An Interview with Paul Gilroy

I once had the privilege of putting together a panel on his work and haven’t kept up the last couple of years except for articles here and there, so this was a pleasant interview to come across, from the Johannesburg Review of Books. Here he discusses his relationship to the Struggle in South Africa, his worries about U.S.-style reifications of race, and so on. He affirms his long-held view that racism should be viewed less as an abstract structure than as local, complex practices that need to be studied in their specific “ecologies.” He notes, for example, that in South Africa, that race may be less of a question than relations to land:

 I consider myself a pelagic thinker—a humble practitioner of theory at sea-level. It’s probably banal to say that the issue of land is fundamental here [in South Africa] as it is in all of the world’s (slowly recovering) colonial nomoi. Only a transformed relation to the land can restore the evasive quality of dignity to your democracy. However, foregrounding the question of race will not assist you in that ambition. That can only lead to the reification and ontologisation of race in line with US habits and priorities that are now disseminated and enforced online. On the other hand, foregrounding the question of racism might release other more useful possibilities and potentials. Here, I will sound like a dinosaur to those who prefer to trade in concepts like ‘antiblackness’. I dislike that US rhetoric because it dissolves, in an instant, all the sticky engagements with particular histories and local ecologies of belonging. We fought for decades to place the focus upon how racism assembles racial actors in over-determined circumstances, situations that needed to be grasped in their complex particularity and then accounted for at a different level of abstraction as structural phenomena. I am not ready to see all of that flushed away because it demands a few trips to the dusty old library. This lazy, flattening jargon about black and brown bodies drives me nuts.

One comment

  1. great quote thanks, I wish this sort of rhetoric against reification/structuralism had wider appeal but I find very few people even mull it over, will have to check his work out.

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