Posted: March 18th, 2023
dawn of the 20th century gave rise to racial consciousness and an awareness of racism as a potential political force. All around the world, oppressed persons became aware of the systemic nature of oppression. National boundaries and situational differences existed, but did not cloud the fact that European racial hegemony had long been a part of the means by which power had been established for centuries. Colonialism and imperialism were racist enterprises. The teachings of Marx and other sociologists helped raise awareness and provided the means by which to analyze and understand racism throughout the world. In Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States, Micol Siegel traces the way racial consciousness developed simultaneously in different regions, and how that consciousness manifested in Brazil and the United States in particular. Siegel explores the importance of global communications technologies, the media, and other practical factors that made it possible for racial consciousness to become a global political movement.
Siegel’s analysis is astute and novel, in that it conceptualizes the dawn of global race consciousness through the lenses of transnational exchanges and networks of global capitalism too. Drawing on key figures in the movement, like W.E.B. DuBois, Siegel shows how Marxism and other anti-oppression themes in sociology rose to prominence and became influential in vastly different milieus. Moreover, Siegel shows how nation-building, which was once the province of the elite and especially of the European Christian elite, had become inextricably entwined with race consciousness. Twentieth century organizations like the Nation of Islam in the United States used language denoting nationhood to reveal the global union between persons of color that transcended the globally accepted but white-dominant political boundaries (SPLC, 2015). Although Siegel does not mention Israel in his book, the notion of a Jewish state also reflects the budding racial consciousness that emerged out of the anti-oppression movement. As people who had been systematically oppressed began to recognize their common grounds, they joined together across national boundaries in order to create systems of power viable enough to combat oppression.
Critical race theory is something that Siegel tacitly works with, even though the author does not mention it in Uneven Encounters. As Peller points out, critical race theory helped to characterize different perspectives in the American civil rights movement. Black nationalism was pitted against the more romantic notion that the United States could indeed become a nation in which liberty and justice was truly for all people. It was not only Brazil and the United States that were multi-racial nations formed in the wake of colonialism; the twentieth century has dozens of examples of multicultural nation-states born anew such as Malaysia. Pitts points out that race consciousness has become a driving political force in the United States and elsewhere, as does Siegel.
By referring to cultural movements like the Harlem Renaissance, Siegel helps show that race consciousness as it emerged in the United States and Brazil has helped to create massive global anti-oppression movements. Numerous examples can be seen in the post-colonial landscape, in which former colonies of slaves have re-established their identities to divest themselves of colonial baggage and systematic prejudice and oppression. In the wake of slavery, new systems of power and control emerged in which race played a major role. The white elite has yet to fully recognize the extent to which power and privilege are linked to race, but gradually the barriers to genuine race consciousness are being dismantled. What it means to be “black” has changed dramatically over the past century; and Siegel does a good job of showing how globalization has allowed formerly oppressed people to alter the social, political, and possibly even economic balances of power in the world.
Peller, Gary. “Race Consciousness.” Duke Law Journal 1990. Retrieved online: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3122&context=dlj
Pitts, James P. “The Study of Race Consciousness: Comments on New Directions.” American Journal of Sociology. Volume 80, No. 3, Nov 1974.
Siegel, Micol. Uneven Encounters: Making Race and Nation in Brazil and the United States. Duke University Press, 2009.
SPLC (2015). Nation of Islam. Retrieved online: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/nation-islam
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