A talk held on November 17th, 2010 at the University of Illinois.
In the years immediately following World War II French intellectuals Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon turned their attention to racism, anti-semitism and anti-black racism. Both men were engaged with both. Neither wrote from identity, but rather both sought to link their reflections to Marxism, to its failure and possible reconstitution.
The texts Sartre and Fanon wrote during the years 1945-1952 primarily Anti-Semite and Jew and Black Orpheus by one and Black Skin, White Masks by the other remain enigmatic, resisting assimilation to the canons of identity politics. Unlike later writings taken up by the New Left in the 1960s, above all Fanon's Wretched of the Earth with Sartre's notorious preface, the writings from the immediate post-war years are rarely revisited today and, insofar as they cannot be rendered mere precursors to the later works, they are ignored.
This talk seeks to recover the concerns of Sartre and Fanon regarding racism in the post-war years and, if possible, to estrange these writings in the process. That is, it seeks to raise as a question what has since become falsely naturalized: How did Sartre and Fanon intend their writings on racism not as contributions to the dismantling of Marxism, but to its reconstitution?
Platypus panel held at Left Forum 2010 in New York City, Pace University, March 20, 2010.
One catch-phrase that has flown in the wake of the successful election of Barack Obama is "post-racial," raising the question of the degree to which America has overcome racism. But perhaps the matter is not one of our historical moment being post-"racial" but rather post-racist. This panel will pose the question of how racism has changed since the historical racism that plagued the U.S., from the failure of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era through Jim Crow until the overcoming of legal racial segregation with the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s-60s. If today this historical form of racism is over it has not meant the meaningful improvement of conditions of life for the vast majority of black people in America, but rather has accompanied worsening conditions, as part of the broader greater stratification and brutalization of American society in the general downturn since the late 1960s - early '70s. This situation demands a strident refutation of the pseudo-problem of "class versus race" and rather requires today's Left to seriously consider the implications of the political scientist Adolph Reed's formulation that racism is a class issue. This panel will address this issue by approaching racism as a historical social problem that was surpassed but not fundamentally overcome, thus allowing the structural conditions that shaped racism historically to continue if in increasingly unrecognized, and thus de-politicized forms. This panel will address how the resolution to the "black question" was not the result of the emancipatory outcome of the Civil Right / Black Power movements of the 1960s, but was rather a part of the general de-politicization of American society in our era. Panelists will assess the historical depths of the present post-political situation by examining how the American Left failed to adequately politicize the social issue of racism in three significant periods of the history of the American Left, the pre-World War One Socialist Party, the early years of the Communist Party, and the decade of the New Left.
Tim Barker, Columbia University
Benjamin Blumberg, Platypus Affiliated Society
Pamela Nogales, Platypus Affiliated Society
Chris Cutrone, Platypus Affiliated Society, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Chicago