Postcolonial Racisms: National sovereignty and the making of new global apartheids

In the decisive shift from imperial-states to nation-states after World War Two, two, arguably related, processes took place. First, there was a wide scale effort to delegitimize racist ideologies. Academics wrote reports, including for UNESCO, that showed that ‘race’ was socially and historically constructed and in no way reflected actual differences between human beings. From the 1950s onward, racism, a concept first developed in the 1930s to understand Nazi ideological practices, was increasingly considered unacceptable in mainstream politics. Those continuing to declare themselves racists were regarded as extremists while a popular understanding of what constituted racism also associated it with only extreme acts of denigration and/or violence. Secondly, and at the same time, as state sovereignty was near-universally nationalized, the association of colonialism with foreignness was retained. Ideological practices grounded in nationalism were regarded not only as legitimate but as practically mandatory in politics. This talk charts this history in order to understand how racism is organized, practiced, and resisted in an era of postcolonialism (i.e. an era when national sovereignty is the hegemonic state form and when the distinction between ‘national’ and ‘migrant’ is institutionalized in national laws). In particular, I examine the growing autochthonization of politics. I show that nationalisms the world over are increasingly reconfiguring the ‘national’ as an autochthon, i.e. a ‘native’ to the national ‘soil’. Through a discussion of various autochthonous movements in very different contexts and with very different political registers (i.e. White supremacist movements in the Rich World; anti-colonial movements of ‘indigenous’ people in the historic British White settler colonies; distinctions between ‘natives’ and ‘migrants’ in the ‘national liberation states’, etc). I analyze the double move wherein historic colonizers are re-termed ‘migrants” and today’s ‘migrants’ are re-imagined as ‘colonizers’. This move, I argue, is made possible by postcolonial racisms: the historic articulation between ideas of ‘race’ and ‘nation’ wherein ideas of national soil are racialized and racist ideas of blood are territorialized.

Seminar 2 in a series on ‘Race, Borders, and Global (Im)mobility’, convened by Dr Hanno Brankamp