Political Theory Workshop discuss misconceptions about racism

Ainsley LeSure, Visiting Scholar in Race and Ethnicity at Brown University, leads a talk with Political Science PHDs and other professors on Friday, Oct. 18 in Oak Hall. The talk was titled “Thoughts on the World, the Black, and the Political.” Photo by Will Cronkhite/The Daily Campus

On Monday, Ainsley LeSure presented at the second meeting of the University of Connecticut’s Political Theory workshop series. LeSure, a political theorist and visiting scholar in race and ethnicity at Brown University, led a discussion about her upcoming book, tentatively titled “Locating Racism in the World Toward an Anti-Racist Reality.”   

LeSure discussed why racism persists despite many changes in society over the past century. Her book’s main focus provides an answer: Shift the deflective, ambiguous narrative that is often placed on the conversation of racism. LeSure rejects the commonly accepted idea that racism is an innate part of our unconscious selves. 

“The object of the book is to reconceptualize post-Civil Rights racism, which I think focuses on the unconscious too much when it explains why racism persists after formal changes like the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, civil rights legislation and the radical transformation of the opinions of White Americans,” said LeSure.  

LeSure also rejects the idea that institutions are the reason racism persists in our modern society. To understand institutions and structural racism, LeSure argued, society has to consider the experiences and views of individuals within the said institution. LeSure connects this idea back to the message of racism being an unconscious feature of humans. According to LeSure, people need to  analyze racial matters more deeply and consider how inter-human relations give more power to some groups and less power to others.  

“The book is trying to shift our attention away from the unconscious, talk about the actual phenomenal racial world and to think about how the ways we relate to each other and the practices that we authorize in our relations actually erect a world that divests marginalized people of their share of symbolic power.”

Ainsley LeSure, political theorist and visiting scholar in race and ethnicity at Brown University

LeSure believes that a less generalized look at racism will give people a better understanding of and defense against the concept.  

“When we look at actual racial matter itself, we begin to excavate the wrongs that are being done, delineate how individuals are implicated in the perpetuation of racism the instant it happens and start building the kinds of political communities and ways of relating and interacting that can guard us against what I think is the main problem with racism: The way in which it distorts and maims reality,” LeSure said. 

The Political Theory Workshop, a group sponsored by the UConn Humanities Institute, meets monthly and provides political thinkers an opportunity to present, discuss and receive feedback on their works-in-progress or recently published work. The workshops cover a range of topics, from gendered citizenship to political race theory. The workshop series will reconvene next month with a focus on transitional identity and historical development. You can find more information about their upcoming events on the Humanities Institute website. 

“There are not that many political theorists, and a lot of our time is spent teaching or publishing, but not talking to each other about our actual work,” said Jane Gordon, a political science professor and organizer of the workshop. “So one purpose of the group is to organize ourselves and support each other’s work. Another purpose is to teach graduate students. One of the best ways to learn this work is from doing it and this is what doing it looks like.” 

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