Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Facticity of Blackness: A Non-Conceptual Approach to the Study of Race and Racism in Fanon's and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

The Facticity of Blackness: A Non-Conceptual Approach to the Study of Race and Racism in Fanon's and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology

Article excerpt

The idea of epidermalizationpoints toward one intermediate stage in a critical theory of body scales in the making of "race". Today skin is no longer privileged as the threshold of either identity or particularity.

--Paul Gilroy in Against Race, 47

I am overdetermined from without. I am the slave not of the idea that others have of me but of my own appearance.

--Frantz Fanon in Black Skin White Masks, 116

The first philosophical act would appear to be to return to the world of actual experience which is prior to the objective world, since it is in it that we shall be able to grasp the theoretical basis no less than the limits of that objective world, restore to things their concrete physiognomy, to organisms their individual ways of dealing with the world, and to subjectivity its inherence in history.

--Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception, 66

REPRESENTATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS OF BLACKNESS

This essay is an attempt to flesh out the significance of embodied perception of race in lived experience. What I argue in this essay is the need for a non-conceptual understanding of race, racialization, and racism. The two previous quotes, the first taken from Paul Gilroy's book Against Race and the second from Frantz Fanon's Black Skin White Masks, are included to elucidate the marked difference in scholarship in theorizing race today. The third quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty points to where science would indeed need to go in order to describe the relation between theory and practice, as Lewis R. Gordon (1) announces as the space of experience and situation.

Gilroy makes an explicit critique of Fanon's understanding of the process of racialization and declares it no longer relevant. Gilroy understands Fanon's concept of epidermalizatioi (2) of race as being synonymous with skin color as a referent to the idea or concept of race. In this way one's skin color designates (3) or refers to a concept or idea and it is in that concept which holds the meaning for that skin color. For Gilroy, Fanon's privileging of skin color is not relevant today because what Gilroy and many of his contemporary critical race theorists have done is to primarily locate post modern racialization in the space of what is representable generally and in genomic (4) representations in particular. However Fanon is actually not concerned with (re)presentations of race, as concept or cogitation but its immanence in lived experience from the position of one who shows up as black in an anti-black world. Rather than (re)presentations, Fanon sheds light on the presentation of race; meaning how racial intelligibility is manifest to us immediately in perception. To dismiss the quotidian way racial minorities in the West experience the violence of race and racism as no longer critical in contemporary theory on the subject is incredibly disconcerting and shows the investment that scholars have in the detachment of their research from the real world and their continual disparagement of experience as a foundational and valid and form of knowledge. In a double move this peculiar Western rationality has condemned 'lived experience' and condemned those that are understood as only experiential beings (not mindful), that is people of color, to be non-existent in history.

In Black Skin White Masks Fanon compares the existential crisis of being Jewish with that of being black. For a Jewish person whose appearance is immediately like that of his white Aryan oppressor, he can conceal for at least a moment his Jewishness because his Jewishness is but a collection of objective facts about him.... that he is from Warsaw, from the ghetto, that his name is Goldstein etc.... The Jew appears to white others immediately as they are, another white person, in other words, a human. Fanon concludes that for a black person there is no such possibility in an antiblack world because a black person is immediately caught out there by white eyes in the visual field of human perception as either hypervisible or invisible as Ralph Ellison articulates in Invisible Man. …

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