From Word to Flesh: Embodied Racism and the New Politics

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This article stems from my presentation at the 2020 Symposium of the Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society, whose theme was "Religion and the New Politics." The article is written for an interdisciplinary audience. Drawing on resources from the philosophical tradition of phenomenology and putting them into dialogue with an important theme in Christian theology, I argue that there is a distinctly non-discursive, embodied form of racism that should be recognized and addressed by the new politics. Because this form of racism occurs not at the familiar level of discourse (word), but in the often unconscious habitualities of the lived body (flesh), it resists common antiracist strategies, and seems to be outside the purview of responsibility and of willful, rational change (the logos). I situate these underlying issues with regard to the traditional opposition between mind and body, and then offer a reinterpretation of them by way of some key phenomenological concepts: intentionality, the lived body, the critique of scientism, motivation, and empathy. I conclude that embodied racism is something which is open to an extended conception of rationality that includes the lived body, and for which we are responsible. I then suggest some antiracist political strategies that put these theoretical considerations to use through attention to embodied spaces and practices.
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Archival date: 2020-09-27
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