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Racism and human rights: towards a new humanism

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 22:02 authored by Alana Lentin
The humanist tradition, which provides the philosophical framework for the contemporary discourse of human rights, has, since the outset of the anti-colonial struggle, been critiqued for its deeply entrenched Eurocentrism. A complete historical-sociological and social theoretical approach to the discourse and practice of human rights today must take note of this critique of its philosophical foundations and ask what limitations it poses to the formulation of political contestations in the terms of human rights. My analysis of the development of the political idea of modern racism [1] demonstrates some important interconnections between "historicist' racism [2] and human rights discourse. It is important to take note of the relationship between universalism and racism, as explained by Balibar [3] and the way in which the discourse of human rights, based on a universalist ideal of humanity, is shaped by the Eurocentric development of the humanist legacy, which in turn enters into a relationship with the very racism it seeks to overcome. At a time when social movements for the struggle against racism and immigrants' rights in Europe are being increasingly constrained by a "rights' discourse, tabled by the professionalisation of the human rights lobby and its proximity to the locus of state and supranational power, it appears necessary to question the legacy of human rights both as an idea and as a practice that has the capacity to critique systems of state racism. In so doing, it is also crucial to discuss ways in which humanism can be reclaimed from its reactionary variant and re-radicalised for truly inclusive, creative and autonomous ends within progressive collective action.


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Voice of the Turtle


Voice of the Turtle

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  • Sociology and Criminology Publications

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