Theorizing Racial Temporality

MAR 08, 2019 | 3:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue


March 08, 2019: 3:00 PM




"Theorizing Racial Temporality: How Subjective Understandings of Time Shape Perceptions of Racism and Anti-racism"

Crystal Fleming

Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology at Stony Brook University, SUNY

Description of the talk: 
The concept of racial temporality refers to social actors’ “claims about the content of the racial past, present and future as well as the relationship among racial categories, relations and processes in these different time periods” (Fleming 2017: 16). In this talk, I focus on one aspect of racial temporality: how social actors represent and conceptualize the temporal dimension of racism. Specifically, I explore the implications of an undertheorized question: How do social actors think that racism operates temporally? While much of the literature on racial attitudes examines people’s perceptions of racism in the past or present, I argue that scholars must attend to how social actors believe racism functions within and across different time periods (the past, present and future). In theorizing this dimension of racial conceptualization, I explore common temporal beliefs about racism at the macro and micro levels, including historical duration (beliefs about how long racism endures); historical relegation (the belief that racism ended at some point in the past); historical proximity (beliefs about how proximate the racist past is to the present); historical persistence (beliefs about bleeding of the racist past into the present); future persistence or eradication (beliefs about the continuation or ending of racism) and individual characterization (beliefs about the past, present or future behavior or ideas that characterize an individual as ‘racist’). Finally, the talk considers how examining social actors’ temporal beliefs about racism might provide greater insight into individuals’ racial attitudes, policy views, approval or disapproval of past and present social justice and civil rights activism, pessimism or optimism about race relations and willingness to personally oppose racism.

About the speaker:  
Professor Fleming's research examines how people of African descent conceptualize and respond to racial oppression in multiple national settings. Her first book Resurrecting Slavery: Racial Legacies and White Supremacy in France (Temple University Press, 2017) uses critical race theory to significantly advance scholarship on racism in France and Europe. The book marshals ethnographic data, archival research and in-depth interviews with French activists and descendants of slaves to analyze how social actors construct racial temporality through collective memories and commemoration of enslavement and abolition.

Her second book, How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy and the Racial Divide (Beacon Press 2018), blends public sociology with memoir, critical race theory and satire to debunk common misconceptions about racism.

Her current projects extend her work on racism and anti-racism by further exploring the dynamics of global white supremacy and anti-blackness in France and the United States. A new line of research bridges her interests in spirituality, racial temporality and intersectionality by examining the experiences of non-white minorities with mindfulness and contemplative practice