Denouncing Racism Addresses the Tip of the Iceberg . . .

From the Series: The "Marcha a Lima" against the Denial of Modern Political Rights

Adelma Quispe Condori, Presidenta de la Asociación Provincial de Mujeres de Melgar (Puno). Photo by Vladimir Velazquez.

"When the berg rolls over, the submerged part of it noisily emerges: its soul appears […]. This kind of event is more intense than any language."
Olivier Remaud, Thinking Like an Iceberg (2022)

I learned about earth-beings with Mariano and Nazario Turpo; their guidance allowed me to expose the coloniality nested in the “we know/they believe” habit of anthropology. With them, I also learned that—at least for the immediately urgent—the political significance of exposing the coloniality that denied earth-beings was limited to academia: in the world of real-politics it was very obviously disempowering to defend—even mention—earth-beings. My friends taught me that to protect earth-beings from corporate mining, resorting to the environment as political field was the only effective path.

During the last three months Andean citizens of Peru have taken to the streets not to protect an entity impossible to the modern mind, but to demand the right to electoral representation. Concerningly, this modern demand formulated in modern language, is not only unheard: those who voice it publicly and peacefully are deemed either “terrorists” or “ignorant masses” to be repressed and ignored. Obviously discriminatory, both the violence and its categorical justification have summoned racism as analytic. I add some conceptual caveats: one, racism makes “unthinkable” the current upheaval as an historical event that jolts—foundationally—the hegemonic order of things. Two, racism may offer refuge to those who see their social sensibilities—also epistemic and ontic—so jolted. In so doing, racism would act as stronghold and blind spot. Three, those thus protected would find impossible to leave their sanctuary. Therefore, while acknowledging the historical analytic place of race/racism, I propose they may be insufficient: they expose discrimination against the tip of an iceberg composed with modes of being whose existence is denied—made impossible—by the same historical order of things that enabled the modern notion of race and the ensuing racism.

Figure 1. In Lima, to be heard. Photo by Vladimir Velazquez.

I learned the “unthinkable” reading Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s (1995) analysis of the Haitian Revolution. He borrowed from Bourdieu (1990, 5) “in what is unthinkable at a given time, there is not only everything that cannot be thought for lack of the ethical or political dispositions which tend to bring it into consideration, but also everything that cannot be thought for lack of instruments of thought such as problematics, concepts, methods and techniques.” Alongside, the Turpos offered concrete awareness of their being-in-ayllu, their mode of existence, as unthinkable. Without them I would not have been able to fathom their relational becoming as humans-with-other-than-humans: runakuna-with-tirakuna. The Andean ethnographic record had taught me ayllu as “human kindred collectively possessing a territory.” This definition is not “wrong;” I want neither to amend it, nor blame it of misguidance. Rather, I want to attend to the relation that underpins it: connecting humans and non-humans, this relation follows the epistemic habitus that makes my world—including anthropology and politics—wherein the proposition “human-with-land” becomes unthinkable, because the habitual relation requires a conception of humanity ontically distinct from non-humanity. Important to my argument, race requires and even enacts such distinction as it organizes humanity hierarchically and simultaneously makes unthinkable for modernity the continuity human-other-than-human. Thus, race contains thought within the limits of its requirements; it may prevent us from thinking. A repetitive example: separating humans from nature, the historically inherited “order of things” makes “earth-beings-with-runakuna” an impossible relational condition. Mountains belong in “the environment;” earth-beings, cultural beliefs. Among “us”—heirs of such order of things—some may despise those beliefs; others, respecting beliefs, accuse the former of racist. The disagreement ends as the arguments of both parties converge on race: a human attribute and epistemic tool, it makes continuity with non-humans unthinkable.

While current Andean protesters demand modern political representation, perhaps the demands bring their world with them (Haraway 1997). Awareness and rejection of the epistemic constraints of race/racism may be necessary to avoid the redundancy they enable: to know what we know, a view of the visible tip of the iceberg. A feminist analysis of this upheaval as an event we care about, may invite thought into realms that challenge our epistemic habitus, below the waterline of the iceberg. Perhaps, thinking with its submerged section would enable sense-altering aesthetics, analytical grammars altering of received “orders of things.” Olivier Remaud—author of the above quote—is a philosopher of icebergs; their lives, he says, depend less on movements visible to the eye and more on those below water.

Analogously, yet tweaking his quote, I suggest that below protesters’ loud, visible claims is what we cannot see or hear, and usually either deem impossible, or tolerate as beliefs. Taking seriously the invisible and unheard that (even if below the surface marked by epistemic waterlines) moves this upheaval we care for, may also move us to suspend satisfaction with our intolerance of racism. There, displacing righteous denunciation, we would raise doubts and questions: what if along with human bodies, race discriminates what can and cannot be? What if this capacity of race organizes a hegemonic structure of feelings that includes most in the country, racist or not?

Asking is important: if race and racism back the translation of the demand for political representation—a basic requirement of liberal politics—into a hostility that justifies violence against Andean citizens, thus cancelling the possibility of the emergence in politics of even the tip of such iceberg, the rest of the iceberg, may be doomed to modern political silence. Resisting this conclusive pessimism is also important: it overlaps with the epistemic requirements of race. Ignoring the protesters’ brave relentlessness, it rejects the opportunity to think in their presence. If we accept it, the upheaval may appear as the moment—awaited and sudden—when the glacier shows its soul. The emergence of the tip’s inherent other resounds in transgressive assertion.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Redwood City, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Haraway, Donna. 1997. [email protected]_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Remaud, Olivier. 2022. Thinking Like an Iceberg. Translated by Stephen Muecke. London: Wiley.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press.