Charis welcomes Nicholas Mirzoeff in conversation with Barrett Holmes Pitner for a discussion of White Sight: Visual Politics and Practices of Whiteness. From the author of How to See the World comes a new history of white supremacist ways of seeing—and a strategy for dismantling them.
White supremacy is not only perpetuated by laws and police but also by visual culture and distinctive ways of seeing. Nicholas Mirzoeff argues that this form of “white sight” has a history. By understanding that it was not always a common practice, we can devise better ways to dismantle it. Spanning centuries across this wide-ranging text, Mirzoeff connects Renaissance innovations—from the invention of perspective and the erection of Apollo statues as monuments to (white) beauty and power to the rise of racial capitalism dependent on slave labor—with the ever-expanding surveillance technologies of the twenty-first century to show that white sight creates an oppressively racializing world, in which subjects who do not appear as white are under constant threat of violence.
Analyzing recent events like the George Floyd protests and the Central Park birdwatching incident, Mirzoeff suggests that we are experiencing a general crisis of white supremacy that presents both opportunities and threats to social justice. If we do not seize this moment to dismantle white sight, then white supremacy might surge back stronger than ever. To that end, he highlights activist interventions to strike the power of the white heteropatriarchal gaze. White Sight is a vital handbook and call to action for anyone who refuses to live under white-dominated systems and is determined to find a just way to see the world.
Nicholas Mirzoeff is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. His many books include the best-selling How to See the World and The Right to Look, and his writing has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, Hyperallergic, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Barrett Holmes Pitner is a philosopher, journalist, founder of The Sustainable Culture Lab, and the author of The Crime Without a Name: Ethnocide and the Erasure of Culture in America, which was named by NPR as one their top books of 2021. His work has been featured in The Daily Beast, the BBC, and the Guardian. Pitner is a professor at the George Washington University, and he is based in Washington, D.C.
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From the author of How to See the World comes a new history of white supremacist ways of seeing—and a strategy for dismantling them.
Every two minutes, Americans alone take more photographs than were printed in the entire nineteenth century; every minute, people from around the world upload over 300 hours of video to YouTube; and in 2014, we took over one trillion photographs.
In The Right to Look, Nicholas Mirzoeff develops a comparative decolonial framework for visual culture studies, the field that he helped to create and shape. Casting modernity as an ongoing contest between visuality and countervisuality, or "the right to look," he explains how visuality sutures authority to power and renders the association natural.
In this incisive blend of personal narrative and philosophical inquiry, journalist and activist Barrett Holmes Pitner seeks a new way to talk about racism in America
An NPR Best Book of the Year