Necropolitics and racism

Image: Fidan Nazim qizi


In the biopower economy, the function of racism is to regulate the distribution of death and make the murderous functions of the state possible.

“Chains never again” (Glória Maria).

Achille Mbembe is a Cameroonian philosopher who, at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, published a short essay in English entitled Necropolitics. Translated into Portuguese, in 2018, it has more than a dozen reprints. became a big bestseller of thought. Necropolitical discusses the fundamental attribute of sovereignty: “exercising control over mortality and defining life as an implantation and manifestation of power”. The definition corresponds to what Michael Foucault calls biopower, in birth of biopolitics (College de France, 1978-1979).

The African thinker's concern is with “the generalized instrumentalization of human existence and the material destruction of human bodies and populations”. The rise of the extreme right on an international scale has raised alarm bells. Neo-fascism re-energized the friend/enemy opposition in politics to justify the state of exception and give the instituted power the decision on the life and death of individuals. In the West, ethnic racism was the instrument, par excellence, created for the elimination of otherness; more inclusive than the perspective of social class.

In the biopower economy, the function of racism is to regulate the distribution of death and make possible the murderous functions of the state. In this sense, historical accounts of necropolitics need to reinsert slavery in the critical agenda, “which can be considered one of the first manifestations of biopolitical experimentation”. If the system planting served to model the modern State of exception, the losses that slaughtered slaves incubated stateless people, without rights over their bodies or social existence (dehumanization). Losses greater than the simple added value.

Michel Foucault locates the origins of terror in the mechanism of social and political formations in white and Christian Europe: bodily subjugation, medical regulations, social Darwinism, eugenics policies, medico-legal theories of heredity, degeneration and race. but went to planting and the colony that concentrated the imaginary of horror, that incited the meat-grinding machine of the extermination camps and gulags, of the 1930s-40s. Environments in which the idea of ​​the State based on the principle of rational organization and on universal ideals, as symbols of morality, fell to the ground. In areas thus conflagrated, war and disorder stand side by side, suspending the guarantees of judicial and constitutional order. In such circumstances, the brutal truculence of the long exceptional hiatuses operated in the service of “civilization”.

For the conqueror, "wildlife" is equivalent to "animal life," an experience beyond imagination and comprehension. From the point of view of colonial imperialism, the alter ego is a natural, inhuman element to be subjugated and domesticated. Massacres do not generate the feeling of crime. Conflicts are not subject to legal and institutional norms. The city of the colonized is bad, it has hunger, misery. O loci colonized is a kneeling favela, disciplined with irons.

Postmodern belligerences are different. They do not include conquest and territorial management. They destroy, without the need to look the enemy in the eye. The Gulf War resembled a video game. Smart bombs, electronic sensors, laser-guided missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, cyberintelligence liquidated the enemy's reaction sketches. In Kosovo, the war had an infrastructural nature, it destroyed bridges, railways, highways, communication networks, warehouses and oil deposits, thermoelectric power stations, power plants and water treatment facilities. The strategy aimed at the annihilation of the survival alternative. Dare and you will see.

The damage to civilian life was tremendous. When a petrochemical explosion contaminated the outskirts of Belgrade, women were advised to have an abortion and not become pregnant for two years. In Africa, state apparatuses no longer have the Weberian “monopoly on violence”. Private groups form and arm powerful extermination armies, using mineral extractive resources to purchase heavy, lethal weapons. Children turn into soldiers, maimed people roam like zombies, exodus leads to prison zoning and suffering.

The absence of freedom and the imminence of physical death is the common trait among survivors in slave states and colonial occupations. Brutality intends to make the pain inflicted a means of unconditional submission. Phenomenon that does not belong to the past, belongs to the present constructed with the colonialist logic of domination and subordination. The “duration” intertwines yesterday and today with the line of continuity of necropolitics, sometimes imperceptible. Like a bolt of lightning in the blue sky, exceptional. Strictly speaking, it is the continuum. In societies marked by the long journey of slavery, all social relations reproduce the wound of intolerance and prejudice that “stole the soul of even slave owners”, as illustrious abolitionists used to say in ancient times. Housemaids know this by heart.

Despite the process of methodical and systematic dehumanization, enslaved in Brazil for 350 years, they rise from the ruins, where the signifiers remained among the wreckage to develop their polymorphic capacities, with music and dance. They seemed stripped of Eros forever, but they reinvented new meanings to exist. The “territorialization” of the colony outside the law did not manage to end the resilience of the subalterns. Oppressed; didn't win.

The memory of details of ancestral fights and revolts drives, not the fantasy of returning to an illusion without foot or head in the verità effettuale de la thing, but hope for the future. Resistance resides in candomblé, umbanda, in the foods that shaped a Brazilian identity, in the quilombolas, in the syncretism to keep the forbidden alive. Ethnic-racial quotas in public universities expedited reparation, which was owed to the victimized for centuries, and triggered public policies in National Conferences under progressive governments (2003-2016). No other program has promoted such impressive social mobility. Daughters and sons of day laborers and gas station attendants were then able to attend higher education and become doctors.

Biopower, necropolitics and the state of exception hover around the world map, which gives the perfect dimension of Lula's victory as president of the nation. The result impacted and blocked the growth of the extreme right, internationally. Politics returned to the principle of citizenship, with the values ​​of freedom, equality and solidarity. Police stations still echo torture and human rights violations. He still dies of asphyxiation in the trunk of the SUV of road agents, for not having a helmet, or at the exit of a supermarket beaten by security guards racialized by structural racism, because he is black. But the indignation in his chest goes out into the streets. The level of awareness grew and the organizational spirit was strengthened. "Black lives matter".

The class struggle in the country is linked to the emancipation of the yoke of colonialism (racism). Work and race relations, together with the gender issue, weave a totality that political astuteness is responsible for classifying and ordering, without theoretical apriorisms. Not everything is solved in theory; much is solved in practice, in movement, without an instruction manual. The merit of Achille Mbembe is to put his finger on the narcissistic wound of the world history of Caucasian supremacism. Necropolitics and racism are anchors that bind us to our worst nightmares. Hoist anchors!

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.


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