Touring Fierce Racial Geographies
James S. Moy
...those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference; those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older, know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled. . . . It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
The American search for a transparent representational practice capable of providing visibility for peoples of color remains problematic. The established Eurocentric rules for the construction of a textual world of racial visibility provide at once the main stumbling blocks and a continuing location for academic amusement. Clearly, all western constructions of race have emanated from rules established for the privilege of the dominant white culture. Indeed, according to Aristotle, all who failed to live by the rule of Greek law were beasts, and subject to appropriate mistreatment.1 While for sophisticated late twentieth-century poststructural theories this early construction of the beastial other seems comical for its simplicity, it should be remembered that its logic provided the grounding for European race relations until quite recently. In this brief piece I will argue that its institutional agenda continues in force well into this era of the postmodern.
The medieval rules for the constitution of the visual order created to provide visibility inscribed Aristotle's beastial other as monstrous, clearly not human. Often constructed to embellish the imaginary with misplaced heads, exaggerated organs, and disfigured limbs, medieval cartographers located these beastial races around the fringes of the known world. As disfigured inhabitants of marginal geographies, their constructed deformations provided comfort by highlighting the markers of normalcy.2
Renaissance patronage, with its desire for the empowering gaze of the perspectively correct panoptic, located racial otherness upon a constructed geography of survey while fetishizing the details of difference. Indeed,