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Rafal Pankowski

Racism in popular culture

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Racism in popular culture

Pages: 204

Editor of the original version: Lucyna Dukaj

Reviewers: prof. Iwona Jakubowska-Branicka, prof. Joanna Kurczewska

Translated from Polish:
doctor of history Leonid A. Mosionjnic

 S U M M A R Y

The book discusses key aspects of the complex subject-field of racism in the context of contemporary popular culture. First, the author presents the development of the idea of race and racism in history and presents the changes in understanding race and racism throughout the centuries. ‘Race’ is seen as an ever-changing concept constantly evolving over time and space. Contrary to widespread essentionalist interpretations of ‘race’ as an easily-defined quasi-biological, ‘natural’ category, ‘race’ is more properly seen as a cultural and social construct with numerous arbitrary features. The paradoxes of ‘race’ are illustrated by instances of absurd and utterly artificial classifications of humankind into ‘races’, with examples from the history of scientific and pseudo-scientific ‘raciology’ from South Africa, Eastern Europe, Northern and Southern America. It has to be stressed that ‘race’ is inevitably linked to its historical and political aspects and connotations of power and domination. It is not an ‘innocent’ idea as it has led to and/or served as justification for most cruel instances of persecution and genocide in human history, such as slavery and the Holocaust. Drawing upon works of contemporary authors such as Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall, the author concludes that ‘race’ is in fact and artificial and arbitrary concept It needs to be used with maximum caution in social sciences. Uncritical usages of ‘race’ are indeed dangerous (as they directly or indirectly legitimize discriminatory social practices) and thus should be abandoned.
Subsequently, the term ‘racism’ is discussed with examples of race discrimination in its different forms and guises throughout history. Racism is in fact strongly embedded in other forms of discrimination, such as religious and cultural intolerance, class stratification, different forms of social stigmatization, etc. It is important to note that racism is not limited to developed quasi-scientific tracts preaching the superiority of one race above others. Scientific racism has been utterly discredited since World War II and the Nazi Holocaust and has never been able to regain its academic respectability. Nevertheless, racism itself has survived in the form of discriminatory social practices implicating and reinforcing racial divisions and instances of injustice. Indeed, numerous forms of racism had existed long before the appearance of pseudo-scientific, positivist ‘raciology’ and they have continued to exist long after it became discredited.
The ‘new’ forms of ‘cultural’ racism are often manifested in the field of contemporary popular culture. Drawing from the theory of cultural studies inspired by the writings of Antonio Gramsci, popular culture is seen as a field of struggle for hegemony. Therefore popular culture is not to be seen as a means of entertainment only, but also as an important element of the political landscape. The growth of technology (such as cable/satellite television, Internet etc.) rapidly increases the availability of various cultural ‘niches’ and provides conditions for an unprecedented growth in all kinds of cultural expressions, including racist ones. Thus, paradoxically, ‘cosmopolitan’ popular culture provides means for racial and other divisions of cultural audiences.
The author gives examples of multiple forms of racism in the broad field of popular culture. They start from racism as a form of rejection of society and its moral principles as exemplified by the case of ‘National Socialist Black Metal’, a musical and subcultural form where extreme racism and neonazism mixes with Satanism and paganism. The obscene language and violence associated with NSBM is a result of a radical rejection of society in the subculture.
Far from isolating themselves from wider society, some ideologists of modern racism (including the intellectuals of the racist ‘New Right’ such as Alain De Benoist) have proclaimed a form of ‘Kulturkampf’ aiming to promote the racist ideology by any means, including various kinds of popular music. The paradoxes of using musical genres considered as ‘black’ (reggae, rap, but also rock) in the service of white racist ideology are exposed. The association of any cultural form with a supposed racial essence is bound to result in such paradoxes given the fragile and artificial nature of the idea of race as such.
The complex relationship of the concept of racism and globalization is also discussed. While cultural globalization is often seen as homogenizing cultural tastes, including through the promotion of cosmopolitan black role models, it can be said it provides an ideological cover for contemporary forms of extreme inequality and injustice in an increasingly polarized globalized world. It masks inequality and structural discrimination, although on the surface it has no obvious political connotations.
Nevertheless, popular culture can also serve as a truly emancipatory force in today’s struggles for racial justice. Despite structural limitations implicated by the structure of the global media, the genuine anti-racist message can be delivered through various channels of contemporary popular culture with impressive examples of pop cultural heroes such as Mohammed Ali and Bob Marley to name just two. The Polish campaign ‘Music Against Racism’ is but one example of an anti-racist initiative in the popular cultural field using the vehicle of independent alternative youth culture.

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Year - 2014
Pages— 204
Format — 147×207mm
ISBN: 978-83-928440-8-2