Friday, 24 November 2017
The frustrations of a race talk
There are two book titles that come to my mind almost on an every-day basis. Both have to do with the frustrations of a race talk and with the things left unsaid as a result of such frustrations. One is the title of a novella by Afro-German author Sharon Dodua Otoo: “The things I am thinking while smiling politely.” The other is the title of a blog post by Black British journalist Reni Eddo Lodge that eventually became a book: “Why I am no longer talking to white people about race.” Both titles (and books) are very powerful and poignantly express the feeling of being stuck in a cul-de-sac when confronting white people who believe themselves to be non-racist or, even worse, anti-racist, while unawarely perpetrating a race discourse positioning people on a false level of equality and hindering any possible open and healthy talk about ways of ending racism. Yes, the allures of colour-blindness are too strong for white people to let go, and that is understandable (there is too much to lose in renouncing this illusion). But then, we are not going anywhere further. There is no way we can progress in the fight against racism if we deny its existence and refuse to see deep into the workings of structural racism (institutional and social) at all levels of our experience. There is no possible anti-racism (from whites) without a constant exercise in critical whiteness and a recognition of the power relations affecting the lives of people we pretend to see as equals.
Almost every day I encounter a situation in which I see myself smiling politely and thinking I am no longer talking to this person about this. But, in fact, I cannot afford to stop talking. There is too much at stake, if not for me, surely for my children. And, no matter how frustrated I feel, I resolve to go on, as a drill, hoping to bore a hole somewhere, even in a hard ear. I know what I am talking about. I was once on the other side (and I am still, as a white person, in a very privileged position). It can be done.