The Past and Present in Contemporary Anti-Racist Writing

On November 10, 2018, Alexandra Hartmann has published an article entitled “The Personal Is Theoretical and the Past Is Present: Blurring the Lines in Contemporary Anti-Racist Writing” in Open Cultural Studies.

A Blog Post by Izabella Penier.

Alexandra Hartmann’s article studies the anti-racist writings by contemporary scholars Cornel West, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., George Yancy, and Claudia Rankine. It uncovers how they include personal narratives in their works in order to theorise the workings of white hegemony in the twenty-first century. West, Glaude, Yancy, and Rankine think critically through and about their socio-historical locations and how these affect their identities, both as scholars and private persons. They reveal a form of self-reflexivity and honest self-questioning that Critical Whiteness Studies requests of those scholars who identify as white (or write from other troublingly normative positions).  Consequently, they close the gap between abstract theory and real-life experiences, debunk the myth of continuous racial progress as well as conceptions of post-racialism. They demonstrate the persistence of white hegemonic structures in institutional as well as embodied forms, narratively expressed in their personal pieces.

The article argues that these black thinkers not only openly blur personal and theoretical elements but also insist on a continuum between past and present. It proposes that this backward glance in contemporary anti-racist discourses has been borrowed from the revisionist African American which in the 1980s turned to slavery as one of its major subject matters. Drawing on Robert J. Patterson, Hartmann points out that for such texts “slavery is only a part of a larger system of anti-black racism that governs the modern period” (212). This system, she contends,  has not yet ceased to exist. Accordingly, slave narratives and anti-racist discourses do not deny progress or resort to pessimism and passivity. They do, however, challenge the wishful but naïve illusion that racism has been outdone or that modern forms stand disconnected from the history of anti-black attitudes in the United States.

By Izabella Penier

Featured Image Credits: Giulia Pugliese.

Cite this article as: Izabella Penier, "The Past and Present in Contemporary Anti-Racist Writing," in Open Culture, 28/01/2019,

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