Towards a phenomenology of racial embodiment

RP 095 () / Article

laWhen one realizes the indeterminacy of racial categories, their fluid borders and cultural variety, it is often tempting to adopt a nominalism about race: that race is no more real than phlogiston or witchcraft. In this essay, I resist this conclusion primarily on phenomenological grounds. Race is real, certainly more real than phlogiston, though like witchcraft its ʻrealityʼ is internal to certain schemas of social ontology that are themselves dependent on social practice. Moreover, the current reality of race is certainly capable of radical transformation and perhaps eradication. My focus, however, will not be on the possible future permutations of racializing practices but on the intense present reality of race. I will explore reasons for the current confusion about race, consider various approaches to knowledge about race, and venture a preliminary phenomenological account of racial identity as it is lived in the body of various racialized subjects at a given cultural moment. Only when we come to be clear about how race is lived, in its multiple manifestations; only when we come to appreciate its often hidden epistemic effects and its power over collective imaginations of public space, can we entertain even the remote possibility of its eventual transformation. […]