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McKenzie Wark on the anti-racist vision of Paul Gilroy


Paul Gilroy is a professor of American and English Literature at King’s College London and author of the groundbreaking book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), which frames the Black diaspora not in terms of lost national origins, but in terms of hybridity. At Public Seminar, McKenzie Wark explores Gilroy’s anti-racist vision as elaborated in The Black Atlantic and other works. What Wark finds so compelling about Gilroy’s anti-racism is that it doesn’t rest on the construction of pure or nationalist Black identities. Read an excerpt from Wark’s piece below of the full text here.

In Darker than Blue: On the Moral Economies of Black Atlantic Culture (Harvard, 2010), Gilroy offers a series of essays on the culture of what he has famously called the Black Atlantic as an alternative to race-talk but which is also outside of the various alternative nationalisms that flourish as a response. It is not reducible to liberalism, and it also attempts to fend off incorporation into the culture industry. That might be an urgent project for this “age of rendition.” (87) One in which in Judith Butler’s terms that which is grievable, or in Donna Haraway’s that which is killable, are respectively diminishing and expanding categories.

Gilroy is wary of responses to racism that borrow from it. He would probably strongly reject Chantal Mouffe’s understanding of all politics as necessarily based on a tangible equality of participation in a shared substance, which the necessarily excludes the other as unequal to us. Hence he is not any more inclined towards Black nationalism than towards any other. Instead, he builds upon the moral economies of the Black Atlantic, in which the struggle against slavery and racism pose the question of a trans-national belonging, or what I would call he problem of species-being. Just as EP Thompson saw the English working class as self-making, Gilroy is interested in the coming in to being of a people in struggle, but beyond Thompson’s rather provincial national frame. Along with others influenced by the cultural studies tradition such as Andrew Ross and Angela McRobbie, he is interested more in vernacular than elite cultural forms.

Image via Public Seminar.