and the difference is…

December 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

you know i kept this post in saved for a day and thought long and hard about whether i should make it clear that this was a video produced by the right/republicans.  i decided not to.  because one, i think its obvious who it is made by. and two, and more pertinent, i dont really see any major distinction in terms of effect between the anti-racist movement, and earlier white led rhetorical movements around race, such as: i am color-blind, or i am a non-racist.
there is a difference in terms of rhetoric.  and there are generational differences.
but, differences in terms of ‘effect’. differences in terms of actual behaviour? not really.
anti-racist rhetoric is able to be co-opted by the right.  because it is rhetoric.  and to me, this video illustrates why anti racist rhetoric cannot do what it claims to do.  which is to use anti racist words to change racist behaviour.
yes, i realize that words are important.  obviously, i am a writer.
and i realize that the words/rhetoric are different between the right and the left.  but the differences in effect, the behaviour, the policies of the right and left are not much different.

i mean, politically, im an anarchist. a revolutionary.  a guerrilla mama.  democrats and republicans are like the left hand and the right hand serving the same body.  one hand washes the other.

9. I felt my desire to be critical as the site of anxiety when I was involved in writing a race equality policy for the university at which I work in the UK, where I tried to bring what I thought was a fairly critical language of anti-racism into a neo-liberal technique of governance, which we can inadequately describe as diversity management, or the ‘business case’ for diversity. All public organisations in the UK are now required by law to have and implement a race equality policy and action plan, as a result of the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000). My current research is tracking the significance of this policy, in terms of the relationship between the documentation it has generated and social action. Suffice to say here, my own experience of writing a race equality policy, taught me a good lesson, which of course means a hard lesson: the language we think of as critical can easily ‘lend itself’ to the very techniques of governance we critique. So we wrote the document, and the university, along with many others, was praised for its policy, and the Vice-Chancellor was able to congratulate the university on its performance: we did well. A document that documented the racism of the university became usable as a measure of good performance.

10. This story is not simply about assimilation or the risks of the critical being co-opted, which would be a way of framing the story that assumes ‘we’ were innocent and critical until we got misused (in other words, this would maintain the illusion of our own criticalness). Rather, it reminds us that the transformation of ‘the critical’ into a property, as something we have or do, allows ‘the critical’ to become a performance indicator, or a measure of value. The ‘critical’ in ‘critical whiteness studies’ cannot guarantee that it will have effects that are critical, in the sense of challenging relations of power that remain concealed as institutional norms or givens. Indeed, if the critical was used to describe the field, then we would become complicit with the transformation of education into an audit culture, into a culture that measures value through performance.

11. My commentary on the risks of whiteness studies will involve an analysis of how whiteness gets reproduced through being declared, within academic texts, as well public culture. I will hence be reading Whiteness Studies as part of a broader shift towards what we could call a politics of declaration, in which institutions as well as individuals ‘admit’ to forms of bad practice, and in which the ‘admission’ itself becomes seen as good practice. By reading Whiteness Studies in this way, I am not suggesting that it is a symptom of bad practice: rather, I think it is useful to consider ‘turns’ within the academy as having something to do with other cultural turns. The examples are drawn from the UK and Australia, as the two places in which my own anti-racist politics have taken shape. My argument is simple: anti-racism is not performative. I use performative in Austin’s (1975) sense as referring to a particular class of speech. An utterance is performative when it does what it says: ‘the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action’ (1975, 6).

12. I will suggest that declaring whiteness, or even ‘admitting’ to one’s own racism, when the declaration is assumed to be ‘evidence’ of an anti-racist commitment, does not do what it says. In other words, putting whiteness into speech, as an object to be spoken about, however critically, is not an anti-racist action, and nor does it necessarily commit a state, institution or person to a form of action that we could describe as anti-racist. To put this more strongly, I will show how declaring one’s whiteness, even as part of a project of social critique, can reproduce white privilege in ways that are ‘unforeseen’. Of course, this is not to reduce whiteness studies to the reproduction of whiteness, even if that is what it can do. As Mike Hill suggests: ‘I cannot know in advance whether white critique will prove politically worthwhile, whether in the end it will be a friendlier ghost than before or will display the same stealth narcissism that feminists of color labeled a white problem in the late 1970s’ (1997, 10).

link: Declarations of Whiteness: The Non-Performativity of Anti-Racism

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§ 2 Responses to and the difference is…

  • angel face says:

    And the precise effects of YOUR words are . . . ?

    Yes, actions certainly speak more loudly than words, and words can certainly result in little more than more words. But surely there’s an irony in merely using words to call out the “mere” usage of words by others.

    • mama says:

      @angel face

      thank you so much for your concern. you bring up a good point. one’s behaviour should support one’s words. i put my life and body on the line every time i push publish on this blog. this is part of living under a police dictatorship that dislikes blogs critical of it.

      peace and love
      maia

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