Anthony Stewart’s “The Desire for the End of Race: Barthes, Everett, and the Belief in the Postracial” deploys Roland Barthes’s theories of myth and mythology to draw a distinction between the desire for the end of racism, against which there can be little argument, and the desire for the end of race, which brings with it no commitment to social justice, but instead a simple and perhaps strategic negation of the realities that come with racial injustice. A desire for the end of race means merely that fewer Americans will be required to think or talk about race and its consequences.
Barthes’s notion of myth enables a consideration of how perpetual the desire for the end of race as a topic of discussion has been in twentieth and now twenty-first century American history. Myth is the overarching story by which all other individual stories are subsumed, and the end of race is that story. The “postracial” is merely the latest expression of this perpetual American desire. But once we recognize the perpetual nature of this story, Americans may be better positioned to engage with the story critically and constructively.
Stewart applies his reading of the desire for the end of race to an analysis of Percival Everett’s 2011 novel, Assumption, in which the understandable readerly desire for order and the ability to rely upon conventional archetypes fall prey to the novelist as mythologist, the position Barthes proposes as the opponent of the workings of myth. The concluding revelation of Assumption demonstrates just how comprehensive and limiting our desires for counterfactual states of being—like the postracial—can be.