Reflection – It’s A Thing!

29 May

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.

Stop it.

[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.]


7 Responses to “Reflection – It’s A Thing!”

  1. kiturak May 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    ohhh – I wasn’t sure if it’s ok for me to “like” your post I’ve always found it extra annoying if people I criticized “liked”/reblogged/etc. my criticism and didn’t seem to “get” that it was about them. I just realized, duh, not saying anything doesn’t exactly help, either. So, I know this is about me, too, and thank you for the reminder, and, *like*!

    • kiturak June 9, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      great update, thanks! Since my brain activity seems confined to facebook-snaps these days, I completely missed the article.on Racialicious.

      • kiturak June 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

        Here’s a massive, massive white person-wall of text-derail (please please don’t publish if you don’t want it here, just A Thing I’ve Been Wondering About):

        The hipster anti-racism article calls it (in a pattern with many many other things) hipster anti-racist if

        You enter conversations about race armed with a lot of vocabulary that may make the dialog inaccessible to newcomers.

        Now in my personal experience, e.g. talking about “People of Color” in German is inaccessible to most people, including non white/ racialized/ post/Migrant_innen participants. (I don’t even know if that’s the kind of situation Janani Balasubramanian alludes to.)
        So is much of the (other) anti-oppression vocabulary I use, e.g. “heterosexist”/”monosexist”. Especially the second one I often replace with “bi-feindlich” which doesn’t mean the same thing and is exclusive towards other non-monosexual people, but at least people have a general notion of what it fucking means. I even *identify*/call myself “bi” (for the most part) because “pan” or “queer” gets me nothing but weird stares and misunderstandings, and GTFO With Your Labels doesn’t help me to express a specific discrimination. It’s in itself a result of oppression that these terms are just read as “Fremdwörter”, but they are still excluding people.

        So I guess my question is (which has been an ongoing one for me for a long time, and which e.g. zweisatz asks herself, too), how do I adjust my position between wanting self-defined, less oppressive language respected (my own and that belonging to others), and “compromising” for the sake of accessibility? How do I balance between elitism and continuing oppression through my words? And how’s the situation different between where I’m privileged and one where it’s about my own oppression? (apart from the obvious, I mean, just specific to the vocabulary). So, I haven’t found a fixed rule so far and tend to go with what I feel about a situation at hand (explain about myself/ explain about self-definitions/ am angry/aggressive about Privileged People Not Knowing Othered Language/ support others who use a term for themselves/ link/ support angry people/ provide accessible definitions / refer to der braune mob/ “compromise” using other terms), but still.

        All of this is not to say that I *question* the article(s). On the contrary, I think they’re both spot on and brilliant. I’m still thankful. And they (re)sparked a whole series of questions for me as to how I should act (better) in some situations where I’m privileged, and this is one of them.

        • accalmie June 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

          hey, thanks for your comment.

          oh yes, those are good questions, and i’m afraid i have no definite answer either…

          i do think the best approach is a situational one, just like you have written. i understood the criticism in the racialicious piece as “white feminists in white circles doing a contest on whom of them has the most theoretical knowledge about discrimination and can list the most anti-racist word choices when no one has asked has actually asked for it and/or when people of color have actually ask for direct support, not lip service.”

          my way is to personally use the self-descriptions of a discriminated social group in most contexts where i can expect a certain level of knowledge, and explain when someone asks or refer them to information, and use more “mainstream” words when in other context (e.g., not people of color but “black germans”, “afro-germans”, and “people defined as non-german”, “non-white people”) and then mention that this is a word choice i don’t prefer and/or disagree with and introduce the more empowering alternative, so that people have at least heard of it.

          i think the main issue here is to not do this for recognition and own anti*ism-credentails and trying to be aware of your surroundings…?


  1. Wenn weiße, weißen erklären, dass sie nicht rassistisch sind. Eure Absolution, mein Rant. « Afrika Wissen Schaft - May 30, 2012

    […] Auf dem allgemein sehr empfehlenswerten Blog stop! talking. gibt es noch einen Artikel, den alle, die sich mit antirassistischen Praxen auseinandersetzen (wollen), unbedingt lesen sollten. Unglaublich viele wichtige Gedanken in kompakter Form. Zusammenfassung: Auch weiße, die sich antirassistisch artikulieren, sind nicht gefeit vorm white privilege (und falls Fragen kommen, das schließt natürlich auch mich mit ein). Aber lest selbst: Reflection – It’s a Thing! […]

  2. dT ~ dieTilde {°°} - May 30, 2012

    Hast du keine anderen Probleme?…

    [Ich verlinke bewusst nicht zu externen Artikeln mit rassistischer und damit gewaltvoller Sprache!] Kürzlich die Band “Young Wonder”, dann das Neue Theater Halle, jetzt Kuttner. Allesamt Institutionen und Individuen, die mit rassistischen M…

  3. Unkritisches Weißsein « sanczny - May 30, 2012

    […] Reflection – It’s A Thing! Metalust & Subdiskurse Reloaded: Äh … Frau Kuttner, ich habe da ein paar Afrikawissenschaft: Wenn Weiße Weißen erklären, dass sie nicht rassistisch sind. Eure Absolution, mein Rant. High On Clichés: Abwehrverhalten bitte an der Tür abgeben […]

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