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Lewis Gordon on Building Black Identity through History, Art and Popular Culture

Why intellectual thought matters as much as political activism in the struggle to achieve racial justice

Lewis Gordon is a leading Afro-Jewish philosopher who believes that intellectual thought matters as much as political activism in the struggle to achieve racial justice. And in January 2022 he came to Intelligence Squared to discuss the themes of his groundbreaking new book Fear of Black Consciousness. He explained how the process of racialisation – and its absence – affects not only how individuals and society perceive Black people but also how Black people perceive themselves. Delving into history, art and politics, he referenced ancient African languages, musical developments such as the blues, jazz, reggae and hip hop, as well as the contemporary films Get Out, Sorry To Bother You, and Black Panther. And he argued that despite the ways in which the lived experience of Black people has been rendered invisible in the Western world, their creative responses have positioned them as agents of history and social change. 

Gordon was joined in conversation by Paul Gilroy, one of the world’s foremost theorists of race and racism, whose scholarship has highlighted how the African diaspora has challenged conceptions of country, community and identity and breathed new life into the humanist tradition.

Praise for Fear of Black Consciousness 

‘Lewis Gordon’s expansive philosophical engagement with the current moment – its histories and globalities, its politics and protests, its visual and sonic cultures – reminds us that the ultimate aim of Black freedom quests is, indeed, universal liberation.’ – Angela Davis 

‘A thinker whose reflections on race have produced singular illuminations on our times…he draws on a wide range of colonial histories, African popular culture, aboriginal histories, contemporary films and stories, to show the critical powers of creativity in dismantling racism by the making of Black consciousness, the making of a world where breath and love and existence become possible.’ – Judith Butler 




Lewis Gordon

Afro-Jewish philosopher, political thinker, educator, and musician

Afro-Jewish philosopher, political thinker, educator, and musician. He is Professor and Head of the Philosophy Department at UCONN-Storrs. He has received accolades for his many influential books and articles, many of which have been reprinted and translated around the world. He is Honorary President of the Global Center for Advanced Studies and a former president of the Caribbean Philosophical Association, for which he now serves as its chairperson of awards and global collaborations. Gordon's previous works include Disciplinary Decadence, His Majesty's Other Children, and, with Jane Anna Gordon, Of Divine Warning.

Paul Gilroy

Founding Director of the Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation at University College London

Professor of the Humanities and Founding Director, Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation at University College London. His highly influential books include There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (1987), The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993), Against Race (2000), Postcolonial Melancholia (2005) and Darker Than Blue (2010). His work on racism in modern Britain has consistently countered romantic narratives of whiteness, Christianity and ethnic homogeneity as uniquely constitutive of these islands. In 2019 he won the Holberg Prize, which is given to a person who has made outstanding contributions to research in the arts, humanities, social science, the law or theology, and he was described by the awarding committee as ‘one of the most challenging and inventive figures in contemporary scholarship’.