A seismic shift in the racial landscape of the United States occurred in 2016. The prevailing discourse about a “postracial America,” though always, in the words of Catherine Squires a “mystique,” was firmly and finally extinguished with the election of Donald J. Trump. Race, in the form of racial prejudice, erupted in Trump’s political rhetoric and in the rhetoric of his supporters. At the same time, the continued significance and consequences of racial division in America were also being asserted for politically progressive ends by the increasingly prominent #blacklivesmatter movement and by the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC, not far from the White House. This article tracks the resurgence of race in the US cultural landscape against the racially depoliticized myth of the “postracial” by focusing first on the HBO television series Westworld, which epitomizes that logic. The museum, which opened its doors against the backdrop of the presidential campaign, lodges a scathing critique of the very notion of the postracial; in fact, it signals the return of race as an urgent topic of national discussion. Part of the work of the museum is to materialize race, to move race and white supremacy to the center of the American national narrative. This article points to the way the museum creates what Jacques Rancière calls “dissensus,” and thus becomes a site of possibility for politics. The museum, in its very presence on the Mall, its provocative display strategies, and its narrative that highlights profound contradictions in the very meaning of America, intervenes in what Rancière calls “the distribution of the sensible” and thus creates the conditions for reconfiguring the social order. In part, it achieves this by racializing white visitors, forcing them to feel their own race in uncomfortable ways. The article suggests that this museum, and the broader emerging discourse about race in both film and television, offers new ways to think about the political work of culture.

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