Race, Racism and the Color Line Peripheral Knowledges 16.04.2021

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Titre : Interrogating Love Across the Color Line in France and the American South

Cécile Coquet-Mokoko

This sociological study is grounded in personal experience in France (the author’s home country) and in an emblematic state of the Deep South of the USA. Its perspective is contemporary, but informed by an acute awareness of the history behind the legal Othering of Black-White interracial couples in both countries. By including metropolitan French society as a counterpoint, it seeks to de-center the U.S-centered viewpoint common to much of the literature on Black/White relations. 

Gendered perceptions of cultural authenticity and sexual ethics are a guiding thread, being inseparable from the historical and political contingencies (re-)defining acceptable forms of dating, marrying, and parenting among cis-heterosexual couples in each country.

Because the fieldwork was carried out between 2009 and 2018 among forty-three couples in two public universities in Alabama and metropolitan France, it could be expected to serve the foregone conclusion that France is more accepting of interracial couples than the Deep South. But the emic approach driving the study shows many unexpected parallels between the two societies.

The historical approach to race relations helps situate the politicized perceptions of the partners. Qualitative data show that within the structures of oppression built in each society, couples have consistently mobilized creative forms of agency as they seek to protect themselves and their children, while the support of extended or symbolic kinship networks help White partners acknowledge the existence of racial privilege.

The rising visibility of couples carving spaces for themselves against the White racial frame, re-negotiating cultural and racial allegiances on terms increasingly their own, calls for an increased attention to the overlapping of culture and race. Indeed there are many distinct Black cultures and ways of performing racial identities, with codes that vary, from safe spaces centered on small-group dynamics to public spaces where couples and families are under the public gaze.

Peripheral Knowledges

“Peripheral Knowledges”, an interdisciplinary seminar, aims to combine insights from contemporary debates in critical race theory and decolonial studies on knowledge production. This research seminar replaces the “Écrire l’Histoire Depuis Les Marges” (EHDLM) – Paris Diderot seminar, an extension of the EHDLM project https://hdlm.hypotheses.org/(2013-2016) funded by the IDEX USPC, which had focused on African-American history and thought. In the period 2019-2023, the “Peripheral Knowledges” seminar will extend its purview to address questions pertaining to decolonising knowledge in global norths and souths.

Decentring Euro-American paradigms of knowledge production, “Peripheral Knowledges” engages with the critique of the Eurocentric dichotomous relation between the west and the rest, knowledge and non-knowledge, and the knowing subject and the performing object. Rooted in disparate geographical locations and academic terrains, it makes the case for reading diverse forms of postcolonial, people of colour, diasporic and minority-discourse knowledges that traditionally occupy the peripheries in university curriculum in global norths. Engaging with the diversity of genealogies of thinking, remembering, performing and producing knowledges is one of the primary objectives of the seminar.

Through a series of presentations, readings, lectures and workshops, this research seminar responds to the long-pending but urgent global demand for the establishment of a non-Eurocentric academy. Conventional academic taxonomies of history, literature, culture, aesthetics, and politics appear porous when criss-crossing lines of knowledges begin to dismantle norms and monoliths of disciplinary boundaries. “Peripheral Knowledges” signals such a move away from Eurocentric enunciation and repetition of knowledge and intellectual practices with a view to engaging with pluriversal ways of being in our world(s), thereby revisiting the question of a new universalism based on these conversations.