Triangulating Racism

By Eisenman, Stephen F. | The Art Bulletin, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Triangulating Racism


Eisenman, Stephen F., The Art Bulletin


Race was disproved as a coherent scientific category by Franz Boas in 1928, but racism prospers nearly everywhere.1 Among scholars, the simple but valuable observation that race is a biological fiction but racism a social fact has gained widespread acceptance, but the research that receives the greatest public attention is that which trumpets crude correlations between skin color and test scores.2 Even writers directly engaged in examining and attacking racism sometimes end up buttressing aspects of its epistemology. While disclaiming the scientific validity of race, they may reify the term by failing to describe how it functions to legitimate a whole confluence of social, cultural, and economic inequalities. Indeed, the recognition of another person as racially different is the end result of a number of learned attitudes and behaviors that develop in specific historical and cultural settings of class and gender hierarchy and inequality. Discussions about "race in America," "race relations," "race matters," and even "racial tolerance," therefore, may tend to reinvest race subliminally with some of the very essential, somatic characteristics that past generations were at pains to disprove.3 Racism exists, to repeat the useful formula; races do not.

If social scientists are too often uncritical and ahistorical in their discussion of racism and race, art historians tend to avoid the subject altogether.4 This lacuna is significant: a mere glimpse at our classrooms, faculty meetings, and convention assemblies-not to mention our curricula and syllabi--exposes either our heedlessness or our complicity with racism. In art-historical writing no less than in faculty hiring and promotion practices, racism may in fact be the field's dirty little secret.5 The few scholars who address art in a colonial context often elide histories that ought to be carefully separated, and regularly fail to engage the past and present actualities of subject populations. The actions, policies, and collecting habits of the French in Dahomey, for example, were different from those of the British in Benin; the lives of Moroccan harem women portrayed by Delacroix were vastly different from those of Tahitian vahines painted by Gauguin.6 In a number of recent books and essays, the Dogon, Fang, Papuans, Maohi, Tonkinese, Gypsies, and Jews are absent presences all the more obvious for the sophistication of the critical vocabularies marshaled to theorize their racial "otherness."7

Yet art history has the potential to make signal contributions to our emerging understanding of the form and meaning of racism. Unlike literary studies, musicology, and even anthropology, art history has a strong tradition of being historical; it has often pursued relentlessly the particulars of local artistic, political, and religious institutions. Such specificity and complexity are what is now most needed. Racism is precisely a rhetoric which proposes that the weight of the past-of blood, soil, or nation-overwhelms the present and future; the dismantling of racism is therefore naturally a particular responsibility of historians. Racism must be distinguished from other past and present ideologies of hierarchy and apartheid, and its specific geography carefully mapped. The methods and scope of art history are thus well suited for this necessary work of excavating the histories of the various national racisms, and uncovering the roots of the present political and ideological impasse. Indeed, the history of racism may perhaps best be understood by means of a process of critical triangulation. If racism is placed between different but related historical terms, such as exoticism and primitivism, its complexity and specificity may be better revealed.

Exoticism

exoticism (ig zot i siz am), n. 1. Celebration of the culturally or geographically remote, together with more or less willful ignorance of historical particulars. 2. Sexual dalliance with difference and marriage to familiar. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Triangulating Racism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.