Our Favourite CRT: Lewis Gordon

by | 29 Oct 2020

Lewis Gordon, Disciplinary Decadence: Living Thought in Trying Times (Routledge 2007)

I’ve been called ‘Paki’, ‘flaco n*****’, ‘Ethiopian’ or ‘too Latin American’ more times than I care to count. Including during and about my teaching. But CRT is not about who I am or what names I’ve been called. It isn’t about self-victimhood or identity-politics. It’s about agency, position and creative institutional attitudes. In its most influential form, CRT can be traced back not only to 1980s America but also, to the older tradition focusing on institutional creolisation, trans-continentalism and amphibian cultures in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas. Upon arriving in North Africa to join the anti-fascist struggle, the 18-year-old Martinican writer Frantz Fanon observed: “the French hate the Jew. The Jew hate the Arab. The Arab hate the négre. How can I relate to people here?” The short answer is you can’t.

Whereas mainstream law is about relations and rules of recognition, which presuppose publics unified a priori by recognisable meanings, CRT and Africana philosophy pay attention to the fact of non-relations and failure of recognition in contexts of persistent colonialism (external or internal) and social lines of demarcation. Lewis Gordon, Fanon’s best living interpreter, explains that movements such as Africana philosophy and CRT are interesting because: “they are dominated by philosophers of color and their histories have always been on the periphery of the academy and communities outside the academy … They did not use the liberal discursive practice of writing texts that would stimulate white guilt … They built up small institutions that eventually grew to the point of making the dialectics of recognition between antiracist and liberal racist organizations irrelevant. Put differently, white guilt or the white conscience of white analytical philosophers didn’t lead to the demographic of there being more than one hundred black philosophers in North America [and many more in the rest of the Americas] at the end of the twentieth century” (112).

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Birkbeck College, University of London


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