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An African-American child at a segregated drinking fountain on a courthouse lawn, North Carolina, 1938.

State racism is a concept used by French philosopher Michel Foucault to designate the reappropriation of the historical and political discourse of "race struggle", in the late seventeenth century.

It also refers to a type of institutional racism promoted by a government. Examples include Apartheid in South Africa, and racial segregation in the United States, as well as any systemic or community-based racism in local, state or federal law enforcement (see also racial profiling).

Affirmative action measures are sometimes accused of being a form of state racism, especially when they favour an ethnic majority.

Foucault's concept

The historico-political discourse analyzed by Foucault in Society Must Be Defended (1976-77) considered truth as the fragile product of a historical struggle, first conceptualized under the name of "race struggle" — however, "race"'s meaning was different from today's biological notion, being closer to the sense of "nation" (distinct from nation-states; its signification is here closer to "people"). Boulainvilliers, for example, opposed the aristocracy, who formed, according to him, the foreign Franks, while the Third Estate constituted the indigenous Gallo-Romans.

In Great Britain, this historico-political discourse was used by the bourgeoisie, the people and the aristocracy as a means of struggle against the monarchy - cf. Edward Coke or John Lilburne. In France, Boulainvilliers, Nicolas Fréret, and then Sieyès, Augustin Thierry and Cournot reappropriated this form of discourse.

Finally, at the end of the 19th century, this discourse was transformed following two directions: the eugenicist line, which would lead to "state racism", Hitler starting as soon as he took power his program of selection of population — a real biopolitics — with the July 1933 "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring" and the T-4 Euthanasia Program which would terminate in the Holocaust; and the Marxist line, which transformed the essentialist notion of "race" into the historical concept of class struggle.

The eugenic line tied itself with the nation-state, transforming the discourse of "race struggle", which was an emancipatory tool used against the concept of sovereignty and the person of the king during the Glorious Revolution, into an instrument of extermination at the hands of the state.

On the other hand, the Marxist discourse of class struggle renewed the popular "history from below" style of the medieval discourse of "race struggle", which opposed itself to sovereignty. Along with Freud's psychoanalysis, it criticizes the biological and essentialist notion of "race" used by state racism.

See also

References

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