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The racial stereotype, colonial discourse, fetishism, and racism

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This paper draws on the work of Homi Bhabha to mount an explanation for a facet of (post)colonial racism, the 'paradox of otherness' as exemplified in the racial stereotype. The paradox in question operates at the levels of discourse and identification alike. As a mode of discourse the stereotype functions to exaggerate difference of the other, whilst nevertheless attempting to produce them as a stable, fully knowable object. As mode of identification, the stereotype operates a series of mutually exclusive categories differentiating self and other which unintentionally nevertheless relies upon a grid of samenesses. These two paradoxes follow a similar movement: an oscillation, at the level of discourse, between attempts to generate and contain anxiety, a wavering, at the level of identification, between radical difference and prospective likeness. Bhabha provides a structural and functional analogue with which to account for this double movement of otherness: Freud's model of fetishism. This is an analogue that both enables us to foreground the operations of displacement and condensation in racist stereotyping, and to draw a series of conclusions about the effective functioning of discursive and affective economies of racism.

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