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  • Zoe McDonald

Humanities on the Edge, Ramon Grosfoguel

Why do some immigrants experience the American dream of upward social mobility while others experience premature deaths without justice or significant media attention? How does the language of multiculturalism avoid addressing racism and white supremacy? Which forms of power do Marxists, feminists, and anti-racists often overlook in their efforts? Decolonial scholar Ramon Grosfoguel’s addressed those pressing questions in this fall’s final Humanities on the Edge (HoE) lecture.

Grosfoguel, an Ethnic Studies Associate Professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California Berkeley, continued the HoE’s fall theme of migration in his talk “Modernity, Racism, Migration: A Journey into the Zone of Being and the Zone of Non-Being.” Moderator Luis Othoniel Rosa, an Associate Professor in UNL’s Spanish and Ethnic Studies Departments, praised Grosfoguel’s work in decolonial theory that emphasizes the links among white supremacy, colonialism, and nationality. While Gorsfoguel’s scholarship resists simple disciplinary classifications, his insights provide several useful definitions. Racism is “superiority and inferiority along the lines of the human” and, crucially, Grosfoguel calls for all human rights movements to be anti-imperialist. These and other insights promoted questions among undergraduates, graduate students, and even a faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico. If time had permitted, this likely could have been a much longer conversation perhaps engaging anti-imperialist resistance efforts toward bringing about the full human rights of those caught in oppression’s many stranded web.

Grosfoguel began noting within sociology migrants are often examined as a singular group. However, this assumption overgeneralizes the variety of migrants, and cannot explain the phenomenon where some are assimilated into the dominant society within the United States, while others are not after two or three generations. To better understand these social experiences, Grosfoguel offers three categories—white people, colonial subjects in the United States, and colonial migrants who are classified as if they were part of the second colonial subject group. These categories offer a way of differentiating the experiences of migrants, such as 19th and 20th century European immigrants, classified as white, from those of groups who become subject to stereotypes and violence. Specifically, in the 1960’s white New Yorkers considered Haitians as Puerto Rican and hired them for the same manufacturing jobs.

These classifications became key for Grosfoguel’s definition of racism and its connections to imperialism. At several times in his talk, Grosfoguel emphasized migration is not random but a result of the history, and specifically foreign policy decisions of the United States and European countries. For example, people from the Caribbean Island Martinique do not arbitrarily choose to migrate to Paris, but do so due to France’s colonization of the island and its focused hiring practices. In much the same way Cubans migrated to Florida due to US government policies following Castro’s revolution.

As Grosfoguel continued to explain his definition of racism, he first pointed out the ways racism is not the result of ignorant or especially hateful individuals who will see the error of their ways with more education. Instead, there is widespread agreement among scholars. Racism is institutional, a matter of life or death, and the training police officers receive to hide their badges and break down the door rather than knock in some neighborhoods. This extends into Frantz Fanon’s “Zones of being and non-being” in which those classified as being are considered human with more peaceful conflict resolution. Those in the zone of nonbeing are considered sub-human with routine violent conflict resolutions. One key connection Grosfoguel noted to Black Lives Matter is camera phones provide evidence of such on-going violence that provides documentation for those in the zone of being. During the climax of his talk, Grosfoguel noted these findings contribute to the ways anti-racism must involve a reorganization of transnational power.

U CA Berkeley Assoc. Prof. of Ethnic Studies Ramon Grosfoguel gave a presentation “Modernity, Racism, Migration: A Journey into the Zone of Being and the Zone of Non-Being" on Nov. 18.

Ramon Grosfoguel’s lecture will available on the HoE website and YouTube channel. Many of Grosfoguel’s works in English and Spanish are available through the UNL Library system, including his most-cited article “The Epistemic Decolonial Turn: Beyond Political Economy Paradigms.”

Humanities on the Edge was founded in 2010 by UNL English faculty members Marco Abel and Roland Vegso.

Today the series is a collaboration with Jeannette Jones, Luis Othoniel Rosa, and Erin Hanas. Humanities on the Edge will return with Thomas Nail, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver, on March 10th at 5:30 in the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Works Cited

William and Mary. “What is Decoloniality?” Decolonizing Humanities Project.

“Humanities on the Edge.”, Department of English.

John Drabinski. “Frantz Fanon.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 14 Mar. 2019.

“Cubans.”, Hispanic Americans.

“Ramon Grosfoguel, Core Faculty.” University of California Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies.

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