Friday, February 4, 2011

Ahmed, on Killjoys

I saw this excerpt on Leonineclaire's tumblr and wanted to share. It's an extract from Sara Ahmed's "Feminist Killjoys (and Other Willful Subjects)". I could see great classroom discussion/debate emerging around this one excerpt:
“Take the example of racism. It can be willful even to name racism: as if the talk about divisions is what is divisive. Given that racism recedes from social consciousness, it appears as if the ones who “bring it up” are bringing it into existence . . . . To recede is to go back or withdraw. To concede is to give way, to yield. People of color are often asked to concede to the recession of racism: we are asked to “give way” by letting it “go back.” Not only that: more than that. We are often asked to embody a commitment to diversity. We are asked to smile in their brochures. The smile of diversity is a way of not allowing racism to surface; it is a form of political recession.
Racism is very difficult to talk about as racism can operate to censor the very evidence of its existence. Those who talk about racism are thus heard as creating rather than describing a problem. The stakes are indeed very high: to talk about racism is to occupy a space that is saturated with tension. History is saturation. One of the findings of a research project I was involved with on diversity was that because racism saturates everyday and institutional spaces, people of color often make strategic decisions not to use the language of racism.[18] If you already pose a problem, or appear “out of place” in the institutions of whiteness, there can be “good reasons” not to exercise what is heard as a threatening vocabulary.[19] Not speaking about racism can be a way of inhabiting the spaces of racism. You minimize the threat you already are by softening your language and appearance, by keeping as much distance as you can from the figure of the angry person of color. Of course, as we know, just to walk into a room can be to lose that distance, because that figure gets there before you do.

When you use the very language of racism you are heard as “going on about it,” as “not letting it go.” It is as if talking about racism is what keeps it going. Racism thus often enters contemporary forms of representation as a representation of a past experience.”
You can read the rest of the article here.


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