Sexton delivers inaugural Africana Studies lecture
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 17:10
Jared Sexton, associate professor and director of African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine, last night gave the inaugural lecture for the new Africana studies major and minor housed under the Africana Studies program.
In the lecture, titled “People of Color Blindness: Racial Politics After Coalition,” Sexton discussed the implications of slavery and “anti−blackness” in the context of oppression and structural violence.
Associate Professor of English and Director of American Studies Christina Sharpe opened the lecture, followed by a few words from Dean of Academic Affairs Nancy Bauer.
“This is the first public academic event the program has sponsored,” Bauer said.
In her introduction, Sharpe outlined the reasons for selecting Sexton to give the inaugural lecture.
“I can think of no better person to set out the importance of the work to be done in Africana studies and what is at stake,” she said.
“Sexton looks at the ways that multiracialism works to buttress, reconfigure and reinvigorate regimes of anti−blackness and normative sexualities,” Sharpe added.
The Africana Studies program earlier in the afternoon hosted a celebratory reception in the Coolidge Room in Ballou Hall, which Sexton attended.
“This is a moment to mark, both in terms of celebration and in terms of what is to be done now, as we commit to the vital and necessary intellectual and political work that is the center of Africana studies,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe then thanked undergraduates who worked to make the Africana studies major and minor a reality.
“They insisted that these curricular additions were necessary and central to the university’s educational mission,” she said.
Sexton echoed Sharpe’s sentiments.
“In a real way, [the students] are responsible for this program,” he said.
Sexton began his lecture by describing and critiquing the work of various political theorists and scholars who have written on the politics of race, slavery and violence, including Giorgio Agamben, Frantz Fanon, Saidiya V. Hartman and Achille Mbembe.
Sexton also discussed the connection between structural violence and the “state of exception” by which sovereign powers legitimize only some types of violence.
“How can we be ethically opposed to some forms of violence while being in favor of others?” Sexton asked.
Sexton explained how slavery transformed from a global phenomenon to something directly tied to people of African descent. He described racial blackness as a necessary condition for enslavement.
“Not all free persons are white [...] but slaves are paradigmatically black,” he said.
He compared enslaved Africans to the homo sacer, a Roman legal figure.
“A homo sacer is someone for whom it is against the law to recognize her self−possession,” Sexton said, describing the dehumanization slavery imposed on black Africans.
“Slavery positions everyone, and it’s the topic we talk about when we’re not talking about it,” Sexton said.
Sexton acknowledged that the vocabulary to discuss deeply−ingrained forms of violence is lacking.
“We don’t have a way to talk about violence beyond structural violence,” Sexton said. “There is a violence beyond extermination, a violence beyond annihilation.”
Sexton urged minority groups not to play the “Oppression Olympics,” the term given to some peoples’ assertion that their particular minority group is more oppressed than another.
“Don’t suggest there are hierarchies among the oppressed,” Sexton said. “[It] amounts to little more than a leftist version of playing the race card.”
Sexton added that non-white minorities, who work in coalition with African Americans, should not accuse African Americans of playing the race card. Non-white minorities are "turning ethical critique into unethical attack," he said.
With the lecture’s title, “People of Color Blindness,” Sexton referred to the practice of refusing to acknowledge or simply misunderstanding the specificity of black structural violence.
“It presumes, or insists, upon the monolithic characteristics of victimization under white supremacy,” he said. “The upshot of this predicament is that obscuring the structural position of the category of blackness will inevitably undermine racial coalition−building as a politics of radical opposition. And to that extent it will force the question of black liberation, or black freedom, back to the center of the discussion.”