If not discourse, then … what, exactly?

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Following up on Maia’s response to a commenter, Barbara Karens, who had commented the day before on my post here quoting Jeff Hitchcock, I would like to ask you, Barbara …

– if you hate white supremacy, and if so,
– if you engage in action (not discourse) to help end it, and if so,
– if you can describe your action, and
– if you would like to make constructive suggestions, or
– if you would like to point us to any constructive discourse (!) that might inspire us toward constructive action?

I am asking these questions sincerely. What kind of actions will promote justice better than whites talking to whites to end supremacy?

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6 Responses

  1. Hey secondwaver, and an ally, while I’m certainly not beginning to pretend to speak for Barbara, I have spent some hours absorbed in reading, thinking about and even trying to write a bit about some of the thoughts and information she (I’m presuming) brought here to white noise.

    From the foot of her own piece The White Collective ( A Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious)

    “At the white-collective level, white-anti-racist-writing likely functions as a mode of deception in which we subtly demonstrate our supposed expertise and supposed proof of our individual specialness/advancedness under the guise of fighting white supremacy. This is a shaky and dangerous practice, whatever we might intend.

    I feel some very strong dissonance between the lack of solid ground in this white-person-writing practice, and the spirit of the local work I am involved in. In this writing, my words precede me into the room. In my local work, I am represented more by what I do over time than by my words “about” the work. The “what I do” mode offers me less control in the white image-management game. And in that mode, I feel that I am better able to listen and to follow.

    So that it’s clear to me Barbara does act, is an activist irl. There’s an article about white anti-racist activism over at allywork (whose server isn’t co-operating with my desire to link to link there right now) which might be useful too, at this point. That there are degrees of humility (in the truest and finest sense of that word) unfamiliar to the “constructed white” person intent on getting involved in anti-racist work is coming through loud and clear to me.

    I have read Barbara’s contributions as at once cautionary and an opportunity for growth, for expansion for those of us who read and write here? Perhaps she has a touch of the contrarian about her (levity!), so that we’re to very much do our own homework, which is as it should be, really.

    I hope folks here are reading the excerpts of Marimba Ani’s Yurugu – An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior. It’s maybe not the easiest read, but there’s so much there. I was going to make a post (at my blog) that skimmed a few quotes, but on going back and rereading, I’ll have to do those words greater justice than I was, if I end up engaging them at all – maybe I’ll let them settle in, inside me, and bring up a fact or three some time, should I have cause to get all that intellectual with anyone some time in the future. There’s a lot of deep, truthful knowledge in her (academic) words that will resonate with conscious women of any race.

    It’s occurred to me that many a white radfem might publicly avoid them, though, lest the ‘simple’ white man (whose still the boss of everything) immediately slam down the essentialist card – that would be the customary dismissal, in this instance, I’m thinking?

    Not sure if this is a useful contribution here or a nonsequitur… I’m having trouble gauging the tone of the original post, which is coming across a bit defensive, I think.

    For whatever it’s worth, I’ve sometimes felt like white noise is moving a bit fast. Too fast for me to take in, mull over, distill some of what’s going on and contribute meaningfully, where I’m able, once I’ve done a bit of my own research and formulated a few thoughts from there. Maybe I think too slow, or maybe it’s in the mulling and distilling that there’s depth, which I personally am always about. A deeper understanding that goes beyond the words themselves, if that makes sense. I don’t think that’s something that can be rushed, much as we might prefer the fast learn, the kick start. (Not saying that there’s not good things going on here, just suggesting a bit of a slow down of the pace might be good too, and I’ve just this evening seen how much the reading list has grown, so that I’ve lots to get to there too…)

    To quote/paraphrase a person of colour I’ve read somewhere else, whose name escapes me at the minute; it’s a lifetime’s work.

  2. Thanks, Starfish. I will dig.

  3. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve sometimes felt like white noise is moving a bit fast.

    Thanks, Starfish, I have had that impression as well.

  4. I do totally get that there is the potential for white supremacist implications in everything I as a white person in white supremacy may think, say or do in this supposedly antiracist endeavour. And that for the most part I need to closely analyse what I am thinking, saying and doing in order to even get those implications. This is hard.

    I do also totally get that white people sitting about talking and writing about racism doesn’t change anything.

    Secondwaver asks: “What kind of actions will promote justice better than whites talking to whites to end supremacy?”

    The trouble is – we actually don’t and can’t know what to do or how to do it until we have travelled a way down the road. Jumping in and trying to come to the rescue, whilst reinventing several wheels including a square one, is pointless and disrespectful to say the least. Action *must* be preceded by education. Education does not in itself promote justice, but we can’t promote justice until we’ve got an education.

    (I don’t mean to suggest that action can only start once education is complete; or that education must cease once action starts – that would be silly.)

    To me, what I am trying to achieve here is part only of the journey, the education part – I am trying to learn about white privilege and race oppression and to work out what all that means for me as a white-privileged woman. I am hoping to share that journey with like-minded individuals so that we may be able to help one another along the way. I recognise that this isn’t in itself anti-racist but it is, for me, a part of the process of *becoming* anti-racist. Each of the people reading here will be at different points in the journey – some already activist, some ready for activism, some willing but not yet ready, some maybe not even sure yet that they are interested in doing more than just learn.

    And if we do recognise that education precedes action then it must be right to allow space and time for that education to happen. Which means discussion. Discourse.

    I don’t expect anyone to pat me on the head and give me space. I expect many people to be rightly indignant that I can even talk about space. The fact that white people demand space in order to work out how to fight white supremacy is adding insult to injury. But – I keep coming back to the simple fact that I do need time and space to learn, and although it sucks that I never learned this before, this doesn’t change the basic fact that we are where we are.

    Once again I find myself drawing upon my experience of feminism. I did a lot of talking and writing, reading and listening, before I had the least notion how to *be* a feminist, how to act out the analysis that I was discovering, what to *do*. I was grateful to other feminists for their writing and discussion and explanations and debates. It took time. Mistakes were made. I don’t really imagine that anything I have done has made any real difference to patriarchy – but I know it has made a difference to me and to those around me. We are still among those first women that Shulamith Firestone talked about: “the first women fleeing the massacre and, shaking and tottering, beginning to find each other. Their first move is a careful joint observation, to resensitise a fractured consciousness. This is painful: no matter how many levels of consciousness one reaches, the problem always goes deeper. It is everywhere.”

    The same applies here. We are only just waking up to how deep this goes. We are shaking and tottering and trying to find each other. There are contradictions that we unearth, that we try to resolve, that we sometimes have to accept that we just can’t resolve, not yet.

    You know, I keep finding myself thinking of these words of Alice Walker:

    I sometimes felt ashamed that my contributions… were not more radical…

    It has become common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of our world. For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile…

    Sometimes our stones are, to us, misshapen, odd. Their color seems off. Their singing… comical and strange. Presenting them, we perceive our own imperfect nakedness. But also, paradoxically, the wholeness, the rightness, of it. In the collective vulnerability of presence, we learn not to be afraid.

  5. Useful comment, Maia; I think it should be a post in and of itself.

    I agree with you, and I need to read and discuss racism with others, as I become aware of white supremacy and what sustains and perpetuates it.

    Writings by academics and other thinkers–including white people (mostly men) who earn a middle class living from their writings–have helped me learn.

    I’m hoping Barbara Karens will continue the discussion she started about her objections to discourse by such organizations as WACAN and by academics such as Tim Wise. Because her criticism seems only to want to remove a source of light. I’m still interested in hearing about her own solutions (or hoped-for solutions).

  6. Secondwaver – OK I will do that later 🙂

    Obviously I can’t speak for Barbara, and I may be misinterpreting her intent. My take on her criticisms is not that we (or any other white writers on race) should necessarily shut up and sit down – but that we need to be aware of the implications of what we do.

    I guess the following is what I distilled from her writings and from the thought process and discussion she has started:

    1. It is not OK to profit from being anti-racist, particularly not if any part of that profit comes from people of colour (e.g. via taxes if your work is publicly funded, or because we are taking away or using up space or academic jobs that rightfully belong to people of colour)

    2. Discourse – talking and writing and discussing anti-racism – is not in itself antiracism and changes nothing.

    3. We need to be acutely aware when we do engage in discourse (a) that it is not itself antiracist and is not a substitute for action and (b) that we are in constant danger of carrying out that discourse (and any actions which arise from it) in a way that perpetuates and is contaminated with white supremacy and so must be acutely on our guard against this.

    That last point is the hardest one because it is the one that might paralyse us with fear of doing the wrong thing. That it is hard does not mean it is not true. We can mitigate the danger in various ways (e.g. listening to people of colour and analysing our thoughts, words and deeds) but the pervasive nature of white supremacy means that the danger is still, always there.

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