When Did Anti-Oppression Work Become Charity Work?

Why do I sense benevolence?
You stand tall at my great expense
Thick words of gratitude, what a price to pay
Stuck in my throat, I sell every word I say

But I don’t want your charity
Twisting me round
I don’t want your charity
Keeping me down

Read more: Skunk Anansie – Charity Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Discriminee, from their website: http://discriminee.nl/nl/home/
Discriminee, from their website: http://discriminee.nl/nl/home/

“Oh, hell no!” was my first reaction to the nomination of Bureau Discriminatiezaken’s Discriminee! initiative for the NRC Charity Award. I’ve already written a piece about anti-discrimination language in the Netherlands (which you can read here) and how it frames marginalized people as perpetual victims in need of saving and empowerment. Anti-discrimination language (with its focus on the “individual”) in the Netherlands precludes any serious analysis of racism as something that is structural and embedded. And, now, it turns out, anti-oppression work is considered charity work.

NRC Charity Awards 2013. Logo taken from their website: http://www.nrccharityawards.nl/inzendingen/art-1-bureau-discriminatiezaken-noord-holland-noord-2/
NRC Charity Awards 2013. Logo taken from their website.

“A vision of cultural homogeneity that seeks to deflect attention away from or even excuse the oppressive, dehumanizing impact of white supremacy on the lives of black people by suggesting black people are racist too indicates that the culture remains ignorant of what racism really is and how it works. It shows that people are in denial.

Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation? The prejudicial feelings some blacks may express about whites are in no way linked to a system of domination that affords us any power to coercively control the lives and well-being of white folks. That needs to be understood.” — bell hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism

Structural racism neither requires nor precludes the participation of racist individuals. As bell hooks highlights, centuries of structural racism has brought about institutional and cultural practices that only partly depend on the racial attitudes of the people engaged in them.

What’s more, the absence of a clear understanding of structural racism plus the conflation of different kinds of oppression under the rubric discrimination simply makes anyone whose analysis is intersectional and departs from strict individualist interpretations of racial inequality seem like they’re being “overly critical,” which is often seen as whining.

I’ve been accused of “harming the cause” because I argued that White Autochtoon Dutch people need a different anti-racist praxis. Further, it was hinted at by White anti-racists that I should be grateful that there are White anti-racists. First, as a White Autochtoon Dutch person simply saying you’re anti-racist doesn’t make you anti-racist. Also, you don’t need to be racist to benefit from racism (you know, White privilege). Anti-racism is not just attacking PVV voters (while simultaneously distancing yourself from “racist White folks”), it’s an embodied intersectional praxis that requires constant vigilance and a critical stance; it means wrestling with the question: what does it mean to be White? Second, I’m nobody’s charity case. This “be grateful I’m taking time to help you out” dross runs on the age old “White man’s burden” logic.

“For me to seek white recognition as a stimulus to a healthy sense of self understanding is a form of pathology.” — George Yancy, Black Bodies, White gazes

Implying that anti-racism is charity work (and thus likening it to the oftentimes problematic work that NGOs are doing) implies that people of colour need White people to save us from racism—a racism that is always committed,  and perpetuated by unnamed others. Not only does this logic decontextualize racism, it obscures the structuring force of Whiteness and masks White privilege. Moreover, this logic, in an Orwellian move, positions White people doing “anti-racist” work as saviours of people of colour and not as perpetrators of/those benefitting from racism.

“While antiracist whites take time to get their shit together, a luxury that is a species of privilege, Black bodies and bodies of color continue to suffer, their bodies cry out for the political and existential urgency for the immediate undoing of the oppressive operations of whiteness.”— George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes

The continued reality of racism, homophobia, sexism, trans*phobia, ableism is framed as being aberrant, and irrational. It’s quite something when an anti-discrimination bureau puts out copy like this:

NRC Charity Awards 2013 ›› Stem op jouw favoriete doel 1

“Gek eigenlijk, dat ‘homo’ in 2013 nog steeds een scheldwoord is. Net zo gek als dat vrouwen lagere salarissen hebben dan hun mannelijke collega’s. Dat ouderen vanwege hun leeftijd worden afgewezen. Dat mensen vanwege hun huidskleur worden gepest. Dat mensen door hun geloof worden uitgescholden [sic]. Dat mensen om hun afkomst worden uitgesloten. En dat er überhaupt nog mensen worden gediscrimineerd.”

“Odd, isn’t it, that in 2013 ‘homo’  is still used as a slur. It’s as odd as the fact that women receive lower salaries than their male colleagues. That the elderly are rejected due to their age. That people are bullied because of the colour of their skin. That people are verbally abused by their religion [sic]. That people are being excluded on the basis of their ethnicity. And that people are still being discriminated against.”

All this faux surprise is getting on my last nerve.

It’s worth pointing out that the nomination is due to the “quality” of the copy. Condescending tone aside, the one thing that surprised me is that nobody caught the weirdly phrased “Dat mensen door hun geloof worden uitgescholden” (That people are verbally abused by their religion). Religions are getting mighty uppity these days.

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4 thoughts on “When Did Anti-Oppression Work Become Charity Work?

  1. White Opinions

    Edit: As much as I enjoyed reading your comment, Blanke, I decided to replace it with an image that captures all the subtleties I am sure you wanted to convey. As the saying goes: an image speaks louder than words, sometimes. — E.A.M.

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