paul gilroy In conversation with Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Paul Gilroy: I don’t know if you’ve come across the things that Achille Mbembe has been writing from South Africa in the last few weeks, but he has been talking a lot about what he calls ‘the Universal Right to Breathe’, and I was very struck by that, I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with him yet at length but I think this whole question of a more universalistic orientation – can I even say that I don’t even know if that’s the right word – I suppose I would want to say not universalistic because that sense of big, a common – a common vulnerability, a common sense of humanity. I mean maybe some of the things that are going on in this mobilisation, some of the things we’re learning from Covid, and here’s my utopian hat going over my head, maybe they speak to the possibility of a different future for the human than the one that we feared is coming towards us. I mean, am I going too far?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Oh I hope not, I hope you’re not going too far and in fact one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how there’s a bit of a divergence these last few weeks between what you just described – a different future for the human – as against a path that worries me very much which is one that is in the recapitulating a certain kind of apartheid thinking in the name of undoing the effects of apartheid in the world scale. And by that I mean the tendency that’s got me worried is the one in which people are insisting that only certain demographics of people are authorised to speak about – speak from or speak against – certain kinds of horrors, and other people have already existing assignable jobs based on their demographic – let’s call it a caste system – that they’re supposed to do, so white people are supposed to fix white supremacy and so on and so forth. That path, which is actually a pretty strong path, doesn’t excite me. I’m 70 years old, I’m done with it, I’ve been done with it a very long time. The path however which some of the young Black Lives Matter people named 5 years ago in that year of uprising in the United States, after the death of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and so forth, the one in which they said quite simply ‘when black lives matter everybody lives better’ – that’s the path that is of interest to me. So, I for one would like very much, I endorse completely, reinvigorating the notion of universal; I don’t know what to call it, if the word universal is the problem that people stumble over. More here.

You can listen here.

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