American Sociological Association

Political Ontology and Race Research: A Response to “Critical Race Theory, Afro-pessimism, and Racial Progress Narratives”

This article is a critical response to a previous article by Victor Ray, Antonia Randolph, Megan Underhill, and David Luke that sought to incorporate lessons from Afro-pessimism for sociological research on race. Specifically, in their article, the authors emphasize conclusions from Afro-pessimism in their assessment of its lessons for theories of racial progress and labor-market research. In reviewing the work of key thinkers in the approach of Afro-pessimism—namely, Frantz Fanon, Saidiya Hartman, Frank Wilderson, and Jared Sexton—the author argues that Ray and his fellow authors, in focusing on conclusions about race and politics from Afro-pessimism, overlook key foundational assumptions of Afro-pessimist thought. The author clarifies such assumptions, particularly that blackness exists on an ontological register and that slavery persists as a social phenomenon, to argue that the four authors have essentially understated the implications from an Afro-pessimist approach. The author engages criticisms from Hartman, Wilderson, and P. Khalil Saucier, who argue that empiricist sociological approaches are antithetical to Afro-pessimist analysis. The author extends these criticisms to Ray and his fellow authors’ interventions, arguing that their rejection of racial progress narratives is not necessarily Afro-pessimist and that their prescriptions for labor-market research overlook the implications of slavery as a means to understand the racialization of labor. The author concludes by urging sociologists to earnestly engage with such criticisms and challenges from Afro-pessimism in conducting research on black populations.


George Weddington





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