The zone of being & the zone of non-being

This is the final post on the Decolonizing Berlin conference!

Ramon Grosfoguel’s talk was definitely one of the highlights of the conference. He began by clarifying that he is not anti-European, or anti-European thought. We shouldn’t reject European thinkers or discourses, but rather recognize that these are ONE type of discourse, and that there are many, equally legitimate, others. Thus we should move away from UNI-versal knowledge, towards PLURI-versal knowledges.

The main point of his talk was to de-center class in analyses of oppression, and to center race. This does not mean that race should be the central aspect of any analysis, but rather that class shouldn’t be. There should be a recognition of the many different hierarchies of power, and that they are all entangled with one another. He lists a few examples:

  • The international division of power (with core/peripheral countries);
  • The global inter-state system (with core states having power over peripheral ones);
  • The Christian patriarchal system (there are many types of patriarchy, but the Christian one is the one that got globalized through colonialism);
  • A linguistic hierarchy;
  • An ascetic hierarchy.

The most important point is that each of these hierarchies is organized along racial lines; the west and the non-west.

By putting the economy or the “global capitalist system” as the centre of all the problems in today’s world, we are ignoring the MAIN racial hierarchy.

Ramon then went on to highlight Fanon’s argument that racism is a structure of power and domination along the line of the human being. Thus there is a line separating human beings:

Humanity recognized (zone of being)


Humanity not recognized (zone of non-being)

People in the zone of non-being are not recognized as full humans. While there are people who are oppressed within the zone of being (women, queers, etc), it is important to realize that they have racial privilege that the people in the zone of non-being do not have.

The way the system regulates conflicts in the different zones is important. In the zone of being, conflicts are regulated, and are peaceful with exceptional moments of violence. In the zone of non-being, the system manages conflicts through violence, appropriation and dispossession. Thus the norm is violence with exceptional moments of peace. People in this zone are oppressed along class, gender, sexuality, AND race.

Ramon went on to discuss the current crises in Greece and Spain, pointing out that the economies of Southern Europe are collapsing not because they are lazy or corrupt, but because there has been an accumulation of dispossession of Southern and Eastern Europe by Western Europe. For example, the Central Bank of Europe is controlled by elites, who are not calling for more cuts and more austerity, all the while appearing to  be in the process of “bailing” out the “backwards” economies of Greece, Ireland, and Spain. The old division of North/South Europe is back with a force. Ramon said: “For 10 years people in the South of Europe thought they were European, but that was a dream.”

The people in Spain are fighting against the so-called European “democracy” where a few political elites decide how much money goes to the banks and how much goes to the people. Moreover, an important point is that what is happening today is not a GLOBAL financial crisis, but rather a Euro-American one. There are many economies in the world that are growing at the moment.

Ramon concluded by briefly discussing Islamophobia, and the importance of seeing Islamophobia as racist. “We think of racism in terms of colour but there are multiple ways of marking race. Colour has been the main one, but there are other forms.” He gave the excellent example of Polish workers in Germany, who are technically white but still racialised. The same goes for Muslims. I have heard countless times that Islamophobia is not racism. I have always felt uncomfortable about this statement, but couldn’t really formulate an argument as to why I believed it was racism. Ramon said it perfectly: race is not just about colour, but a whole set of characteristics.

This is the last post on the decolonizing Berlin conference, so I hope you enjoyed all of them!


One thought on “The zone of being & the zone of non-being

  1. Pingback: A Topography of Misreadings: Mistaking the Map for the Territory | Processed Life

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