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date: 25 April 2019

Summary and Keywords

Paul Gilroy is a central figure in British cultural studies. From There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack to Darker than Blue, his work has consistently interrogated what the political means for cultural studies, particularly with an eye toward making the world anew at some point in the near future. Indeed, Gilroy’s work suggests that the construct of the “political,” for cultural studies, has at least two interrelated meanings, both future-focused: (1) the political involves one form of investigation as a mode of entering into the conjunctural analysis; and (2) the political is also a nod toward black futurities as a mode of forever transforming said conjuncture. First, as noted by Stuart Hall, the cultural studies scholar has the responsibility to “necessarily abstract” from the conjuncture to begin an analysis. What this means is, whereas disciplinary scholarship focuses on the cultural, social, economic, or the political as set boundaries, the cultural studies scholar can begin with the political, in the first instance, and this may (or may not) lead to an investigation of the social, economic, or cultural elements of the conjuncture. This is an inherent element of the interdisciplinary approach of cultural studies. For Gilroy, nationalism and fascism are political constructs that he begins with, in the first instance. These political constructs, then, disproportionately lead to questions of racism and colonialism, which are disproportionately left out of the larger British cultural studies project. Gilroy’s career outlines a position that arguably has changed very little in contemporary British cultural studies: that white men are largely the gatekeepers of what constitutes cultural studies, many of whom completely ignore race in their theorizations of nationalism and fascism, even when it serves as an absent presence. Further, this liberal position of cultural studies requires intervention. Thus, second, and as noted by Lawrence Grossberg, the political for cultural studies also assumes that one’s work should do something in the world; it should seek to forever transform the conjuncture. In short, cultural studies is not just a theoretical exercise, but it is about telling a “better story” that can lead to transformation in the world. Indeed, Gilroy’s treatise on “racelessness,” often considered a nod toward colorblindness, is actually his attempt to speak the world anew. Put differently, Gilroy’s project has always been concerned with “routes” toward a new construct of humanism to disrupt Western engagements with the human. Despite its potential for white liberalism, then, Gilroy views cultural studies as uniquely positioned to speak the world anew, to challenge the solidity of the Western human and its connections to the Western nation. This, for Gilroy, requires rethinking the future, not through Karl Marx’s communist future, but Frantz Fanon’s decolonial future. In short, black futurities are everyone’s future.

Keywords: Paul Gilroy, racism, nationalism, ethnic absolutism, fascism, black studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, communication and critical studies

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