World War II produced a fundamental shift in modern racial discourse. In the postwar period, racism was situated for the first time at the center of international political life, and race's status as conceptual common sense and a justification for colonial rule was challenged with new intensity. In response to this crisis of race, the UN and UNESCO initiated a project of racial reeducation. This global antiracist campaign was framed by the persecution of Europe's Jews and anchored by UNESCO's epochal 1950 Statement on Race, which redefined the race concept and canonized the midcentury liberal antiracist consensus that continues to shape our present.
In this book, Sonali Thakkar tells the story of how UNESCO's race project directly influenced anticolonial thought and made Jewish difference and the Holocaust enduring preoccupations for anticolonial and postcolonial writers. Drawing on UNESCO's rich archival resources and shifting between the scientific, social scientific, literary, and cultural, Thakkar offers new readings of a varied collection of texts from the postcolonial, Jewish, and Black diasporic traditions. Anticolonial thought and postcolonial literature critically recast liberal scientific antiracism, Thakkar argues, and the concepts central to this new moral economy were the medium for postcolonialism's engagement with Jewishness. By recovering these connections, she shows how the midcentury crisis of racial meaning shaped the kinds of solidarities between racialized subjects that are thinkable today.
About the author
Sonali Thakkar is Assistant Professor of English at New York University.
"The Reeducation of Raceis a brilliant and original study of liberalism, racial formation, and anticolonial thought. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and provocative, the book brings together fields of study too often siloed, anchored by a virtuoso reading of the UNESCO Statement on Race. Thakkar's confident and lucid voice rethinks race and plasticity forever."
—Yogita Goyal, University of California, Los Angeles
"Through the unlikely lens of post-World War II UNESCO, this book provides real and really new insight into the attempt to recover a liberal postwar order after the racial horror of World War II, and into the limitations of institutional antiracism in those same years. It will be a landmark contribution to the current effort to articulate the politics of Jewishness with both Black and anticolonial theory. We will be reading it carefully in the years to come."
—Jonathan Boyarin, Cornell University
"Sonali Thakkar's brilliant first book begins as a mystery of sorts. When and why did the word 'equality' get swapped out of the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race, to be replaced by 'educability, plasticity'? Answering that question sheds important light on how the colonialist legacy tainted the liberal anti-racism of the postwar period."
—John Plotz, Public Books