I understand that your self-conception says “antiracist”.
I like that.
That’s one of the reasons why we’re friends.
I say this without sarcasm: I think it’s great that you want to educate other white people about racism, and that you voice your opposition when yet another public, racist “incident” happens. Things get a lot less horrible when one doesn’t feel left alone.
I’ve said many times that it is infuriating to be seen as the only person responsible for countering racist “arguments” due to one’s skin color, so I do appreciate the support. I’ve also written that people should Say Something instead of awkwardly gawking at racist incidents, and I still stress that. I am thankful for your antiracist commitment and your efforts for me and others.
But there’s a problem.
There’s a difference between commitment and putting on a show.
And the difference is that actively interfering against discriminatory behavior towards a person, and feeling responsible for supporting PoC in fights against racism, and publicly speaking up when some BS is happening does not equal doing so by pushing to the front of the line and being the loudest one.
It is quite similar to the dilemma of male* feminist allies who mistake desired support for secretly desired leadership. Being structurally entrenched in the discriminatory structure you are trying to fight can make this fight only go so far.
I am happy about the fact that many more white people are speaking up in the recent throes of racist shitstorms. And yet, there’s that slightly bitter aftertaste at times (…which is not to say this is the case with *every single person* who is white and speaks up in such incidents, but rather with a – let’s say – trend).
People of Color have written about white privilege and white defensiveness publicly and academically for more than a century. The “invisible knapsack” of white privilege has been described in great detail, so have mechanisms of racist defensiveness, and problems with discriminatory language and ensuing physical and psychological violence.
That thing called racism has resulted in the marginalization not only of People of Color, but, consequently, also of their writings. Moreover, PoC scholarship has been labelled as “emotional” and “subjective”, as non-scholarly and as exaggerated. Only through perseverance, massive grass-roots campaigns and the decency of certain white publishers have the intellectual products of Black Studies, for example, come to the fore more than they used to (…which is not to say that they don’t still have to linger at the discursive fringes, and are under constant attack, see the latest example here).
The voices of People of Color are easily silenced, is my point, as is their knowledge through lived experience and research. People of Color have to live with the fact that their findings are ultimately validated only through the recognition of someone who is not a person of color. People of Color have to live with the fact that the working knowledge they have had and tried to communicate for years is then magically “discovered” by white people, and thus gains mainstream credibility and comprehension.
It is within this context that the trend I am denouncing is situated, namely white anti-racists taking to the stage in anti-racism debates and taking up the role of The Explainer of racism without reference to the works of actual People of Color. They do so without acknowledging that their “discoveries” and oh so impressive self-reflection are the actual work of people who are not white but whose contributions are either ignored or ridiculed. The only people these white anti-racism Experts give credit to, however, are (at least primarily) other white anti-racism Experts – it is a circle of self-congratulatory posing.
This is essentially all what People of Color are left with, sometimes in addition to the charming, unspoken expectation of being entitled to PoC’s gratitude.
That might not have been many white anti-racists’ intent. But intent isn’t magic.
I appreciate the support, I need the support, I demand the support. But somehow, some way, some white people create opportunities to construct their anti-racism as a means of making it all about them again, to retell the tales of their personal racism purge, to show off their theoretical knowledge, to further their political and/or academic credentials, to stay the focus of attention, to alway be the “expert” – all on the backs of PoC.
I want your support – but you haven’t discovered antiracism. You are using language that People of Color have developed. Your revelations aren’t news. You are paraphrasing what you have learnt from People of Color without naming your source. You are appropriating. You are failing to contextualize your knowledge and to give credit where credit is due.
You are, thus, perpetuating white privilege.
That is annoying.
[Update: ha, awesome coincidence: Racialicious has published “A Guide to Hipster Anti-Racism“ today (5/30)!]
[Update (10/18): the post is no longer available on Racialicious, but can be accessed here where it was originially published.]