Self-fulfilling prophecy: The postracial horizon

Barnor Hesse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The postracial idea of Western societies being socially beyond the hegemonic imperatives of previous racial formations or exhibiting the increasing disintegration of racism has rightly drawn intellectual and political fire from critical theory. However, what this fire routinely obscures are the various ways in which discourses of antiracism and the postracial converge around a singular failure to interrogate the political and theoretical conditions of possibility for the early twentieth-century concept of racism. Conceptually racism as an object of critique was founded on the condemnation of "race thinking" (anchored in the biological) as well as the foreclosure from that critique of "race performativity" (inscribed in the colonial). Gestated during the 1930s and 1940s in political opposition to Nazism's ideology of race, racism as a concept was also conceived Eurocentrically, as aberrant to Western liberal democracy. Subsequently appropriated by civil rights and anticolonial movements, such pragmatic appropriations often unwittingly colluded in reinscribing the concept of racism as representational rather than performative, antiliberal rather than liberal, and ideological rather than governmental. Insofar as the postracial now signifies these political terms of appropriation, it can be argued that the Eurocentric concept of racism also provides it with the alibi of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consequently, it is not simply the emergence of the postracial horizon that is the problem for critical theory but the genealogy of the concept of racism itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-178
Number of pages24
JournalSouth Atlantic Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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