ngo 2017

Helen Ngo, The Habits of Racism A Phenomenology of Racism and Racialized Embodiment (Lexington Books: 2017)

The Habits of Racism examines some of the complex questions raised by the phenomenon and experience of racism. Helen Ngo first draws on the resources of Merleau-Ponty to argue that the conceptual reworking of habit as bodily orientation helps to identify the more subtle but fundamental workings of racism; to catch its insidious, gestural expressions, as well as its habitual modes of racialized perception. Racism, on this account, is equally expressed through bodily habits, and this in turn raises important ethical questions regarding the responsibility for one's racist habits. 

Ngo considers what the lived experience of racism and racialization teaches about the nature of the embodied and socially-situated being, arguing that racialized embodiment problematizes and extends existing accounts of general embodied experience, which calls into question dominant paradigms of the “self” in philosophy, as coherent, fluid, and synchronous. Drawing on thinkers such as Fanon, she argues that the racialized body is “in front of itself” and “uncanny” (in the Heideggerian senses of “strange” and “not-at-home”), while exploring the phenomenological and existential implications of this disorientation and displacement.

Finally, she returns to the visual register to take up the question of “objectification” in racism and racialization. While she critically examines the subject-object ontology presupposed by Sartre's account of “the gaze” (le regard), recalling that all embodied being is always already relational and co-constituting, drawing on Merleau-Ponty's concept of the intertwining, she argues that racialized embodiment reveals to us the ontological violence of racism—not a merely violation of one's subjectivity as commonly claimed, but also a violation of one's intersubjectivity.

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