Sunday 16 September 2012

Politics and Ontology: The Question of Racism

Sara Ahmed writes:
I am using the example of racism to show the entanglement of ontology with politics which is not the same as saying all ontology IS politics (or all politics IS ontology).
I don’t think anyone ever claimed that politics and ontology aren’t entangled. It’s just that two things can’t be entangled if they’re not two different things to begin with. There doesn’t seem to be much disagreement here. We can give examples of where politics and ontology are all bound up together or examples where they aren’t. I think the point is that it’s casuistic. On that we would all apparently agree.

I think part of the problem here is that, to take the example of racism, we live in a society where racism has already been made political. It is, in a manner of speaking, an historical a priori. A racist act such as a racially motivated shooting is understood to be political because there has already been decades upon decades of campaigning, protest and so on in order to politicise such events. We encounter such events as being a priori political, historically. With this I see no problem. However, this is not the same as saying that racism is essentially political — as if it were a priori political regardless of the history of the thing.

Because racially motivated killings are already widely regarded as political issues, when such an event occurs it only takes a minimal push to enroll that act into the wider political networks — the networks are there ready and waiting, as it were. For that reason it may seem as though such an event is essentially political; that it’s political character is simply given. However, if we imagine a time or place where racially motivated killings aren’t widely accepted to be political then any given instance of such violence would be very difficult to enroll into the political networks.

The claim that racism is political as an historical a priori is, I think, basically compatible with an OOO or ANT understanding of the situation. That it is political according to some more abstract a priori — this I can’t imagine. If anyone believes this to be the case I can only ask: how?