The phenomenon of racialization is an assault on human aliveness

The phenomenon of racialization is an assault on human aliveness



            A number of quintessential components make up art or architectural form. To bring out the real essence of artwork, be it a painting, a theatrical performance, a colossal building, or some popular film, it is necessary to achieve a careful integration of these components. One such inseparable component of an art form is “aliveness”. It represents the maestro of the creator in enlivening, or simply adding “life” to an inanimate art form. The “aliveness” of a piece of art depends exclusively on the transformative skills of the artist. While virtually rendering life to art, the artist should make sure that the enlivened artwork connects not only with his mind and soul, but also interweaves with the psyche of the spectators. The success of this form of art lies in the fact that the viewers should be able to transport themselves to a virtual world and feel their existence within the spectacle of the art.

            Many authors, artists and research workers have observed some misinterpreted connotations of the term “aliveness”. On numerous occasions, both the artists and the spectators do not clearly understand the difference between the terms “aliveness” and “life”. In its true essence, aliveness is the relational quality of life (Massumi, 2011). It represents a semblance or a non-sensuous similarity or lived abstraction, that segregates itself from the objectivities of an art form or a live performance and exists as a unique entity (Massumi, 2011). The element of “aliveness” connects the audience inextricably with the art form and enables the true expression of the latter.

Racialization as a socio-cultural barrier  

            Recently, the element of “aliveness” in art has been adversely impacted by some of the social evils. This has precipitated the loss of the real essence of the art work and has acted as a potential barrier to the connection between the sensible spectators and the art being presented. Several social research groups and social psychologists have identified “racialization” as the primary social evil that is destabilising the very roots of socio-cultural and political development (Long, 2011). In particular, it is undermining the true revelation of aliveness in art and architecture. Body complexion is being portrayed in a superimposing manner in various plays, comics and animation series, that is instilling the evils of racialism in the pliant minds of the readers, spectators and audiences.

            Kane (2007) has thoroughly analysed Franz Fanon’s “Theory of Racialization” and has tried to understand the implications of this theory on the current global culture. Kane (2007) has rightly identified that Fanon’s racial theory critiques the increasing tendencies of polarization in different global sectors. This is directly impacting the essence of “human aliveness” in art. Fannon’s (1967) theory points out the “racial optic” that persistently impacts the colonial conditions. Kane (2007) has urged on the abolition of this racial optic in the cultural artefacts. He agrees with Fanon’s (1967) perspective that the concepts of “skin pigmentation” and racial factors have been deeply imbued with the human aliveness in art through the mediation of the culture industry. Fanon’s theory has initiated the transformative movement towards ontological shift of the audiences. In his work “Black Skin, White Masks”, Fanon says “I want the world to recognize, with me, the open door of every consciousness” (Fanon, 1967). It is this consciousness that will enable the future artists to isolate racialization from human aliveness and infuse the true essence of art within the audiences (Schultz, 2016).


Racialization as an assault on human aliveness

            Fassin (2011), has identified the lack of reconciliation of the double entities experienced by the Black Americans, the self-perceived entity and the peer-influenced entities, that is viewing oneself through the eyes of other people. This self-evident discrimination between one’s “body” and “race” has lead to the embodiment of racialism which has been actively promoted by the cultural organisations. There are multiple incidences where the objectification of racial components turned into “symbolic violence” that was overtly depicted in different acts and plays in the colonial era (Fassin, 2011). Fassin (2011) has in fact presented both the objective and subjective identification of racial discrimination that have been expanded in multiple directions by many of the contemporary authors.

            Gateward and Jennings (2015) showed how the racial factors are portrayed in comics and sequential art. They have presented their observations in the context of an African American subculture. They have studied how the metaphorical powers of the popular comic series were utilised to highlight the “painful task of being a human” amidst the increasing tendencies of racial discrimination. Gateward & Jennings (2015)  have insisted on expanding the canons of representing Black Characters in the comic novels. These authors have debunked the notion of “Black is a dangerous colour” subtly portrayed in different comic series (Asibong, 2013). Their works have been centred around the Blackface/Whiteface opposition in Uganda. The racial crisis has become more prominent in the representation of massacred bodies of the black bodies of the African Americans in different comic novels. Gateward & Jennings (2015) observed that the artists have portrayed those bodies as a continuous mass of deindividualised corpses, and have failed to present the subjective individuality, that is critical to attaining “human aliveness” in art. The real tragedy of the deceased people has been disgracefully eclipsed by racialization (Gateward & Jennings, 2015). These artists have consciously stereotyped “aliveness” with “blackness” in their works.

            In a similar work depicting the vulnerability and survivability in racial frame of wars, Butler (2009) has shown how “human aliveness” has sunken within the boundaries of racialization. The author has shown how the media often refrained from publishing photographs of warfare, stating that those types of pictures might generate mass-negativity. Butler (2009)  however has identified the actual reason and has openly insinuated the racialist role of the media. He has shown that in many cases, the media confined themselves to reporting and picturing only the situations which they themselves found appropriate for mass circulation (Butler, 2009). This has clearly affected the photographic realm of human aliveness. Referring to the Anti-demonstration movement that took place in the year 2005, Butler (2009) drew instances where the media pictured the movement as “violent and a-relational acts of young men, whose family structures were lacking firm paternal authority”, and tried to misinterpret the core objective of the movement through some deceptive photographs. Butler (2009) has debunked the racialized ideas of the social and individual boundaries of human bodies. He stated that the survivability of human aliveness in photographs was at stake due to the racial boundaries imposed by the society, often by means of physical coercion.

            Butler (2009) referred to the poem “Humiliated in Shackles”, where the poet Sami-al-Hajj (2007)gave a detailed account of the atrocities he was subjected to in the US prison on the grounds of racial discrimination. Butler (2009) stated that it was the means of addressability in different art and literary works that determined the survivability of human aliveness in those works. But the contemporary artists always overlooked this “crisis” and presented works that symbolised a world full of racial stigma, dispossession and unwilled contact. He strongly stated that human aliveness was at risk in this kind of representation of the “body” in social space and time (Butler, 2009).

            In the same year, Hanley & Noblit (2009) proposed a completely different approach to racial representation in contemporary art and culture. They suggested that the cultural organisations should use racial identity as an asset and promote a cumulative socio-cultural growth. They avowed that this form of socio-cultural uplift will not only promote the recognition of distinct racial identities, but will also enable the preservation of emotional vitality within the realms of song, dance, oral literature, body language, folk poetry and expressive thought. Hanley & Noblit (2009) gave a new meaning to racial values by suggesting that the contemporary art should incorporate the humanistic values followed in the African culture, that are based on the belief that “the whole world is vitalistic, or alive, and that this vitality is grounded in a sense of goodness” (Hanley & Noblit, 2009). These authors have successfully shown the gateway to the restoration of human aliveness devoid of racialist elements in art.

            Stringer (2011) has represented the late 19th century French visual culture in the light of racial identities. He has juxtaposed the studies of representation of black male and female bodies by some of the eminent French artists and has tried to investigate whether the “aliveness” in art has been jeopardised on a racial scale. Stringer (2011) has presented his observations through the lens of hybridity. Anthropologists, ethnologists and naturalists of the past have continually fabricated “Whiteness” as a colour signifier to highlight the prominent physical and moral features of the Europeans (Bernasconi & Lott, 2000). The analysis of the portraits of Mme Camus by Stringer (2011) depicts the prominent sculpture of a blackamoor which was a clear representation of “racial signs” in paintings in that age. This racialism has been further aggravated by the close positioning of a black male body and a white female body, that was distinctly indicative of the racial superiority that was prevalent in the European nations. This notion coincided with Michelet’s view of symbolization of racial purity by the white Europeans (Michelet, 1860).

            Apart from pointing out the racial discrepancies in the different portraits by the French artists, Stringer (2011) also emphasized on bridging the gap between the extreme mahogany complexion of the black races and the dazzling-white complexion of the fairer races. This wrongly presented discrepancy was earlier pointed out by Sidlauskas (2001), who pointed out that a few races, such as the Caucasians did not have colour uniformity. So, it is better to paint the darker people in those races in a reddish tone rather than an extreme blotchy complexion (Sidlauskas, 2000).

            In the context of aliveness, Stringer (2011) has cited the letter of Bazille (1866) to his parents about choosing modern art as an expression of “life”. Stringer (2011) stated that the perception of aliveness in Bazille’s work stemmed from the concepts of “vitalism” and “variability”. Zola (1991) was of the opinion that Bazille’s concepts of aliveness were formed in the frameworks where the human body was observed as individually distinct.

            Campbell (2013) presented the impact of racialization on “human aliveness” in the sphere of music. Prior to her exposure to jazz music, Campbell (2013) was immensely influenced by the novel “African Art in Motion” which shook the foundation of parochial racial views by stating that “Vital Aliveness” existed in every domain of African aesthetics. Campbell (2013) admitted that her notion of African jazz as a “dull and uninteresting” genre was completely changed after she heard the compositions by two prominent musicians – Thelonious Monk and Louis Armstrong. She stated that the unorthodox body movements of the musicians kindled the aliveness within the audiences and urged them to dance to the tune. Campbell (2013) referred to the work of Stowe (1996) where the author has mentioned that although the swing era of jazz became one of the primary reasons of racial segregation at that time, later it lead to the admiration of swing music by the White leftists. Stowe (1996) stated that the swing music represented the “spirit of collective co-operation and spontaneous individuality”. In a similar work which highlighted human aliveness in contemporary ballet dance, Resiman et al. (2016) critiqued the works of Lepecki (2000) and Roydson (2009). Resiman et al. (2016) stated that both the works have emphasized the significance of bodily movements, expressions and the modes of display in contemporary dance. Resiman et al. (2016) also spoke of the distortion of aliveness in dance which was vividly expressed in Hassinger’s (2011) work. This dance performance depicted the subjugation and passivity that were meted out to the racially inferior groups in the United States. This essentially was a performative power play which clearly revealed the racial unrest that remained unresolved in the US for an inordinately long time (Hassinger,2011).

            Avilez (2008) expanded on racial segregation in landscape in his work “Housing the Black Body”, that discussed race-restrictive zoning in public housing projects. He has compared and contrasted racially integrated and racially segregated domestic spaces to understand the social position of the “Black domestic Space”. He cited instances from Larry’s (2000) work and stated that the black domestic space was a “homeplace” for the racial minority who could live a life free from racial oppression. Apparently the “human” aliveness was protected in these safe areas (Larry, 2000). But a thorough analysis revealed that this separation made the racial demarcation more prominent and equated the black domestic spaces with “valuelessness”. This labelling proved to be potentially threatening to “human aliveness” in the protected boundaries.


Case Study: Death and the Nation’s Subjects, Patricia Holland (2000)

            In her work “Raising the Dead”, Holland (2000) elaborated on the grave situation of racial discrimination worldwide and how it is affecting the art of living. She refers to the “social death” that has been catalysed by the evils of racialization. Holland (2000) bases many of her observations on the views presented in Patterson’s (1982) work “Slavery and Social Death”, where the author has ascribed the persistent global crisis of marginality, blackness and racial unrest to the merciless enslavement of the black people in the earlier decades. Holland (2000) agrees with Patterson’s (1982) view that the enslaved, racial minorities gradually became the “genealogical isolates” since they were deprived of some of the basic social rights, particularly the right to access the “social heritage” enjoyed by their ancestors. Holland observed that Patterson (1982) did not extend his discussions to the genealogical isolation of the whites, who played the “masters” in that era. This gap was filled by Hooks (1992) who posited that the blacks refrained from upward gaze in front of their masters, since it was considered to be an act of audacity and assertion of subjectivity and equality.

            Holland (2000) observed that the blacks were constantly looked down upon as “non-entities” and hence the question of attaining transmutation from an “enslaved to a free subject” seemed impossible at that time. This stood in the way of attaining aliveness in the art of social living. Even when some of the eminent representative of the black community propagated the thought of freedom, the main concern was, whether the blacks would achieve the “status of living” in the eyes of other people. Holland also observed that blackness used to be the “yardstick” to measure the worth of the black people, which became internalised within them for ages. Holland (2000) expanded upon Morrison’s view that thinking outside the norms was analogous to “imagine being dead and actually being dead”.

            In the later part of her study, Holland restated the “ethnic conflicts” originally stated in the Times Magazine (1994). The authors envisioned an era of apocalypse which they thought might arise from the pronounced racial differences in the United States. Holland (2000) again refers to Anderson’s (1991) observation of “Imagined Communities” where the Anderson drew the readers’ attention to the lack of momentum in the United States’ imaginative space. In his discussion of the tombs raised after the death of several soldiers at that time, Anderson said that those tombs were void representations of the “ghostly national imaginings”.

            In her work, Holland also supported the view of Aries’ that “death” was no longer a matter of fear or uncertainty to the black section, and that the “dichotomy between life and death was not always so pronounced in Western attitudes”. Holland concluded by stating that the era of liminality arose from the consistent oppression of the slaves and marked the beginning of the catastrophe as predicted earlier.


Case study: Fruitvale Station

            The Fruitvale Station (2013) is an American biographical drama directed by Ryan Coogler. The plot revolved around the last 24 hours of the life of Oscar Grant III, a black man, aged 22 who was shot dead by the police on the morning of 1st January, 2009. The film was a depiction of the injustice meted to a black American, who was subjected to death in the course of involuntary manslaughter. The severity of the theme was prominent in the fact that Oscar was unarmed and helpless the time he was shot.

            Human aliveness and empathy was conspicuous in the scene where Oscar held a bleeding dog in his arms, although according to some of the critics the scene seemed somewhat unnatural and forcefully enacted. The unfairness of life was depicted when the same passionate treatment was not reverted to Oscar at the time of his death. This feature film is a manifestation of Coogler’s penchant for delivering strong social messages. Coogler does not refrain from presenting the stark reality of the black culture in America, something the mainstream directors covered on rare occasions. The remarkable insight of the filmmaker is evident in the critique of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” which says – “oppressed and the oppressor are bound together within the same society; they accept the same criteria, they share the same beliefs, they both alike depend on the same reality”.  The film has aptly captured the age-old oppression of the blacks within a very short span.



            From the works of multiple authors, artists, directors and social research workers it is evident that racialization has undermined the very concept of human aliveness in the different literary and art works. The most alarming fact that has come to light is the discriminated and disgraceful representation of black people in children’s books and comic series, which invariably necessitates proper education of the children regarding the moral concepts of racial differences. The discussion of some authors and journalists in an enormous breadth reveal that some of the eminent artists and journalists abstain from photographing or depicting the dark side of the society wherein the black people are constantly under the burden of racial and socio-political discrimination. The insincerity on the part of these artists has directly been reflected in the underrepresentation of human aliveness in the contemporary art forms. The future works of this nature should detail more on how the elements of racialization still exists in the most subtle manner within the apparently “progressive” societies and the effect of these evils on the art of “aliveness”. The futility of the different federal laws in protecting the society and the culture from the vices of racial discrimination should also be discussed with equal seriousness.



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