Reclaiming Blackness (4): Let’s Talk Race
In of my nights in London last year, i had this brief conversation with a British person-a friend of a friend. While he was absolutely an open-minded, welcoming lad, the conversation grown to talk about the taboo: racism. He acknowledged that people hates to talk about the issue. He added, after consecutive sips of his Pale Ale’s: “in my own view, i don’t feel comfortable about it. I have this conflict inside me every time i became a part to such conversation; i hate it because its real and reminds me of that we are not the good ones all the run, but then i feel morally obliged to listen to the people of colour when they talk about it, because this is the least we can do.”
Among those words the eye can detect the mountains of guilt laid on a plain sight. The moral limbo of a good white man. I remember another friend compared it to the “feeling of a man as an ally to women rights, when a woman talk about men and masculinity”- it is just not right to single yourself out of this by saying : “yes they are trash but not me, am good, am not like them.” I admit, for a long time, i was one of those people. I been with friends and even in relationships when i felt am good because somehow by listening to them and acting all nice, i felt am entitled to something; being accepted as “good person.” The person from that night then shot me with an important question; “so what else? What is the step next this? Do we just maintain those positions where i as a white person feel guilt and you feel realising your rights?” I may disagree with the articulation of his valuable concern, yet i managed to go through the point to a new issue at hand: How, we as a people of colour can actually have this conversation?
It is, beyond the nomenclatural debate, that we arrive to realize that race is a historical reality, or in more correct terms; racism is.
I want to identify few issues surrounds the potential conversation over our issues; from colonialism to our stolen identities. First, is to senstize the public domain of discourse, if race talks actually can be heard without in itself being racist narrative. Second, is political correctness, the principle that ostensibly been introduced as a good faith act, imposturing morality at face value.
Talking race isn’t in its essence, racist. It is important to keep in mind that we weren’t the people who have had invented this concept. It is, beyond the nomenclatural debate, that we arrive to realize that race is a historical reality, or in more correct terms; racism is. The race is passive and harmless in its own, but the operation and deployment of it to categorise people and accordingly architect the structure of power, is the source of all evils. Addressing all of these issues; white privilege, white power, segregation, colonialism, are not narratives of racism. Period.
When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master, that’s all.”
The Foucauldian understanding of how a discourse works, leads us to embrace how a conversation or any form of communication that include use of words, messages, and meanings within, is influenced and designed with pre-existing power relations. The ability of of the ones in power to determine an action as “violence” and the same as “self-defence.” I always quote this example from the remarkable opinion of Lord Atkin in the interesting case of Liversidge v Anderson. He had a dissented opinion on how a term to be interpreted in a statute, quoting an interesting discussion between Alice and Humpty Dumpty, he said : “I know of only one authority which might justify the suggested method of construction. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master, that’s all.” Who has the power, will have the tools to determine what things to say and what things to no. It is not in the direct form of Orwell’s world of 1984; it is even more brutal in liberal and democratic environments as what the political correctness determines.
Here is then my second point, political correctness is indeed a good idea that lost its aim in the middle of the way. I am not at all suggesting to be rude or insensitive humans. Political correctness can operates in a way that do not let the historical narratives to emerge on the surface till it is too late. An example provided for that is a discussion between father and son: the old fashioned father will tell his son that he has to come with them to see his grandmother. A modern day, liberal and open minded father will softly say: “son, you know how much is your grandmother loves you, am not telling you that you should come and see her.” This absolutely dangerous indeed, because in the first situation, is a direct imposition of an order. Such situation where resisting an order can be feasible, seen, as a natural response. In the second one, is not about an order but that you should first “love” to see your grandmother, and accordingly a subtle feeling that you should feel bad if to resist this. This happen everyday in various work environment, when bosses act with the spirit of political correctness; they don’t shout anymore, say racist things, they calmly making you feel bad, but then ask about your partner and your last weekend, give you a cookie and you just go through this horrible feeling if to think resisting them or complain about it. When political correctness then determine that we should not talk about race it does not necessarily provide an explanation beyond the individual sensitivity of not hurting the other’s feeling.
Another example for this is what a sharp minded good person said to me recently, telling me how some people viewed her article which addresses some sensitive issues with liberalism. Those people went on a hunt on her “way of writing” and not the “content” in a way that the one can correctly deduce their “unpleasant” reception to the content. But, it is the political correctness that on one hand led them not to say “we disagree with you” or “ what you said is just crap.” On the other hand, it is the political correctness that led her to feel not all good about her writing, which is not the issue at the first place. They have just marginalised her feelings and thoughts and put theirs at the centre. She was smart enough, to eventually understand this.
Therefore, political correctness obscures the realities of racism. It does not, in almost all the time, alleviate or fight it. It makes it unspoken and a taboo and accordingly any chance to address it and provide solutions for this challenge are lost in vain. More importantly, when the white power determines for us that “do not hurt our feelings” is the ironic scene when the oppressor asks not only forgiveness, but compliance after all. People of colour should be aware at the first place that their role in initiating this talk is a right; a right are entitled to as human beings to talk freely, and one designed by the specificities of their historical contextualisation of oppressed people. For the white folks, if any chance to make a wrong right, no way to do so without being able to listen, be confronted, and then engage. Not to speak over us, but to be able to be our allies. This is something i have mentioned in my first article that being allies correspond to our right to decide when and how we need to be helped.
It is not right to let things go because the former Imperialists now are the good ones sending their aid all the way to the miserable Africa. I have every right to criticise this on the one hand and to determine that this is not the way to do remedy the past’s injustices on the other. The heavy weight of the white guilt, that i felt that night with the dear lad, works on the reverse, making us feeling guilt to tell the truth in the first place. This cannot be tolerated or fallen into at any rate. This is the only way we as humans can have the conversation in which the relations of power are no longer the same.