Posted on Friday, May 1st, 2009 at 4:19 pm
Author: Renee Martin
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
Writing critically about race is not an easy thing to do. We have tendency to avoid discussing race as it has been determined to be one of those “hot button” subjects. This silence about race allows whiteness to continue in its rule unchallenged and forces people of color to deal with daily assaults to our humanity. Comments that many view as innocuous, are often hurtful and serve to ensure that the racial gap continues to grow. Whiteness would prefer that we play sambo to its Missy Anne, regardless of how damaging it may be to our psyche.
To challenge what whiteness deems as its right to demean at will means being called angry or accused of being disrespectful. Whiteness it is all about tone. White people have become so accustomed to deferential treatment based in undeserved racial privilege that when people of color dare to speak, we are considered uppity.
People of color are continually reminded of our “tone. This is classic disciplining behaviour. We are informed that were we to raise our objections in a “gentler manner,” whiteness would be more inclined to listen. Despite such proclamations, it is not the form that the speech takes that is offensive, but the speech itself. No power has ever appreciated any form of challenge to its rule and whiteness is no exception.
People of color are not amused when we are accused of racism against whiteness when we challenge its social power. Racism equals power plus prejudice, but this basic 101 fact continues to be ignored in hopes of presenting our objections to white hegemony as somehow based solely in hatred. It is possible to hate the oppression and not despise those that use their undeserved racial privilege to oppress.
It is laughable that we, the oppressed, are placed into the position of constantly reassuring whiteness of its worth when it has acted systemically to ensure that we are devalued as human beings. To still be asked to say “honey chile” and smile as we shuffle through our day in 2009, evidences that the liberal rhetoric of equality just wants a new age sambo.
A person of color must constantly weigh the cost of speaking out versus continuing to live in silence. Things are getting better, we are told, and yet the violence against us by police is rising, our unemployment figures continue to be the highest, and we are still over represented in the prison population. Who exactly are things getting better for?
Being called a racist or told that your behaviour is racist has become a social shame, however, it is not the action that causes shame it is the label. What whiteness desires is the ability to continue on with its destructive behaviour and retain the ability to not be shamed or stigmatized for it. Any critique of people of color is asserted to be based in rationalism whereas a critique of whiteness is based on emotionalism. The emotionalism argument derives its strength from the myth that people of color are the eternal children of the world, in need of white stewardship. By positioning itself as morally superior whiteness not only seeks to avoid critique, but to establish a right to rule over other races.
If we are rightfully able to recognize and call out racism, whiteness is unable to maintain its panoptic rule. The truest expression of power is the ability to control without being seen or to force those that are oppressed to police themselves on your behalf. To be forced to answer for your behaviour means that limitations apply.
It is the very possibility that white hegemony can or should be reduced that whiteness finds so threatening. This is why it seeks to assert that they would listen more keenly if people of color spoke rationally or more politely. To control the discourse of what constitutes racism means that whiteness is able to act as judge and jury and therefore continually set the terms of debate in a way that is most favourable to its position. Language policing is always purposeful; to ignore its intent is to be blind to the ways in which power is wielded.
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