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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