Thinking Care

Anti-racist spaces are messy sites of emotions. Emotions play a crucial role in political action. We can’t deny that we have strong emotional relationships with what we do and with whom we work. And yet, emotions are often not considered, at all, in anti-racist organizing. Emotions are usually relegated to the sphere of the private, or personal. However, they form, as Sara Ahmed points out, an important aspect of political life. Moral emotions, such as ‘care’, ‘compassion’, and ‘love’, especially give texture to politics, ideas of belonging, and ‘allyship’. So, why do anti-racist activists neglect the role that emotions play in organizing and building community?

I have been thinking about the kind of work that moral emotions do, specifically ‘care’, within White anti-racist activist spaces. ‘Caring’, which is considered a sign of moral outrage against injustice, performs important work. ‘Care’, as a moral ideal, pulls activists together, and is important to the formation and mobilization of social movements. White anti-racist activists, for instance, care because a situation is unfair, or because they believe discrimination is behaviour that should not belong in a ‘civilized’ country. Statements such as “I care about refugees,” “we should change Zwarte Piet, because it hurts Black people,” or narcissistic statements like “they are just like us,” are all indicative of a caring concern. Care is made politically significant whenever we call on society at large to care. Yet, despite the political role of care and its ability to gather and mobilize, ‘care’ within activism remains curiously unexamined.

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On Facts, Proof, and the Reception of Black Critique in White Dutch Media

“Give us the facts, we will take care of the philosophy.” — John Collins

In a recent article, philosopher Mihai Martoiu Ticu issued a “challenge” to his critics: “prove it.” What needed to be proved here was whether Guus Valk’s review article gives “an unfair advantage to whites, or unfairly disadvantages blacks.” Martoiu Ticu admits that he has seen “no evidence” of either undue benefit or harm. In what could be said to be a self-disqualifying move, Martoiu Ticu claims that,

“It is not evident that the word ‘nigger’ is a priori racist. The same applies to illustrations of a black man in the familiar stereotype of blackface, including thick red lips.”

Mihai Martoiu Ticu’s claim is not, at all, remarkable. Rather, it is part of a contemporary White liberal discourse on racism, which reduces racism to ‘individual experience’, ‘individual acts of meanness’, or the result of ‘unfortunate misunderstandings’ (some misunderstandings are overdetermined). Racism is marked as ‘real’ only when the intentions behind the act or statement are racist. As such, it becomes either a matter of individual prejudice or miscommunication—both of which can be remedied by ‘raising awareness’ and through ‘dialogue’. In order to establish whether racism is the ‘true’ issue at hand, research must be conducted. It’s not racist, until it’s been proven. What constitutes racism is, thus, continuously up for debate and this strengthens a “framework of plausible deniability [that has already been] built up around racism”—a framework which enables Mihai Martoiu Ticu to disconnect the N-word and the darkie iconography used in Aron Vellekoop León’s illustrations from their historical, political contexts and cultural antecedents.

Martoiu Ticu’s statement of “no evidence” in the face of overwhelming evidence and his challenge to “prove it” are symptomatic of White supremacy, and both raise a number of concerns when read alongside the struggle against racism, and for justice. If what could be considered, as in the case of the N-word, incontrovertible evidence of racism is made subject to discussion and contested under the guise of ‘research’, then what counts as incontestable evidence? What kind of evidence “speaks for itself”? To be clear, I am not taking up Martoiu Ticu ‘challenge’ to find measurable, causal evidence for a negative impact of Valk’s article on Black people. Rather, I’m interested in how, through a desire for ‘evidence’ in the face of incontrovertible evidence, White Dutch innocence and the ‘integrity of Whiteness’ are secured. If the assumption of White Dutch innocence saturates interpretation, and structures what can and cannot be ‘seen’ or understood as evidence, then to what extent does it interpret ‘evidence’ a priori?

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Mobilities and the Border of Whiteness

This is a talk that I prepared for an event about the asylum policy in the Netherlands and how it affects refugees:

In this talk I want to highlight the role that anti-blackness has played—and still plays—in shaping official migration policies. More often than not, the role that anti-blackness plays in state policies remains unmentioned.

Counter to popular political actions, I want to unsettle the relatively “safe” position of those of us who are documented. My main project is to question and undermine the system of documentation itself—to think beyond citizenship. To that end, I would like us to think about why it is so that the state determines which movements are legitimate, and which aren’t. Why is no movement ‘free’—unless it is in service of corporate capital? The basic question I want us to wrestle with is, why do we need to be documented in order to be able to “live legitimately” in this society?

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Politics of Spatial Imagination in the Dutch Colonial Myth

“The modern world hates to see black folks resting.” — Lewis Gordon, “African American Philosophy, Race, and the Geography of Reason.”

In the 19th century, the opponents of penal colonialism thought it inadvisable to deport prisoners to hard labour. In an official document to the then King, they write (my translations),

“The examination of the hereby dated report of the Minister of Justice and the associated lists of prisoners who are considered to be suitable for transportation to Brazil, or any of the other overseas possessions, has convinced me that the persons referred to cannot be made use of for the benefit of your Majesty’s colonies.

In the West, experience has shown us that, in a hot climate, only Negroes should be used for the cultivation of the land as well as other physical labour; under no circumstances should Europeans be put to work, and women, who mostly are absent from the slave forces in Suriname, must be sought from nowhere else but in Africa, so as to achieve the maintenance of the black population.

In the East, and in particular Java, our entire economy and the security of our possessions is founded on this principle, the natives should stand in absolute awe of Europeans, this feeling should spring forth from a sense of their moral and intellectual inferiority. It is from this point of view that Europeans, even those of the lower classes, dismissed soldiers or sailors, etc., are rarely if ever called to, or assigned, manual labour, and it is for this reason, too, that many experts think it would be inadvisable to embark in those regions on a colonization programme as that of, for example, the Swiss in Brazil.”

A. R. Falck, Minister of Public Education, National Industry and Colonies Continue reading “Politics of Spatial Imagination in the Dutch Colonial Myth”

My Thoughts on the Ruling

Last week an administrative court in Amsterdam ruled in favour of the plaintiffs who contested the licensing of the 2013 Sinterklaas Parade in Amsterdam. The plaintiffs argued that granting the organizers of the Sinterklaas parade a permit constituted an infringement of their right to respect for private and family life, since the figure of Zwarte Piet, which plays a huge role in the public Sinterklaas parade, is a negative stereotype of Black people.

The plaintiffs argued that Foundation Sinterklaas Parade Amsterdam, which organizes the parade, could not have otherwise organized the event without the permit the Mayor granted. Because Mayor Van der Laan had not fully considered the objections to Zwarte Piet in his decision to grant a permit, he was summoned by the court to reconsider the licensing of the 2013 Sinterklaas parade. The decision was heralded, as Chandra Frank notes, as “an important outcome of years of protesting and activism by those opposed to Zwarte Piet.” Even though, I could understand why Black folks were happy with the decision, the reasoning upon which the court ruling is based bolstered White supremacy.

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The Machinery of Dehumanization

“The logic behind white domination is to prepare the black man for the subservient role in this country. Not so long ago this used to be freely said in parliament, even about the educational system of the black people. It is still said even today, although in a much more sophisticated language. To a large extent the evil-doers have succeeded in producing at the output end of their machine a kind of black man who is man only in form. This is the extent to which the process of dehumanization has advanced.”

—Steve Biko, We Blacks

If racism is institutional in the Netherlands, then why do ‘anti-racists’, keep looking for racism in the familiar places? Cataloguing highly locatable racist comments may point out the ubiquity of racist expressions, however, it does nothing to illuminate the work that racialization performs. Black folks and non-Black people of colour hardly need reminding of the scale of overt racism in the Netherlands. The question is, then, who is the intended audience of such cataloguing? Besides, targeting individual (online) commenters and writing them off using ableist and/or classist terms not only strengthens the idea that racism is an individual, psychological, and interpersonal ‘issue’, rather than a constitutive, systemic, and cultural feature of the social body of the Netherlands, but it also suggests that it is OK to challenge racism with ableism and classism. If racism is woven into the very fabric of the social body and its institutions, then why are certain institutions exempt from scrutiny? Continue reading “The Machinery of Dehumanization”

On the Containment of Blackness in Dutch Anti-Racist Organizing

Politics is death that lives a human life.
— Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics

In the recent calls for solidarity, the violence enacted on Black flesh has often been used as a springboard to launch analyses that bury under the heading “we’re all in this together” the specificity of anti-blackness. The specificity of Black positionality is brushed over (by both Black folks and non-Black people of colour) in a rush to pursue a ‘happy’ politics of solidarity.

Racialized Bodies
Sometimes I feel like “racialized bodies” rhetoric in academia falls into the same trap as the designation “people of colour”
Racialized Bodies 2
collapsing difference and invisibilizing historical and contemporary singularities of Blackness and anti-Blackness

To put it bluntly, “anti-racism” work is, more often than not, anti-black, since it tacitly proposes a move away from, or the containment of, blackness either through a politics of respectability, or by way of appeals that “fortify and extend the interlocutory life of widely accepted political common sense.”

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