chapter  6
Discolorations
Pages 3

In presenting my hypothesis to various interlocutors in formal and informal settings, I have been asked how my theory of race as a symbolic system sustained by a regime of visibility translates into social policy. How does it affect our thinking about affirmative action, about anti-discrimination legislations, about those particularly powerful modes of political mobilization that have aggregated around identity? It is sophisticated and easy to be dismissive of “identity politics” because it seems naive and essentialist. But the immeasurable weightiness of, say, the black power movement or the women’s rights movement in pushing back the forces of exploitation and resuscitating devalued cultures through the redefinition of identity must give us pause. Identity politics works. However, the argument of this book is that it also ultimately serves to reinforce the very system that is the source of the symptoms that such politics confines itself to addressing. It is race itself that must be dismantled as a regime of looking. We cannot aim at this goal by merely formulating new social policies. In fact, my theory is anti-policy for two reasons: first, any attempt to address race systematically through policy, and by that I mean state policy, will inevitably end up reifying race. Second, the only effective intervention can be cultural, at the “grassroots” level. Such intervention can and should work, sometimes in tandem and at others in tension with state policy, but the project of dismantling the regime of race cannot be given over to the state. Gramsci speaks of the necessity of transforming the cultural into the political; where race is concerned, it is imperative that we turn what is now “political,” an issue of group interests, into the “cultural,” an issue of social practice.