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February 19, 2012

“Whiteness is a structure of domination. There is nothing redeemable or reformed about whiteness.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 1:08 am

The White Anti-Racist is an Oxymoron: And Open Letter to “White Anti-Racists” – by Kil Ja Kim

A little while back, a friend of mine sent me the above link with a note: “This was really uncomfortable for me to read, and while I agree with most of it, there were a couple points where I was coming up with all sorts of arguments to refute what the author is saying.” She asked for my take on it.

Because my preferred medium is personal correspondence, I sent her a reply and never thought much more of it beyond a vague, “Hm. I should write a real post about this for my blog one of these days.”

Then maymay posted this entry problematising the oft-decontextualized nature of privilege/oppression discourses in a complex kyriarchical system. And, suddenly, I wished I had written a “real” blog post in response. Partly so that I could point to some amazing writing that would likely make people EVEN MORE MAD than maymay’s. 😉 But mostly so that I could respond directly to the following comment:

Think about it: privilege is emptying. For instance, what does it mean to be “white”? It means to be not a person of color. What does it mean to be male? It means to be not female, for that would be “unmanly”!

This is related to a conversation we had the other night about how oppressor identities are inherently debased – which is something I’d like to write more in-depth about at some point. Partly because I know the phrase “oppressor identities are inherently debased” sounds like some obstructionist academic-sounding bullshit, but it’s a really powerful concept for understanding why Scenes are inherently unwelcoming and other very everyday normal human experiences.

But I don’t have time to do that right now. And perhaps I never will. So, in the meantime, I’m just going to make the reply I sent my friend – in its imperfect, de-contextualized, off-the-cuff, written-specifically-for-one-person form – public. For what it’s worth:

Whoa. [That piece] is beautiful. And intense. I definitely got a little triggered and had my defenses flare up at certain points, too. I would love to talk with you about this more.

Short version of my intial thoughts. (Okay, not actually short. Nothing I write is ever short. :P): Her argument is that whiteness itself (not having fair skin, but whiteness as a racialized identity) is inherently oppressive. This argument falls under the umbrella of what I might call “hard radicalism.”

(In analytic philosophy, people differentiate between the “hard” and “soft” version of an argument. The “hard” version is the conclusion you get if you take an argument to its logical extreme; it’s a conclusion that is extremely rational, but it goes against common sense, it feels counter-intuitive to normal human experience. The “soft” version is when you take an argument as far as it can go before your gut response is, “Whoa! That can’t be right! If that’s true, that’s really upsetting! This argument must be missing something” and then you try and figure out what the argument is missing.)

Other arguments that I’d consider “hard radicalism”: Heterosexual sex is always coercive. Having a sexual orientation is inherently transphobic. Getting married reinforces the patriarchy, no matter how you slice is. Monogamy is bullshit. All forms of communication are manipulation. Etc.

Here’s the thing about hard radicalism: Intellectually, I actually believe in most of these arguments. It’s important to be VERY careful about how we define the words we use in hard radical arguments (e.g. there’s a difference between benefiting from white privilege and having fair skin) – but I think they’re logically true. And I’m a philosopher, so logic holds a lot of sway with me. 😛

But, strategically, I understand that it’s a bad idea to talk about hard-radical arguments in mixed company. They’re hard to get your head around at first, so they’re not going to win anybody over who isn’t already thinking along those lines anyway. They’re predicated on the idea that people are rational, which we mostly aren’t. In fact, they’ll probably lose you friends because they’re really unsympathetic to peoples’ feelings. They’re intense and gut-level upsetting – because they basically say: Everything (no, really, EVERYTHING) that we think is nice about being a human is actually a tool the system uses to control us. They’re the Red Pill of radical politics. They’re depressing as fuck.

Until the day when you feel like you’re completely backed into a corner and surrounded on all sides by an impenetrably oppressive system that you can never get out of – then, suddenly, they’re empowering as fuck.

But even though I believe intellectually that hard radicalism makes sense, I still try to ignore it most days because if I really let myself live in that place all the time, I’d probably jump off a bridge.

Intellectually: I think the most elegant piece of this article might be the way that she slams white people for derailing discussions about race by crying about other ways that we’re oppressed, but she doesn’t ever actually claim that racism is the Big Bad of all oppressions. She dances around the edge of playing Oppression Olympics, just enough to really get your hackles up, but she never actually does it. It’s subtle. I’m impressed.

Emotionally: Holy fuck, I REALLY LIKE IT when oppressed people tell people with privilege to fuck off. There’s so little space in our society for righteous anger about oppression, and we have SO MUCH to feel FUCKING ANGRY about. So, I always feel inspired whenever I see it. And as a person with white privilege, yeah, it totally hurts my feelings to be told that me and my white privilege can just fuck the hell off, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. But that’s totally trumped by the fact that, as a person who experiences oppression, it feels REALLY empowering to see another oppressed person telling the people who are oppressing her (including me) to just go fuck themselves.

Holycrap, it’s almost 4am. I gotta go to bed! Thanks for the link. We should totally talk about it more. ❤

ETA: I want to point out that problematizing the privilege/oppression dichotomy in public is tricky territory, because criticizing that discourse in a spirit genuine allyship is an extremely illegible position.

There’s more I want to say about that but it will take me a while to articulate. So, I’m just going to leave it at that for now.

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4 Comments »

  1. […] Wait. Actually, I have a point. My point is that this is why this position (problematising privilege-discourse as a form of allyship) can be so illegible. Because, at the […]

    Pingback by P.S. Because I can’t comment on tumblr « Bloggity Blog Blog Blog… — February 19, 2012 @ 2:17 am | Reply

  2. The article has a somewhat inflammatory title and thesis, but mostly talks about a lot of ways that white people bring our whiteness to antiracist (and other) activism and how that’s destructive, all of which make sense to me. I’ve certainly done it. I found myself recently in a room full of about 30 people, only four or five of which were white men, discussing the future of humanity in the context of sustainability and civil rights. In the limited time we had for the discussion, probably less than half of the people in the room got a chance to talk, but those people included me and two of the other white men.

    So it also makes sense to me that we have to really work deeply on relinquishing the structure of domination that is whiteness if we want to combat racism in any meaningful way. But it’s hard. It’s hard to give up the space that my whiteness (and my maleness, and all of my other privileges) grants me because the ego is a social construct. My self as I ordinarily experience it is produced by the ways I’m acknowledged by others, which are mediated by larger cultural patterns. So the space for expression and acknowledgment that I’m used to (and that other [oppressed] people don’t get) is part of my me. This is why I think it’s helpful to have a spiritual context in which I can see how relinquishing my ego is good for me: in which I can have something deeper or higher or greater to identify with: in which I can value groundlessness.

    As far as problematizing the privilege/oppression dichotomy from a position of allyship, I think one would have to show somewhat vividly how ones problematization is helpful to an oppressed person. In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t know if it’s appropriate to problematize this dichotomy from the position of an ally. If the discourse of privilege and oppression is being used by the people I’m allying with, it’s not my job to problematize it. All discourse has its problems, but we choose our terminology because its useful for what we’re trying to accomplish. However, if it’s helpful to you as an oppressed person to problematize the discourse, by all means write about that.

    Comment by Corvinity — February 24, 2012 @ 11:25 am | Reply

  3. […] is the experience of everybody who fantasizes about violence. (Although, honestly, that is the hard radical upshot of my above comment about everyone in oppression culture being a victim of systemic abuse.) […]

    Pingback by This One’s for the Invisible Girl « Bloggity Blog Blog Blog… — April 25, 2012 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

  4. Interesting – I didn’t see the linked article as a particularly “hard” example of hard radicalism. For context, I’m a white, genderqueer trans woman – and I empathised completely with the telling of people not in an oppressed group to fuck off. I can do that to cis people, and the article is 100% right that one of the reasons I can fairly safely do that is because I’m white.

    Comment by David-Sarah Hopwood — December 22, 2012 @ 10:25 pm | Reply


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