? I hope it gets as cheesy as chafing about the seatbelt —it will surprise young people but a generation did. Unfortunately society is dysfunctional today with a sickly wokism, a permanent excitement of soliTary in individuals, which collapses the soliDarity effort of the Balibar and other wise people.
Not everyone is a wokist. When the wokist show becomes discordant with the substance of its subject, people no longer believe it. We see this with feminism: 80% of French people say they are in favor of gender equality, but as many refuse to call themselves feminists. The symbol of a struggle no longer corresponds to its purpose. I don’t know of similar surveys on racism, but I’ll bet on the same discrepancy: a majority of people declare themselves in favor of racial equality, very few would call themselves anti-racist. Lack of conviction? Or rejection of a belief that has become neurotic?
When you don’t know where racism ends, you don’t know how to end your fight against it. Become soliDary with the opponent again. Abandon the anti-racist identity. In the end, we all look alike, installed in a row on the same branch, hooked by our essentialism, very lazy to move around…