In 2019, Musée d’Orsay held an exhibition on Black Models, and the National Museum of the History of Immigration held a year-long exhibition on the musical contribution of migration to Paris and London. Why do we need a specific show to give black models an identity and an exhibition to demonstrate the contribution of post-colonial migrants to popular music?
In my Identities article, 'The whiteness of cultural boundaries in France', I explore the underpinnings of France’s relationship to the culture of the Other, through the scope of whiteness. I contend that whiteness can be defined as a kind of capital embedded in the routine structures of economic and political life and is therefore a relevant concept to analyse French cultural policy.
I start with the creation of a French Ministry of Culture in 1959 and show that it was not that Culture Minister André Malraux and his colleagues were not interested in foreign culture, but rather that their universalist approach to foreign arts prevented them from considering the cultural dimension of the growing presence of immigrants in France. Over the decades, immigration transformed from an economic phenomenon to a cultural matter, and in this process, French cultural policies became perceived as a useful tool to integrate newcomers. In the 1970s, the French Labour Ministry subsidised the television show Mosaïques that broadcasted images of immigrants’ country of origin, setting a clear boundary between France and the country where they came from. In the 1980s, the French Ministry of Culture marvelled in the creative power of a generation of immigrant offspring and used it to celebrate French cultural diversity.
However, based on an analysis of the archives of the Ministry of Culture and several interviews with administrative officials, I discovered that migration-related minorities mostly have to justify the social benefit of their artistic initiatives. The administration’s reliance on cultural policy to solve matters related to perception of immigration in political opinion shows that cultural policy serves to negotiate boundaries in France.
In defining specific guidelines for the implementation of cultural programmes aimed at immigrant integration, administrative officials treat immigrants and nationals differently. This point is not to be missed by numerous immigrant artists or immigrant groups who criticise this double standard treatment. How is it that when a group of immigrants has an artistic project, they have to meet some specific guidelines that are not based on artistic value but on the project’s implication in terms of social development? The differential treatment due to migration-related artistic projects allows us to identify the privilege embedded in the routine structure of cultural life: the privilege is to be evaluated according to the impartiality of aesthetic criteria, as opposed to having to justify for its social impact. This set a clear boundary between natives and migration-related minorities: the privilege of the majority is to be able to define culture in universalist terms, when minorities are constrained with end goals.
The concept of whiteness can help us reframe the discussion around inequality and difference. Instead of focusing on systems of stigmatisation, it helps us shift our focus on the reverse: the definition of privilege. The lack of clear determination of what culture means in connection with immigration comes through as striking evidence of an asymmetrical relation.
Blog post by Angéline Escafré-Dublet, Université Lumière Lyon 2, France
Read the full article: Escafré-Dublet, Angéline. The whiteness of cultural boundaries in France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1587906
'They can either free us or finish us, once and for all!' an elderly woman told me in 2015 at a small protest gathering in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. The woman had joined her neighbours at a local district official’s office to demand the removal of a military bunker from their neighbourhood. For the previous twenty-five years, the bunker had been a threatening presence in their neighbourhood. The soldiers stationed inside monitored public movement closely and violently enforced the ever-shifting rules of mobility, especially during curfews, when government arbitrarily closed down entire towns and cities. The soldiers didn’t hesitate to beat up, detain or even shoot at civilians seen out walking on the streets during curfews.
The Kashmiri protestors knew well that the local official they were meeting with their appeal had no power to remove the bunker. But there was nowhere else to protest, for those who possessed real power and made decisions that profoundly affected the lives of ordinary Kashmiris — the higher echelons of the Indian political, bureaucratic and military establishment — were furthest from these everyday sites of anxiety and fear in Kashmir.
Since 1990, when Indian military were given emergency powers in the region to curb the popular pro-independence movement, Kashmir had come to resemble an occupied zone. The woman’s words reflected a deep sense of claustrophobia felt by many Kashmiris, especially the youth, who have seen public spaces in the region being taken over by the Indian forces.
In 2016, after a rebel commander’s killing, Kashmir erupted in widespread protests. Indian authorities governing the region used the protest as an opportunity to intensify its control over public spaces. Curfews became the dominant strategy to do so. Even limited protests, like the one the woman had attended, became impossible and criminalised.
In my Identities article, 'Counter-maps of the ordinary: occupation, subjectivity, and walking under curfew in Kashmir', I draw from my ethnographic fieldwork to trace how the anxieties and fears about ordinary mobility in public spaces are felt and expressed in urban settings in Kashmir, and to show how the state power has taken the form of an arbitrary spatial and temporal control over everyday life in the region.
I also show how in response to this form of control Kashmiris adopt their own spatial practices of resistance to deny Indian state full control over public spaces. These practices range from spontaneous public gatherings to street confrontations as soon as the curfews are lifted, and not only expose Indian state in Kashmir as fundamentally repressive but also keep alive the widespread sentiment for Kashmiri azadi (freedom).
Beyond direct forms of resistance, Kashmiris also use less visible practices, which I call counter-mapping, to create possibilities for safe walking under the highly surveillant occupation. These practices give new meanings to ordinary practices like walking. Walking and gathering in public spaces, as well as commentaries about these practices in the public sphere, become opportunities for reflection as well as a public critique of the nature of the occupation.
On August 5, 2019, as India unilaterally moved to abrogate historical legal provisions (Articles 370 and 35A) that once symbolised Kashmir’s 'autonomous status' and protected rights over land, yet another curfew was imposed, this time to prevent Kashmiris from even uttering dissent. The efficiency with which India, for all practical purposes, imprisoned 8 million Kashmiris under curfew and muted them by blockading all communication (one month of the siege has passed as of this writing), only shows that the occupation — including its infrastructure of control and mechanisms of violence — works primarily by exerting a total power over the space and time of Kashmiri life. However, such totalisation of power over life is neither sustainable nor will, as Kashmir’s history of protest shows, Kashmiri people accept it.
Blog post by Mohamad Junaid, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, USA
Read the full article: Junaid, Mohamad. Counter-maps of the ordinary: occupation, subjectivity, and walking under curfew in Kashmir. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1633115
On April 15, 2013, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon, killing five and injuring 264. In the absence of information about who the bombers were, Salon.com published liberal commentator David Sirota’s piece 'Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American'. Sirota argued that if the bombers turned out to be white, Muslims would be protected from an inevitable anti-Muslim backlash. A few days later, the bombers’ identities were revealed as brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, children of Chechen refugees who came to the United States when they were 16 and 8 years old, respectively. Interestingly, the brothers were phenotypically white and, as conservative commentators online were fond of saying, quite literally Caucasian (i.e. from the Caucuses). They were also, however, Muslims.
Sirota’s article provoked a firestorm across conservative media, and Sirota was accused of being race obsessed and blind to the threat of Jihadist terrorism. In our Identities article, '‘Let’s hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American’: racialising Muslims and the politics of white identity', we analysed conservative responses to Sirota’s article, as well as the ensuing debate about whether the Tsarnaevs were, in fact, the white Americans Sirota had hoped for.
Given the widely held view that the brothers were phenotypically white, we were surprised to find that this question was shrouded in ambiguity. On the one hand, conservatives referred to the brothers’ whiteness to affirm a distinction between race and Islam, and to argue that the latter was a dangerous political ideology that people choose to believe in regardless of their race. On the other hand, however, and despite this apparently non-racial criticism of Islam, conservative responses to Sirota were permeated by accusations of anti-white racism, race treachery, white guilt, and even discussions of race suicide. We sought to explain this contradiction between intense expressions of racialised threat with avowed commitments to a non-racial critique of Islam.
We argue that reactions to Sirota’s article, as well as the liberal position he is considered to represent, reflect a deeply engrained view that there is a racial war between American whites and Muslims. The accommodation of Islam by white liberals is therefore cast as a direct threat to the United States, which white Americans are deemed responsible to protect. In other words, participating and agreeing to the terms of Muslim racialisation is central to the performance of a hegemonic white racial identity. Failure to perform this combativeness is deemed tantamount to race treachery and facilitating a form of racial suicide. Our critical contribution is that while previous scholarship on Islamophobia has focused on the cultural or phenotypical characteristics of Muslims that mark them as ‘other’, our argument shows that the racialisation of Muslims also occurs through a contested process of white racial formation.
Moreover, we identify a critical weakness in popular liberal critiques of Islamophobia. The critique deployed by Sirota, as well as other liberal commentators in the debate, hinged on a racial distinction between Muslims and whiteness. It was only through this (racialising) distinction that liberals were able to make operative the view that anti-Muslim sentiments after terrorist attacks reflect a form of racism. Liberals struggled to articulate a coherent critique in the face of the strategic use conservatives made of the Tsarnaevs’ ambiguous racial identity, emphasising the need for political counter-discourses to the white supremacist Islamophobia described in our Identities article. Alongside a more refined concept of racism attuned to relational racial formation processes, a primary goal must be disentangling whiteness from American citizenship -- a struggle with stark dimensions in the current moment.
Blog post by Jake Watson, Boston University, USA; Saher Selod, Simmons College, USA; and Nazli Kibria, Boston University, USA
Read the full article: Watson, Jake; Selod, Saher & Kibria, Nazli. ‘Let’s hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American’: racialising Muslims and the politics of white identity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2017.1397964
While tourists know Montreal for its cafés, festivals and old-word European 'charm'*, locals also know its boundaries that divide the city into an Anglophone West and a Francophone East. Montreal’s Black community usually occupies space according to this prevailing language divide: Black Francophones on the East side, and Black Anglophones on the West side. This pattern has had implications for relationships among Black Montreal residents, as well as for their organisation and political possibilities. Indeed, after the rise of Quebec nationalism starting in the 1960s -- which made the French language 'the distinguishing characteristic of ethnic identity' (Thomson 1995) -- it has been somewhat challenging for Black people to organise as Black people, rather than linguistically-specific 'Anglo' and 'Franco' Black communities.
Adding to the rich literature on how space and place are inherently racially produced and lived, my Identities article, 'Black in the city: on the ruse of ethnicity and language in an antiblack landscape', helps to elucidate how the politics of language and ethnicity do not occlude the ways in which race and antiblackness configure the city.
Organising across the language became crucial for Black activists in the East-end boroughs of 1990s Montreal as they fought against white racist attacks and tactics meant to push them out. Indeed, the 1990s are noted in the Montreal Black community for an increase in antiblack violence from the police and other state bodies, as well as acts of everyday terror from the white citizenry. For instance, in the autumn of 1989, a group of Black students formed the group 'Also Known as X' (AKAX). Their main goals were to organise and bring together the Anglophone and Francophone Black communities against police violence, to raise historical and political consciousness, to strengthen cultural identity and to develop economic autonomy.
Taking seriously that race always organises the geography of a place allows us to pay attention to how Black people spend much of their lives searching for ways to halt and/or undo the constraints that enclose them in states of unfreedom. In political organising, these activists articulated new Black identities and geographies. They transcended the prevailing boundaries of the nation-state, as well as the intra-city boundaries between East and West, to constitute a global Black subject position.
Key to my article were the oral histories I conducted with Black activists who lived during these events and were able to comment on white narratives of them (Stoler 2002). Until this research, existing documents from interviews that had been conducted in the 1990s with Montreal Black youth offered a Quebec nationalist — even colonial — interpretation of Black identities and solidarities, a skewed understanding of Black youth’s relationship to the Quebec state and its white citizenry, and a rose-colored portrait of the future of antiblackness in the province. These documents reveal a clear desire to convince francophone Black youth to rally around Quebec white society, and steer them away from organising towards freedom dreams that stretch from Montreal to all corners of the Black Atlantic.
As more incisive work continues to explore the history and the impact of Black organising and Black political thought in Canada, it will expand our scholarly understanding of Black radicalism takes form in the context of Quebec (Maynard 2017; Walcott & Abdillahi 2019). Learning about the Black history of Montreal has served as a point of departure to interrogate other Black political manifestations in the rest of the province, as well as the influence and impact Black activism in Montreal has had on other parts of the diaspora.
* I use quotation marks because most people refer to Montreal’s old-world European aesthetic as 'charming.' However, that period being defined by slavery, conquest and coloniallism, 'charming' is not how how a Black radical approach would define the numerous place markers of that (continued) history in Montreal.
Maynard, R. 2017. Policing black lives: state violence in Canada from slavery to present. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
Stoler, A. 2002. Carnal knowledge and imperial power: race and the intimate in colonial rule. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Thomson, D. 1995. Language, identity, and the nationalist impulse: Quebec. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 538: 69-82.
Walcott, R. & I. Abdillahi. 2019. BlackLife: post-BLM and the struggle for freedom. Winnipeg: ARP Books.
Blog post by Délice Mugabo, CUNY Graduate Center, USA
Read the full article: Mugabo, Délice. Black in the city: on the ruse of ethnicity and language in an antiblack landscape. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1545816