“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?