Is There a Place to Escape from Race?
And why should we even try
People talk crazy. I didn’t need a book for that fact. But Brittney Cooper, a Black Feminist scholar, tickled me with her definition of “talking crazy” in her book Eloquent Rage.
In her essay about being a Black Feminist “Capital B, Capital F,” Brittney Cooper describes her first, in-person introduction to the feminist scholar and cultural critic bell hooks.
Bell hooks came to her college to give a talk. And before the talk started, Cooper’s friend told her bell hooks “talks crazy.”
Cooper elaborates on “talking crazy" by saying that description can be an indictment or a compliment. Cooper defines talking crazy as, “moments of flirtation with ideas that skirted the line between being profound and being absolutely nonsensical.”
I appreciate that definition. When I read the essay “Writing Beyond Race” by bell hooks, I spotted some crazy words. I struggled to find the profound sanity in a few lines.
“Home is the only place where there is no race.” — bell hooks
I adore bell hooks, but her line about her home being the only place where there is “no race” made little sense.
She isn’t offering a cozy metaphor. She’s talking about her home. And since she’s a scholar, I know bell hooks knows the difference between race and racism. She wrote “race” instead of racism on purpose, which puzzled me. Bell hooks describes race as a phantom that waits for her like a stalker outside her home.
But when she’s at home looking in her bathroom mirror to wash her face, bell hooks doesn’t think about race. In the bathroom mirror, she sees acne, and she thinks about acne.
If I think of race that way, then sometimes I live beyond race. But as soon as I turn on the TV or open Twitter, I’m back in the race.
Is it necessary to create a space with no race?
A personal space without race can be liberating. The liberty to be complex is vital for people. And it’s vital to know, and note, that racism doesn’t want people to be complex.
White-supremacist thinking reduces Black people to being only Black, and that black comes from white supremacy’s imagination.
Black people can change the definition of what it means to be Black for themselves. But if “the only” remains lonely — despite all the growing flowers and fruit — white-supremacist thinking can still be at the root of Blackness. The myth of race wants to be totalitarian.
A personal space with no race can be a form of resistance.
As bell hooks suggests, by saying her home has no race, racialization is the work of a racist society. Many experts acknowledge race as a social construct but few say much more.
In the book Racecraft, the writers give a vivid description of race as a certain type of social construct. In that book, race is like “the evil eye,” and racism is like “murder.”
Apparently, bell hooks doesn’t see the evil eye of race in her home. Her home must be a fortress from the storm of racism that can hover over racist interactions.
Our racist interactions can racialize our emotions, and those racialized emotions can linger with us. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva makes that point in his paper for the American Sociological Review in February 2019.
He argues that people feel race, and we feel the “emotional weight” of our racialized station. Importantly, he also writes, “race cannot come to life without being infused with emotions.”
It seems like bell hooks has no racialized triggers at home to make her feel race.
People need a break from the emotional weight of race.
Race is a loaded word. It can mean division, stress, striving, and contests. Some people have yet to realize America has racialized them. But other people may need a place to be without race.
The reality is people racialized as Black can’t always stay in a place with no race. Armed racists violently intrude into our homes. And for capitalism, racism still forces a diaspora with its idea of race. Race and racism can take us away from home base.
In a racist society, we need to return home regularly to rest. In some ways, race is a state of mind. And in minding our state, sometimes that means being home without a trace of race.
I’m hooked on crazy talk. Crazy talk can be real talk when we talk to our whole selves.