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The Affective Power of an Aesthetic Condition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 July 2014

Cristina Beltrán*
Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University
Corresponding author: Professor Cristina Beltrán, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, 20 Cooper Square, 4th Floor. New York, NY 10003–7112. E-mail:


In the realm of electoral politics, a growing number of women, African Americans, and Latinos now serve at the highest levels of government. For many Americans, the bipartisan presence of representatives who are people of color and/or women is proof that we live in a “post-feminist” and “postracial” era in which institutions are now fundamentally fair and accessible. Rather than assuming that racial presence is synonymous with racial justice, this essay turns to aesthetic theory to advocate for a new understanding of presence—not as proof that racial or gender justice has been achieved but as a kind of beauty that is experienced as a form of visible certitude. Drawing on the work of Hannah Pitkin, alongside writings on descriptive representation for Latinos and African Americans, this essay stresses the importance of judgment, arguing that on questions of social justice, a racially diverse elite is simultaneously ethically valuable and politically indeterminate.

Race in a “Postracial” Epoch
Copyright © Hutchins Center for African and African American Research 2014 

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