Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Negotiating White Spaces

Unlike people of colour, whiteness can arrange and specifically choose to surround itself with whiteness.  It may be forced to tolerate a token POC in the room, but it certainly can arrange to never be the only white person in the room.  This allows for a certain level of comfort and purposeful ignorance.  By specifically choosing not to engage with POC, whiteness can ensure that it is never at a disadvantage. 

This level of comfort is not something afforded people of colour.  Each day we must interact with our oppressor, for everything from purchasing a stick of gum to attaining gainful employment.  Even in moments of privacy, simply turning on the television will bring whiteness into what is meant to be a safe space.  Whiteness is tantamount to big brother watching us all, manipulating and exploiting at will for gain.  POC lead a panoptic experience; constantly observed for signs of rebellion we learn to change our behaviour to appear non threatening and docile.  The repercussions of asserting autonomy leads to certain chastisement and often times pain.

From the moment we leave our mothers womb we begin the journey of negotiating whiteness.  For some our lives will depend on ensuring that we are perceived as posing no threat, and for others the chance to live a middle class lifestyle will depend on our ability to pass as the mystical Negro, even as the role causes bile to rise  from our stomachs.

Whiteness fiercely guards the spaces that it has come to rule over.  Like a jealous lover it watches over us awaiting a betrayal that is sure to come.  How can we be faithful to that which we despise? We are a colonized people, held hostage for the benefit of those that use the words equality, humanity, and shared responsibility with a dishonest and malicious tongue.

To negotiate whiteness is to understand that self preservation means withholding your rage, swallowing bitter tears in times of pain, and making something out of the remnants that are offered.  Should you have the courage to challenge the status quo it means isolation and derision. 

Even as I write this, I find my thoughts turning to those that complain about being forced to use "PC speech". They feel disciplined and controlled because in certain circles they must consider the experience of others before they speak, and yet for people of colour, the minute we leave our homes, every action and every word is a constant negotiation.  If we are facing more than one site of oppression: like ability, or sexuality, the prejudices may over lap in such a way that a safe space truly exists nowhere. 

Knowing that hostility comes with being black in a society that values whiteness, and  learning to negotiate it in such a way that you can retain your self respect, is of  paramount importance.  Many have internalized the negative characteristics that are associated with blackness to the point that they injure themselves.  Racism comes at a high cost for those of us that must deal with the brunt of it.  It is ever present and cannot be ignored.

Whether you are driving while black, or simply have the nerve to believe that you should exist with freedom of movement, living as a body of colour means performing your blackness.   Should you happen to be "articulate", educated and strong willed, whiteness will be sure to act defensively and remind you that blackness is not what you want it to mean, but what they have constructed it to mean for their own ends.  Though I called this post negotiating whiteness it really should have been called surviving it because for too many blackness means death.

Some in the African American community believe that we can reclaim spaces and or words.  How can we reclaim that which never belonged to us? Even that which we owned outright has been stolen and corrupted.  It is my belief that it is time to refashion blackness.  Assimilating to point where blackness becomes unmentionable should not be the goal.  It is not about blackness becoming as invisible in normalcy as whiteness, but understanding that we exist as a unique people with a broad and beautiful culture and history.

Acceptance means reaching a place where we no longer are forced to negotiate whiteness.  Separate, unique and valued is a state that blackness needs to achieve.  Understanding that difference is not only acceptable but necessary to a diverse thoughtful society should be our aim.  Encapsulating goodness as whiteness means that for some, our experiences and our needs will forever be ignored.

I have been called a racist more time in the past year since starting this blog than in the past 3_ years. Much of it stems from the fact that I refuse to capitulate to the false notion that whiteness should maintain its privilege unquestioned by all. It wants silence, in fact it needs silence if it is to continue to rule.  The taunts of reverse racist are an attempt to maintain the unequal power division in society. Whiteness is well aware that those that do not question are truly enslaved both body and soul.  It is a systemic force that often behaves in the same manner of patriarchy.  It will rail into the wind, distort facts, and oppress in any way possible rather than face a loss of power.

Power is the heart of racism.  It is the one aspect we seldom delve into.  We construct difference as naturally occurring without realizing the many institutions we have created to ensure that dissonance occurs daily.  Power is wielded purposefully and is no accident of nature.   Racists want to assert power over others and racial difference is only the mechanism that they use to achieve their ends.  When we view whiteness what we must never forget is that it equals privilege + power and unless we challenge both aspects we will forever be spinning in circles.  Whiteness is not more beautiful, or more intelligent, it simply exists with more power.


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