Im/plausible deniability: Racism's conceptual double bind

Barnor Hesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Since the ending of the Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations, the international concept of racism, first initialised in the 1930s, has been inscribed in an unacknowledged conceptual double bind. Western political culture has inherited a hegemonic concept of racism that foregrounds those meanings associated with the anti-fascist critiques of the Jewish Holocaust, while foreclosing subaltern anti-colonial critiques centred on Western Imperialism. This can be taken to suggest a divergence within a western tradition of critical thought that in one of its guises occurs between the view that "race' thinking' resembles ideological exceptionality and the contrary view that 'race relations' approximates colonial conventions. The present essay explores the extent to which these views are constituted conceptually and dialogically in opposition and divergence. This is defined as racism's conceptual double bind. In other words, the international concept of racism is doubly bound into revealing its imprints in nationalism and concealing its anchorage in liberalism; or recognising extremist ideology while denying routine governmentality. The essay, therefore, asks the following: is it im/plausible to deny that there is an inescapable conceptual double bind between these differing conceptualisations of racism that has been ignored by the dominant social science traditions in the West? The idea of a double bind in the concept of racism, reiterated throughout this essay, is not to be confused with the proposition that there are two concepts of racism. On the contrary, during the twentieth-century conceptualisation of racism, there have rather been two distinct orientations, the hegemonic Eurocentric and the subaltern De/colonial, based on conflicting yet dialogical paradigmatic experiences of the referent of racism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-29
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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