Denise Ferreira da Silva: Analytics of Raciality

by | 12 Jul 2020

Key Concept

In the glossary to Denise Ferreira da Silva’s Toward a Global Idea of Race (2007), you won’t find raciality under the letter ‘R’. Instead reference to the term is found under ‘A’; analytics of raciality. Before proceeding to explore this term it is important from the offset that we not forget analytics is inextricable to raciality. Failure to consider the analytics that is of raciality would lead to mistaking the term as merely a discursive concept (e.g. another way of saying ‘racialised’ or ‘racial thinking’) instead of recognising it as a politico-juridical programme, a production and mode of (transcendental) consciousness.

It may help to begin with an image for us to visualise the analytics of raciality. Often in her writings, the Black Brazilian philosopher da Silva refers to the analytics of raciality as an “onto-epistemological arsenal” (2009: 213). This arsenal is similar to a “political-symbolic toolbox” (2009: 219) that produces subjects of ethical life and “the racial subaltern subject as the sole agent of violence” (2009: 219).

In other words, this arsenal or toolbox of scientific-political thought not only renders black people and people of colour pathologically as a threat to order, civility, and society, but also shapes and moulds the human, and humanity, in the form of the white European. In other words, the onto-epistemological arsenal does not simply abject and negate blackness, but, as da Silva strongly argues throughout her work, instantiates and preserves whiteness (identity, property, capital).

For da Silva the racial (blackness) is constitutive of modernity — not outside it. Thus, a black person is not merely determined by the ethical subject (the European human), but is a determinate and determinant of that ethical subject (2013).

Da Silva does not prescribe to the dominant sociological paradigm of ‘race relations’ nor the critical race studies rearticulation of colour-blindness or racial injustice (2001). Such paradigms maintain what da Silva calls the logic of exclusion based on cultural difference, a presumption that black people and people of colour are outside social spaces and that ‘racial injustice’ is counter to the aims of modernity.

It is not simply individual ignorance, cultural prejudice, institutional failures, but scientific knowledge that create the conditions for the interdiction, arrest, incarceration, punishment, and killings of black people. The principles of scientific knowledge are determinacy, separability, and sequentiality, and it is this triad of modern thought that regulates and orders black life and death (2016).

The theorisation of the analytics of raciality should not be misconstrued as a critique of scientific racism or racial thinking. The variants of 18th century scientific racism described all bodies as racial, whereas in modern thought, as da Silva explains, the racial would “also refer to the quality of human mental processes” (2001: 428). Da Silva examines the racial as a referent of coloniality and traces this onto-epistemological signifier to Enlightenment and Kantian philosophy, the inheritance of Platonian and Aristotelian philosophy. Furthermore, da Silva is not conceptualising human mental processes or consciousness as merely racial thinking; as in thinking negatively or having prejudicial thoughts in the mind. Her concern is not what is in the mind (psychology) so much as the production of the mind itself and the descriptions of its interiority (being) and exteriority (affectability).

Negation is not what da Silva immerses herself in. She is interested in how distinctions are instituted, based on what formulations, what equations. What da Silva is exposing is not the dehumanisation of black people, for this follows the logic of exclusion, a conceptualisation of racial violence described as abandonment and banishment. Da Silva’s aim is to show that blackness is always already signified as violent. For modern thought or ethical consciousness to produce form and value (property, capital, law) requires excess (violence), for this is the matter of representation, abstraction, signification, calculation, and adjudication.

The representations of ethical life and no-bodies are compositions of the analytics of raciality (2009). Da Silva seeks to decompose these compositions by way of a methodology. Though she is commonly grouped with US Black scholars such as Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman, what distinguishes her from, for example, Afro-pessimism, broadly speaking, is that she is interested in epistemological questions, not strictly aesthetic or ontological questions.

Staying with violence, staying with possibilities, with desire, da Silva’s project is “the End of the World as we know it” (2014: 84, my emphasis). She comes with her own tool, made from a black feminist poethics (2014); blacklight, a device that by tracing “the juridical and economic architectures of colonial/racial violence” emanates the matter, the raw material of global capital, that is blackness (2017: 245). Through this methodology — asking not simply what is race but also the “how of race” (2011) — da Silva aims to bring to our attention the inseparability of matter without occluding difference (2016); such as it is maintained by the analytics of raciality.

Carson Cole Arthur is studying MPhil Criminology at Birkbeck, University of London. His research project is on inquests of Black British people killed in police custody, with a focus on accountability, testimony, memory, and racial violence. @carsoncoleart


— da Silva, D. F., 2001, ‘Towards a Critique of the Socio-logos of Justice: The Analytics of Raciality and the Production of Universality’. Social Identities, 7(3), pp.421-454.
— da Silva, D. F., 2011, ‘Notes for a Critique of the ‘Metaphysics of Race’’, Theory, Culture & Society, 28(1), pp.138-148.
— da Silva, D. F., 2007, Toward a Global Idea of Race, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
— da Silva, D. F., 2009, ‘No-bodies: Law, raciality and violence’, Griffith Law Review, 18(2), pp.212-236.
— da Silva, D.F., 2013, ‘To Be Announced Radical Praxis or Knowing (at) the Limits of Justice’,Social Text, 31(1(114)), pp.43-62.
— da Silva, D.F., 2014, ‘Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Toward the End of the World’, The Black Scholar, 44(2), pp.81-97.—da Silva, D.F., 2016, ‘On Difference Without Separability’. 32nd Bienal De São Paulo Art Biennial: Incerteza viva, pp.57-65.
— da Silva, D.F., 2017, ‘Blacklight’. In: Otobong Nkanga: Luster and Lucre. Molloy, C., Pirotte, P. and Schöneich, F., eds. Berlin: Sternberg Press, pp. 245-252.


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