Playing the Numbers Game

“It’s a numbers game, but shit don’t add up somehow
Like I got, 16 to 32 bars to rock it
But only 15% of profits ever see my pockets like
69 billion in the last 20 years
Spent on national defense but folks still live in fear like
Nearly half of America’s largest cities is one-quarter black”

Mos Def, Mathematics

Last year, the Notification Centre for Online Discrimination received 652 complaints of online discrimination—an increase of 50%. The year before, the centre received 305 complaints. What does a ‘rise’ in online racist incidents mean? And for whose benefit are these figures being produced? What does it mean to monitor the ‘flow’ and ‘fluctuations’ in racist incidents? What kind of work does ‘measuring racism’ do? What does it mean to think of racism as something that is measurable, quantifiable? And do these numbers tell us anything about the workings of racialisation? The act of measuring reduces racism to something other than what it is. We must interrogate the kind of work that measurements, degrees of comparison, and comparative superlatives (as in “racism is becoming much worse,” or “things are getting worse and worse”) do.

In order to get an understanding of what facts and statistics do rather than say, we have to situate the production of facts and statistics in a wider context of knowledge production in Dutch academia. In their essay Designs and (Co)Incidents, Philomena Essed and Kwame Nimako note that Dutch minority research “mostly (but not always) problematiz[es] ethnic minorities while generally downplaying the influence of racism, the ramifications of the colonial history, and concomitant presuppositions of European (Dutch) civil and cultural superiority.” The Dutch minority research machinery spits out reports and statistics, that shape policies. These reports are the product of enumerative practices, that concern themselves with how many?, rather than analytic practices which ask why? Essed and Nimako tell us that why is rarely asked. Instead, “[r]esearch is largely about ethnic minorities […] about their migration and their degree (or lack) of economic, social and political integration in the Netherlands.” Research on people of colour builds on a White Dutch infrastructure “where policy, party politics, and research intertwine.”

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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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Seeing Colour, Reading Saul van Stapele

“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

One of the unintended consequences of ‘mainstreaming anti-racism’ is that anyone and everyone who believes themselves knowledgeable enough, regardless of the level of their understanding, is offered a stage to provide an analysis of racial oppression. Nowadays, anti-racism is, as Ramona Sno argues, fashionable. “It is striking,” Sno writes, “that the people who are now speaking out the loudest against racism and other forms of exclusion are white, and that their pieces are, to put it mildly, inspired by the pieces of POC (people of color) in the Netherlands.”

It is striking, indeed, that predominantly White folk are given space in which to not only articulate their ‘anti-racism’, but to also determine what’s racist. Given the dominance of normative Eurocentric epistemologies that have distorted Black epistemologies, or rendered them unintelligible or invisible, it’s important to remain vigilant of dynamics that relegate the intellectual work of Black(ened) folk to ‘footnotes and brackets’ or that reduce our work to ‘raw material’ that can be unlimitedly exploited—without having to engage its ethical implications.

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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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