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Between Necropolitics and Otherness: Racism, A Technology of Oppression

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David Finkelman Sánchez1

For the sake of this micro-essay, I will start by introducing an argument of my own devise; one that I believe to be profoundly wrong, but that is in its premises so general and appealing to common sense (are these not characteristics of sophisms?), that I’m inclined to believe that out there must be some who condone and defend similar views. My aim is to disprove said argument, and by doing so to shed light onto how Racism is a human technology, that is an artifact created and designed to legitimize oppression, instead of a phenomenon that came to be by happenstance, or even worse, that makes part of what we call human nature.

The dreaded argument would then go like this: Within societies, individuals embody and develop, one might even say evolve, shared characteristics by virtue of living together in a shared geographical and intellectual space. This is what we call culture, to which belong language, believes, attitudes, ideas, patterns of being and pre-formative molds of understanding and making meaning of the surrounding world. As some argue, culture in the form of linguistic narratives appeared as a human phenomenon that would account for the sustainability of Altruistic behavior in large groups in which kinship was no longer enough to guarantee co-habitation between unrelated individuals2. As such, cultural narratives would be the ground from which individuals pertaining to the same group would draw and embody factors of self-recognition, here codes of a constructed similarity, in order to experience themselves as “culturally codefined conspecifics, or symbolic kin”3. The catchphrase what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves takes then a less esoteric, now very real turn, since individuals turn into what Wynter terms Cloned Subjects, which “participate in the same order of symbolically coded consciousness”4. These shared characteristics are what shape the feeling of Group Membership by which each individual recognizes members of its group as its social kin, and which ultimately end up forming each individual’s sense of self. It follows that by enclosing that which one is, by negative dialectic one is excluding that which one is not. Here: The Other. Thus, we would have a psycho-biological reason to believe that we are justified, indeed necessitated, to identify members external to our social groups as Others; and that, as kinship is delimited by the cultural phantasmagoria of a shared identity, to which the Other does not belong, so is the reach of altruistic behavior, excluding the Other. We see how the main argumentative line is that this quality of human nature is what gives rise to what we call Racism. And that it is therefore not only justified as a human phenomenon, but as practice5.

I will rebuke this argument by engaging in two main argumentative lines that disprove some of the suppositions it implies.

First, that the recognition of the Self through a dialectic process contains the recognition (and rejection) of the Other; it is true that the definition of what is contains in itself the definition of what isn’t; it is not true, however, that the Other is the dialectic derivation of the Self: Here, the Other is not what the Self is not, but a politicized construction that entails that which the Other is not, meaning imageries of the Self that do not describe accurately what the Other is, but merely describe the Self’s construction of the Other, or wishes to make of the Other in the public discourse: Namely what it adjudicates to the Other, what and how it thinks of the Other, how it imagines the Other in contrast to itself, without coming ever close to what the Other actually is, for this construction of Otherness takes place invariably from a dichotomized Matrix of Self/Other vs. Superior/Inferior vs. Worthy/Unworthy vs. Holy/Unholy vs. Reason/Savage vs. Human/Animal vs. European/Indian. We see, then, that the Other is not described but constructed; that even in scientific endeavors such as ethnology, cultural phenomena and practices were not explored from the point of view of the constellation of meaning and reality as internal signifiers of the groups in question, but merely set in comparison with an idealized western European culture and made to be the “savages” and “brutes”, the “underdeveloped” and the “unreasonable” and the animal-like, but never fully human beings.

Second, that the recognition of Otherness and Racism are not equal, as the argument above implicitly suggests. While the recognition of Otherness (here: The recognition that an individual external to my group is different from us, not in a biological but in a cultural sense) might well be inherent to human nature and inevitable, it does not follow that we must therefore feel antipathy towards the Other. This is a possibility6, but not a necessity. Racism, on the other hand, necessitates antipathy towards the Other as the only intended reaction, for it is not a phenomenon that springs from recognition of Otherness, but a technology or artifact designed to institute massive aversion towards the Other, one that is politically mediated, disseminated through countless institutions, manipulated and directed by hegemonic power, and even manufactured by certain scientific (or pseudo-scientific) discourses in order to supplement the theoretical justification and the social legitimization of oppressive measures and instrumentalization of the Other, aimed at bringing about the material growth of the Self and its group of clones.

If we think in Foucauldian terms, the exercise of Biopolitics, that is the mediation and control of life in its private sphere and its biological functions through power and sovereignty, necessitates the division between those who may live and those who must die, again functioning within the aforementioned Matrixes of Self/Other vs. Superior/Inferior, etc.; this subdivision of the population is what then Foucault will call Racism: A technology, as we may see, with aims to exercise control and power over life and death7! Racism’s prime strategy is then to construct an epistemology of Otherness in which the main objective is, as Achille Mbembé states, to instantiate “The perception of the existence of the Other as an attempt on [our] life, as a mortal threat or absolute danger whose biophysical elimination would strengthen [our] potential to life and security”8. Hence the introduction of the Concept Necropolitics as a criticism on the Foucaldian concept of Biopolitics, in which not the mediation of life, but of death, becomes the main endeavor of politics, and where “Terror and killing become the means of realizing the already known telos of history”9 , while “…the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die”10. At the very last, Racism, we see, as well as narratives of Otherness, appear as technologies manufactured and deployed by the hegemonic power to instantiate an epistemology of difference between human beings through different institutions and public channels in order to legitimize the exercise of Biopower and Necropower, with the ultimate objective of defining “who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not”11.

1 Student of master’s degree in philosophy, Colombian based in Berlin.

2 See Wynter, Towards the Sociogenic Principle, Subchapter: On the Why of Subjective Experience, the Artificial and Relative Nature of Being Human, Identity and the Fundamental Laws of Consciousness, P. 45 – 54.

3 Ibid., P.47.

4 Ibid.

5 I’m honestly not sure whether this argument is indeed something I came up with in order to make my point, or if whether I have actually encountered it in paper or conversation before.

6 Which makes less sense as technology increases, and processes of globalization brings different cultures closer together.

7 Achille Mbembé, Libby Meintjes: Necropolitics, P. 17. Published by Duke University Press, 2003.

8 Ibid., P. 18.

9 Ibid., P.20.

10 Ibid., P. 11.

11 Ibid., P. 27.

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