Wednesday, September 05, 2007

On knowing it when you see it

Easy now. I have time for a quick post, why not? Racism is usually typified in bourgeois ideology as a way of thinking and feeling about the world. In its worst form, this reduces racism to a form of "prejudice" or - god save us all - "hatred". (It is ironic, this: the 'hate' metaphor has almost invariably been used against the victims of racism: 1857 rebels were filled with 'hate'; slave rebels ditto; Cointelpro documents characterised civil rights organisations as 'black hate groups'; think of all the 'preachers of HATE' today). In a more sophisticated version, it might be understood as "race-thinking", to use Hannah Arendt's term, the theory and ideology that corresponds to the practise of white supremacy. But I think it's obvious that racism is a form of behaviour, in the same way that white supremacy is a system rather than what hillbillies and other caricatures get up to on the weekend. And this is surely why no one is impressed when someone who has made a racist comment or claim says "but in my heart, I'm not a racist". That is never the issue. In which vein, there is an interesting post (via Chabert) about "microaggressions", which refers to the cumulative petty acts of verbal violence directed against people of colour (I suppose that's a better description than 'non-white people', which characterises most of the planet as a negation). There are entire traditions of racial discourse involved here, which are 'automatically' deployed and 'imperceptible', except to those on the receiving end. Obviously, part of being an anti-racist activist is knowing this when you see it, and challenging it (since anti-racism, too, is a form of behaviour, and not merely a way of thinking and feeling). Given this, and given the state of perpetual ignorance that is maintained on the topic, surely it would be useful to produce a dictionary of racism. A critical compilation of racist tropes, metaphors, assumptions etc., together with their uses (whether it is providing legitimacy for concentration camps or 'detention centres' for immigrants). One gets histories of racism detailing the discovery of the 'Aryans' and the 'Tartars' and what have you, which are good and necessary. However, a straightforward reference guide with detailed examples and introductory explanations would he very useful. It needn't be mirthless either: consider the virtues of a chapter on testing race theory by extracting the blood of a racist co-worker, for example. This is a serious suggestion, actually. And since the daily, ritual, petty acts of written violence against people of colour is at its rawest in the blogosphere, where some truly obscene commentary is passed off as sensible (and 'left-wing', on top of it all), something online could be developed to accompany Mark Kaplan's 'Notes on Rhetoric'. That way, when you're engaged in a discussion online, and someone who assumes they are not racist makes a truly racist statement, you have a resource to link to, an anticipatory critique that is unanswerable. What do you make of this?