This is Us: Imagination, identity, and American racial hierarchy

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This paper shows that William E. Connolly’s work holds resources for projects of racial justice but must be revised to fully meet the challenge of racial inequality. There are two interrelated problems in Connolly’s theory: first, the drive to destabilize identity for which he argues rejects the need for collective identity which is necessary in democratic politics. Furthermore, because domination renders identity unstable, the call to destabilize identity places too great a burden on already marginalized groups. The problem of destabilizing identity is underwritten by a second problem: the white working class and its grievances occupies too important a position in Connolly’s analysis. This paper uses insights provided by James Baldwin to amend Connolly’s contributions. The paper argues that there is a need to destabilize the ‘we’ of American politics that allows white, male identity to occupy the ‘heart’ of liberal democracy. Baldwin’s insights help solve the problem of the ‘black hole’ at the center of liberal democracy that Connolly argues sustains fundamentalism and racial injustice. This paper’s contribution is to amend Connolly’s work to meet the challenge of racial injustice, offer a novel reading of the place of political imagination in James Baldwin’s work, and show how political imagination adds depth to conversations about democracy, racial justice, and pluralism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023

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