Theorizing Racial Temporality: How Subjective Understandings of Time Shape Perceptions of Racism and Anti-Racism

Crystal Fleming, Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY)

The concept of racial temporality refers to social actors’ “claims about the content of the racial past, present and future as well as the relationship among racial categories, relations and processes in these different time periods” (Fleming 2017: 16). In this paper, I focus on one aspect of racial temporality: how social actors represent and conceptualize the temporal dimension of racism. Specifically, I explore the implications of an undertheorized question: How do social actors think that racism operates temporally? While much of the literature on racial attitudes examines people’s perceptions of racism in the past or present, I argue that scholars must attend to how social actors believe racism functions within and across different time periods (the past, present and future). In theorizing this dimension of racial conceptualization, I explore common temporal beliefs about racism at the macro and micro levels, including historical duration (beliefs about how long racism endures); historical relegation (the belief that racism ended at some point in the past); historical proximity (beliefs about how proximate the racist past is to the present); historical persistence (beliefs about bleeding of the racist past into the present); future persistence or eradication (beliefs about the continuation or ending of racism) and individual characterization (beliefs about the past, present or future behavior or ideas that characterize an individual as ‘racist’). Finally, the paper considers how examining social actors’ temporal beliefs about racism might provide greater insight into individuals’ racial attitudes, policy views, approval or disapproval of past and present social justice and civil rights activism, pessimism or optimism about race relations and willingness to personally oppose racism.

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 Presented in Session 71. Theorizing Race, Time, and Temporality