Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

The Masque of Blackness: Or, performing assimilation in the white academe [1]


Image: The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts by Kara Walker 1995.

To cite this work use: Dar, S. (2018), The Masque of Blackness: Or, performing assimilation in the White Academe, Organization, Special Issue: Foreign Workers: On The Other Side of Sexual, Gendered, Political and Ethical Borders: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350508418805280

‘Diversity’ is a dangerous misnomer in the white academe because the idea fails to recognise the politics of whiteness that structure a spectrum of assimilation academics of colour are positioned by. Taking the title and plotline from the Jacobean masque written by Ben Jonson in 1605, this revisionist play sets out to consider the politics of assimilation academics of colour perform in their daily lives. Drawing on Black liberation and anti-racist literature, the play draws attention to how Black and Brown bodies are asked to perform and use voice daringly or silence instrumentally to leverage degrees of assimilation into white structures. The play firstly, questions the ontology of foreignness by reflecting on the colonised history of the Black body becoming assimilated into whiteness, and secondly, it provides a counter-narrative to those who experience perpetual exclusion and racism at work while other academics of colour seem to become accepted and even celebrated by white hierarchies.

~~***~~

Personated at any University in the United Kingdom on many occasion and in perpetuity.

The violence and ferocity of these performed spectacles of whiteness are such as, could those hours last, this of mine now has been a most unprofitable work[2]. But, when it is fate even of the most decorated academics of colour, that their experiences of systemic racism are mythologised by the soothing words of a Diversity Consultant[3], or with worse effects, that they are met with indifference or shame by brown-skinned colleagues, then the scene and with it the impression of racism perishes and its documentation is rendered impossible[4].

Within this zone of exclusion and silence, there remains a lone voice who demands she is recognised and accepted in alterity as Other[5]. In duty, therefore, to that Black Other – the Resistant Object[6] - who wrestles with equal compulsions of belonging to and rejecting outright the White Academe; who despite this turmoil has the boldness to call out racism and resist assimilation, deserving of eminent celebration for these solemnities, I add this later hand to redeem her as well from ignorance as envy, two common evils, the one of censure, the other of oblivion.

Fanon, Ngugi, Lorde, Baldwin and hooks remember unto us the historic brutal imprisonment and forced sea-migration of peoples from the continents of Africa and Asia to the shores of Western Europe and the Americas. This movement of foreign black bodies to Western lands became famous by the name of slavery and later Empire, and during this journey West, a journey that stretched centuries and crossed continents, transformed that human-non-person/degenerate/beast into a person of colour or BME or BAME. Hence, because it was the Majesty’s will to have them BME assimilated and made workers, as well as subjects to her crown, Diversity Managers were hired and consulted to perform numerous rituals of purity and inclusion so that BME may become fluent in whiteness and convert to being Enlightened[7].

First, for the scene, was drawn a neo-liberal, ‘post-race’ university that caters to national and international elites, where some knowledge is cited, circulated and thus valued and other knowledges are continually erased, cut out and silenced.[8] The university is depicted by an ivory-white square around which a turquoise migratory river floweth in great surges. Several gatekeepers stand at the university’s entrance – these are white men (at times, white anti-racists) and white women (often feminists)[9] standing in and around the university’s ivory towers that are lit with delicate lights resembling galaxies and stars. Their dark academic robes billow in the wind, as imitating that orderly disorder which is common in nature. These white Western Europeans, North Americans, South Africans and Australians are diverse in as much as the continents they represent. But, they all share a history of colonialism, Western European empire and racial genocide which has led to the affirmation of a hierarchy that European whiteness is superior and the suffering and demotion of racialized others is at best an individual pathology[10] or at worst an acceptable outcome for a lesser class. From deep within this colonial psyche which endures into the present of which I now speak, these European nations actively uproot democratic processes, subjectivities, and affective relationalities when they re-imagine themselves as post-race where blackness is nothing more than part of a ‘diverse’ culture[11]. Upon the swirling river, two figures appear – these are Empire and Resistant Object.

Empire presented in a human form, the colour of his flesh blue, and shadowed with a velvet robe of sea-green; his head white, he is garlanded with fish-nets, sea algae and in his hand he holds a white quill.

Resistant Object, a woman of colour, her black hair curled, shadowed with a blue and bright hoodie; her front and wrists adorned with luminous pearls, and her head crowned with a wreath of cane, cotton and papyrus.

The figures introduce the masquers, which are 12 nymphs, women and men of colour, daughters and sons of the Resistant Object. They wear robes of fine silks made in Houzhou and on their arms gold amulets from Calcutta and Madras glisten under the stage lights.[12]

The masquers are placed in a great upturned shell like mother of pearl, curiously made to move with the waters below it. Their voyage seems precarious and risky, but they hold on tight to the shell’s edges, each one determined to weather the stormy seas and complete their journey to enlightenment.

As the shell approaches centre stage, one of the gate-keepers steps forward, and with two others flanking him on either side, the trio begin to sing to loud jubilant music.

SONG

Sound, sound aloud

The welcome of the orient flood

Into the West;

O brave but recalcitrant Resistant Object

Bring forth your handsome race

For though they be black of face

Yet they are full of life and light within,

Let us liberate them from their dismal histories!

Don’t suffer them alienation and distance; let them mutate and assimilate![13]

Together, we will create communities of meritocracy

Based on competences, not their colour,

Let us provide the travellers with maps[14] with which they may navigate their careers

And no longer need to heed that Resistant Object, that nomadic Runaway Tongue![15]

EMPIRE

Be silent, now the ceremony’s done,

And Resistant Object, say, how comes ye here?

That thou art, the furthest from mine thoughts and culture

Bring here your brethren into th’extremest west

Of me, the king of enlightenment, Empire,

And in mine imperial land I stand amazed

To see you labour thus, across so many seas and continents,

To stand under starry skies, but still you’re not free

For what can I do for thee?

RESISTANT OBJECT

Dishonourable Empire, ‘tis not strange at all,

Since centuries you have attempted to enter my cognizance

And lo, I now sense all things with double-consciousness,

Hybridity doth mix whiteness with black bodies

Yet, I reserve forever

A power of separation

That I should sever

My negritude from thy promises of progress,

Yet something powerful about your methodologies

Has mixed so profoundly with my ontology

Liberation, though bound to bodies that move,

Is now accomplished by arguing like you.

EMPIRE

But what’s the end of these liberation struggles,

That you now bring to these calm and hallowed shores?

RESISTANT OBJECT

To do a caring and cautious mother’s part

In nourishing every desiring heart

Of these my children, my most beloved birth,

My first teenagers, my first imaginations,

Them slowly gaining their subtle voice,

Them creeping from the margins to centre stage,

But, them making journeys from slave to cage,

They try to be cool,

They try to be real,

But then, how soon whiteness prevails,

And their language and blackness, their skins and their brownness

Are shed off like costumes after a tragic play.

It makes me sad and angry and mad,

So now, it's a time to talk about my fears

About those maps that enforce transformation,

And how their black voices get lost in translation,

White canons blow and white canons prevail,

No hooks, no Collins, no more Friere!

Those black canons have little value here,

And so my dear children fall hostage to

The brainsickness of European men who stand with you,

These self-styled so-called men of mind,

Cut out our beautiful black voices

One cut at a time,

You drew those maps with silvery white quills,

You made those white quills from our wings fallen[16],

But hey, but ho, blackness no longer soars.

Perchance, I saved my wings and resisted

The volleys of revilings that have persisted,

With some great strength I found within

A loud passionate potency that to my kin

Sounded like a fury full of rage,

“Enough!” I voiced,

“No more migrations

Of body and mind,

Cease these circulations

Depose white tools of accreditation

That diminish black bodies

Through erasing citations

Let people of colour create among ourselves

With arms warm and wide and kind conversations

A deep and infinite fresh-water well

To suckle solidarity and trust that swells

Invoking new kinds of foreign formations

Blackness intact, no self-transformations.”

And so it was, but so it unfolded,

My children turned away from me in shame and lamented,

“Oh, Angry Black Woman!

You have injured us so,

Your hurt and misery and pain is no more

Than ours, but still we cannot stand

With you for fear of the coming reprimand

Instead we turn away from thee

And gaze upon the ancient Tree

Of Enlightment. Enlighten me!

Caste out our blackness and wash away

That stained and foreign black malaise

And, make us recount those canons white

So that we may reach the soft peaky heights

Of Professorship.”

Their tears streamed down and carried forward

A deep plight from which they could not escape

And in this dark predicament

They saw a light and lovely Star

That seemed to speak to them from afar

These words:

Force within yourselves an alteration

Then ask the gatekeepers of a great nation

To let you in so that you may provide

Your labours, servitude and loyalty

Make haste, and celebrate Diversity!

With these words my children grew

Happier that they may eschew

An isolated state of mind

And so, they charge forth towards assimilation

To rid themselves of discrimination.

EMPIRE turning to the Nymphs

Step forward into the light and fair air,

Of this hallowed and purified institution

Our post-race university shall be

A place for development and Diversity,

We shall accept all types of races

But prepare them for a singular education

Based on One of universalism.

At this the Star appears in the upper part of the house, majestic and sitting on a silver throne all luminous and glittering with four-star publications. His brown skin is painted white like alabaster and in his hand he holds a white quill. He wears long snowy robes and an orb of light adorns his head, sending opulent beams and sprightly rays across the dark blue satin skies. The sight is startling and so impresses Resistant Object that she interrupts Empire with this present passion.

RESISTANT OBJECT

O See, our silver star!

Whose fair and impressive beams reach below,

We stand beneath his shimmering glow,

With one hand he beckons my children to follow

And with the other he places a finger to his lips,

Silently they turn to him in servitude humble,

Alas, I have lost an opportunity

To shake the permanence of White Supremacy

And now, here I am:

Foraging for a scream,

But finding a mumble.

THE STAR

Resistant Object, be glad; resume thy anti

Thy children’s labours are done,

Their journeys hath ended one by one,

I was that voice that they heard from afar,

I am the hand that keeps the door ajar,

I am the black body with masque of white,

That climbs hand in hand with Empire’s might.

I am the black body with a white gaze,

I offer your children work, prestige and praise,

Much more than you could or should want to provide.

I follow the Master, but I am no slave,

I am freed from my history and have now remade

Myself as colour-free and diluted with One,

Come let your children enjoin in the singularity

Of British values and sovereignty!

No longer must we toil enchained,

But strike a bargain in exchange

For equality.

And once you do, dear children of colour,

You will see how we can forge an alliance

Your mother’s ambushes are but a tirade

That put false breaks upon opportunity!

So here, I invite you to these sunlit shores,

No more will you be deprived of a seat at the table.

But, children let us in our haste not forget,

To be good and kind and grateful natives yet.

Don’t dwell upon the attainment gap,

Or think of servitude as a trap,

This is our place and our place it hath been

Since Empire conquered and reigned supreme!

Here the gate-keepers sound a gay cheer and leap towards the 12 Nymphs who have silently stood in amazement and wonder. Offering their hands, the gate-keepers take the nymphs ashore and provide patronage and co-authorship as they skip and dance with each other. Star disembarks from his throne and distributes a white paste that is applied to the nymphs faces and arms. Now in white-face, the Nymphs make a pleasant formation. They are enclosed by the figures of the gate-keepers who gaze at the Nymphs adoringly, curiously, angrily, worryingly. With great anticipation and expectancy, a loud and joyous music is heard and the Nymphs open their mouths to sing ~

SONG

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM,

MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM!

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM,

MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM,

MMM MMM MMM MMM MMM!

With this muffled song and dance, the party takes off in great celebratory jubilation to exit the scene. Resistant Object is left alone on stage, she shows no remorse at her children’s transformation, but in her body she senses a tension and with that stirs a mighty will that rises up in her declaration:

RESISTANT OBJECT

A question hangs in the smoke,

Getting ready for the future to burst open.

I’ll take the last word and the next and thereafter,

I can hear my speech echo forth with the ideas I earn.

My black body awards me few prizes, I know that,

And with my blackness I experience many sadnesses,

But with each sadness that marks my body,

I am getting ready to do combat with hierarchy,

White Supremacy is the system of white privilege

It makes whiteness transparent like water,

A purifier, a tincture of healing,

It floods black bodies in a wash of white gazes

White gazing whites and white gazing blacks,

Through whites? Whose rights? Them whites! Them rights!

Our commonwealth rights, our immigrant rights,

Are crushed and mutated when access is managed

To jobs and resources, education and upgrades

Let me give to you instead the Gift of the Black Gaze,

What I see will be yours to make sense of, engage!

For I cannot lose and I have not lost,

What is mine, is a gift which comes with a cost,

I’m speaking to let myself know I’m alive,

I’m letting you know I have survived, not thrived,

Still hoping to thrive, still waiting to up-lift

Let people of colour reanimate in succession,

There is a way out – a world of interventions,

I reach into my blackness to give you black light,

This Masque was just one way, now I’ll pass the mic.

References

Ahmed, Sara, 2012, On Being Included, Duke University Press.

Applebaum, Barbara, 2015, ‘Flipping the script…And still a problem’, in G. Yancy (ed.) White Self-Criticality Beyond Anti-racism, Lexington Books, pp1-20.

Crenshaw, Kimberle, 1991, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Colour, Stanford Law Review, 43(6), pp1241-1299.

Du Bois, W.E.B., 1903/2007, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches, Oxford University Press.

Equality Challenge Unit, 2016, Equality in higher education: statistical report 2016.

Foucault, Michel, 1972, The Archeology of Knowledge, Routledge.

Lorde, Audre, 1984, Sister Outsider, Crossing Press, Berkley.

Mullen, Harryette, 1992, ‘Runaway Tongue: Resistant orality in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Our Nig, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Beloved’ in The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender, and Senitmentality in Nineteenth Century America, Ed. Shirley Samuels, Oxford University Press.

Muhs, Gabriella G. & Niemann, Y. F. & González, C. G. & Harris, A. P. (Eds.), 2012, Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, Logan: Utah State University Press, Project MUSE.

Oh, Elisa, 2014, “In motion swift and even”: Perpetual Motion and Othering in Ben Jonson’s The Masque of Blackness and The Masque of Beauty, Upstart: A journal of English renaissance studies, http://upstart.sites.clemson.edu/Essays/oh_motion/oh_motion.xhtml, accessed 01/09/2017.

Over, William, 2004, Familiarizing the colonized in Ben Jonson’s Masques. Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, Vol 2(2), pp.27-50.

Over, William, 2004b, Alterity and Otherness in Jonson’s masques of Blackness and Beauty: “I, with so much strength / Of argument resisted”, Cultura, Lenguaje y Representación /Culture, Language and Representation 1, pp.43-54.

Spillers, Hortense, 2003, Black, White and in Color: Essays on American literature and culture, University of Chicago Press.

Tate, Shirley Anne, 2017, http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/news/0617-the-impact-of-racism-on-black-women-academics-discussed-at-public-talk/ accessed 10/09/2017

Tate, Shirley Anne and Bagguley, Paul, 2017, Building the anti-racist university: next steps, Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(3), pp. 289-299.

UCU, 2016, The experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in further and higher education.

Varadharajan, Asha, 1995, Exotic Parodies: Subjectivity in Adorno, Said, and Spivak, University of Minnesota Press.

Yancy, George, 2008, Black Bodies, White Gazes: The continuing significance of race in America, Rowman and Littlefield: 2nd edition.

Footnotes

[1] The Masque of Blackness was written by Ben Jonson (1605) and represents the transformation of Black Africans to white Europeans as they embark on a sea- journey from Aethiopia to Britannia. 12 African nymphs settle into an upturned sea-shell in search of magical waters that will wash away their blackness and turn them into beautiful courtly women – transforming their Black bodies to white. Significantly, their journey from Africa to Britannia is interrupted by a decisive black voice that provides a counterpoint to the conversion of blackness to whiteness. The River-god Niger is given a 69-line interjection, where he argues for the sovereignty of Black identity and pleads with the nymphs that they break off their quest to become fully Europeanized. Though Jonson provides black voice an important platform during the performance, Niger is banished from Britannia and so his agency is diminished. The masque has been critiqued as an “intercultural discourse where the African figures are fashioned as familiar” and thus colonizeable (Over, 2004: 27), rendering racial identities fluid and re-workable through self-transformation (Oh, 2014). At the same time, the masque depicts a spectrum of assimilation whereby the absorption of some black bodies into white society is dependent on the Othering and banishment of the sovereign black body (Over, 2004b). The masque was written at the bequest of Queen Anne (who played the part of one of the 12 African nymphs when she was five months pregnant) and is one of the earliest depictions of Black Africans in English literature. It is also unique for being the first recorded instance of actors using blackface on the British stage.

In this revision, I retain much of Blackness’s plot line and tropes, hoping to use the colonial notion of assimilating and cleansing black bodies as a way to talk about how white supremacy has operationalized systemic marginalization and acculturation of people of colour in U.K academia – be they students or workers (see also, Muhs et al, 2012). Academics of colour face persistent exclusion, lower pay and higher rates of bullying and harassment compared to white colleagues (UCU, 2016). Yet, U.K higher education institutions are reluctant to speak about race openly and to question white privilege that marks academics of colour as needing reform, transformation and assimilation into White academic culture, citation practices and patronage. I draw on my own experiences and many others’ experiences of being a person of colour and working in the U.K. academy. As people of colour, our phenotype is repeatedly identified as a problem and our blackness or brownness ‘corrected’ through daily micro-aggressions or more explicit acts of violence. For example, we are told we cannot write English properly, that we ought to co-author with someone reputable (a white Professor), that co-authoring becomes a power dynamic in which we are subjectified as lacking, that we are asked to repeat things in meetings because our accents are too strong, that our students cannot understand us because our accents are too strong, that we aren’t ready for promotion, and so on. The list is endless and racism is real. Yet, any university in the U.K would find it difficult, if not impossible to call itself racist or institutionalizing racism – that kind of self-consciousness is unavailable to U.K. universities. Instead, universities have used the language of ‘Diversity’ to address inequalities in the workplace, but this, as the play points out, works to whitewash alterity and reproduce racialised hierarchies where whiteness dominates (See also, Ahmed, 2012).

This play has been written as an experiment, drawing on previous works that have sought to undo white privilege and whiteliness. By working against white forms of knowledge-making and writing a play in response to a ‘call for papers’, this interjection seeks to dismantle some of the assumptions about ‘knowing’ that U.K. academia is somehow post-race or un-raced. By using and inserting different methodologies into epistemic white spaces, I hope to ambush white privilege (see, Yancy 2008) and in doing so, create a disruptive space in academia for new engagements with race to emerge.

Please note, that this play does not comment on the current post-Brexit context in which EU academics are facing greater precarity as a consequence of Britain leaving the single market. Racism among people of colour and white Europeans is not the same form of discrimination and should not be collapsed into a singular analysis.

[2] What is whiteness? On first reading, whiteness is simply whiteness, as it always has been, and always will be. Upon reflection, differentials between Irish, Jewish, Eastern European, white communists, white travellers begin to emerge and whiteness’s own fragility / mutability can be explored. Nevertheless, whiteness remains to a large extent intact and immutable to deconstruction in the contemporary British imagination. Whiteness seems irrevocably tied to superiority, imperialism and control.

[3] Diversity has opened up a whole ambit of auditing and ethnic measuring including BME numbers, attainment, promotions, pay, etc., but measurement practices have not been supported by an inclusive agenda for addressing racism in the academe (Ahmed, 2012). Systemic and institutional barriers that inhibit people of colour from succeeding include problems with: “curriculum, pedagogy, access, policy, process, experience, outcomes, racialization, and racism in HEIs” (Tate and Bagguley, 2017: 290). These issues are rarely taken up seriously in diversity monitoring and furthermore, fall outside the remit of what statistical analysis can do.

[4] Perhaps the most contentious idea that this play seeks to engage with is the fragile solidarity among academics of colour. While some are committed to anti-racist strategizing and institutional change-making, others are less vocal or silent in the face of their colleagues becoming marginalized, being bullied or threatened by management. The reluctance to talk about experienced racism or to even recognize it as becoming operationalized in the careers of other colleagues is underscored by a variety of reasons. Here are four.

First: fear is a real barrier. To talk about racism openly in the U.K. academe can lead to reprisals, disciplinaries, or demotions (UCU, 2016). Given that many more people of colour are on lower-paid and more precarious work (ECU, 2016), losing ones job for being labeled a ‘trouble-maker’ is a reality, not an imagined or paranoid fantasy.

Second: when academics of colour do talk about racism in their workplace, our experiences are predominantly denied, fictionalised or individualised by (often white) management. We are told that it didn’t happen, that our colleagues are not racist or that there is simply no evidence of white supremacy structuring our career development, propensity to publish, or the opportunities for taking more powerful roles in the institution. As Yancy (2008: 227) puts it: “On the one hand, because I am Black, I am already the racially marked body that is expected to be able to say something knowledgeable, meaningful, and important about race. On the other hand, when that knowledge exposes the racist operations of white bodies, marks them as raced and racist, I am deemed either overly sensitive or too quick to generalize to all whites what I have experienced on the basis of a "few unfortunate events" or "exceptional cases”.”

Third: not talking about race keeps you safe – or at least that’s what ought to happen. White privilege is vulnerable and white supremacy is easily identified when we start looking at the statistics. By securing its power through staying silent or by outright denying its existence, academics of colour can collude with propping up hierarchical racial structures. Whiteness acknowledges the institutional work being carried out by silent academics of colour and rewards them with safety, patronage and promotions. This is a historically colonial strategy that served the interests of imperial powers for centuries and is a form of cultural colonization. Today, whiteness continues to reward this work and it also continues to racialise who is capable of doing the institutional maintenance. For example, in 2016 a manager at a London university said about her hiring strategy: “Indians are much easier to work with and don’t make trouble unlike the black people in this team.” These kinds of assumptions about race and racist stereotypes give rise to conflicts among workers of colour and can present further barriers to speaking out about racism in the workplace.

Fourth: a desire to be like the colonizer arrests our impulses to engage with difference. W.E.B. Du Bois (1903) exposes the power of whiteness and its impact on Black embodiment. Through the white imaginary, blackness is dirty, ugly and inferior; it is also uncivilized and lacks an essential capacity to improve. An academic of colour once asked me: “What am I as black / BME within the blackness? Is it a role, is it a state of mind, is it a predicament, is there ever an uplift? We are ugly and deformed because our pedagogy and research is hierarchized in a way where white research and pedagogy always trumps the blackness. How do you operate? What do you lose in the performance of blackness?” Despite her being a vocal and engaged anti-racist activist at her university, she is debilitated by a feeling of annihilation, of being re-formed, of being transformed. She has already internalized the ugliness of blackness that whiteness reproduces and her capacity to be consistently self-reliant is diminished as a consequence. Knowing the imagined depravity of your work can lead you to act out oneness with whiteness. Another academic of colour explained: “I know the spaces in which I have to be like white people and I know where I can be critical of them. I am BME - I cannot always be the one pointing out injustices. I have to be more like them if I have a chance in this sector.” Here, the academic embodies whiteness strategically and for the purposes of survival. His blackness is necessarily masked in contexts where he believes it will present problems or speak truths that will ultimately damage his career. What created in them the belief that they are ugly, that they need to cover themselves up? In truth, blackness is already formed in a discourse of impurity, shame and deformity that when in contact with whiteness, is asked to hide itself from view. Whiteness has the absolute power to define difference; it operates as the all-knowing, all-seeing Master within which blackness is already foreign and thus denied acceptance.

[5] Given the pressures/attractions to become assimilated within white structures and the overwhelming organizing power whiteness has over the way we relate to each other and to ourselves (Crenshaw, 1991), how can we begin to construct a hopeful and sustainable anti-racist resistance? In the first instance, and following Audre Lorde (1984), racist and patriarchal methodologies cannot be used for creating a space for alterity to thrive. Tolerating difference (as diversity discourse supposes) will not lead to any meaningful reform. Difference itself must be harnessed in ways that it might “spark like a dialectic” (Lorde, 1984: 111) and this will involve building communities for liberation as well as forging trust among various people of colour (lesbians, trans, older, etc.) with white anti-racists. But the first step towards liberation is to enact our differences and voice them too. If doing this on your own feels too dangerous, then collective action through assembly, performance and speaking out in a safe space can safeguard against being individually disciplined. At the same time, speaking out (along with theatrical, musical, poetic, sculptural interventions) works outside the conventional Eurocentric modes of criticality (i.e. academic writing) and can therefore be less prone to becoming subverted.

[6] By re-naming Niger, Resistant Object, I am drawing on Asha Varadharajan’s (1995) critique of the postcolonial subject and the subject’s possibilities for self-representation. Considering the potency of the structuralizing white gaze, it is imperative to find ways that the subaltern can speak (borrowing from Spivak) without the caveat of re-producing knowledge about herself that then can be used to generate knowledge about whiteliness. This would entail asking: how can blackness cease to be an agent of, occasion for, or catalyst to whitely self-knowledge? Or, how can the objectified subject become a participant in an active engagement with resistance? Foucault answers these questions by shifting analytical focus from the object itself to the processes by which that object comes into being, that is to describe the conditions that make it “manifest, nameable, and describeable” (Foucault, 1972: 41). However, despite Foucault’s emphasis on the materiality of discursive practices, he claims a methodology for delineating the object and therefore outlines the conditions for the possibility for knowledge as well. Varadharajan goes on to argue that Foucault overlooks that the object may have a stake in the relentless course of reason and be moved to speak. It is precisely this nonknowledge (the unfamiliarity of a language) that forces a re-contouring of subjectivity. Thus the subject is not annihilated in this moment, but rather it is re-formulated in relation to and in confrontation with a resistant object. Here we are provided with a way that ensures the object can be encountered on its own terms, in its own language and through its own realness.

[7] How can we make sense of the post-colonized worker working in the post-Empire? Colonialism and capitalism share common histories, yet these connections are continually re-made as distinct. Capitalism is defined as a socio-economic system that transforms things in our world (biosphere, living entities, the state) into commodities to generate profit. During the first phases of British imperial expansion (when Blackness was first written), these transformations were being tested out as cultural ideas and business practices, but later these ideas coalesced into a scientific discourse de-valuing Black bodies so that they could become colonised/commoditised. Centuries later, when de-colonizing movements liberated these regions and people from imperial rule, further transformations of the Black body continued, however the commodification of the Black body can be seen to have been retained. It continues to appear in white spaces as an entity from which profit can be extracted (such as, through an exchange of labour for work or extracting university fees in exchange to learn).

Profitability ensures blackness’s uses: cheap labour. Academics of colour often have to wait longer than their white colleagues to be promoted (they are being paid less to carry out work at a higher pay-grade), they are on the lower rungs of the pay scale compared to their white colleagues, they are on more precarious contracts (ECU 2016). I have heard the following statement at various points in my career, voiced by a variety of academics of colour: “I need to work ten times harder than the white person sitting next to me if I want professorship”. Black bodies must provide more ‘bang for your buck’ because blackness is inferior and needs to prove its claim to legitimacy in ways that whiteness never has to.

[8] Tate and Bagguley (2017) have used the term “neo-liberal, post-race university” to highlight the inherent connections between commodification and racism in the Academe.

[9] Applebaum (2015) reminds us that despite good intentions and because of their privileged positions in society, white anti-racists and feminists must engage in a persistent anti-racist vigilance and self-reflection. However, in turning the gaze back on themselves, “the danger is always present that in so many ways whiteness and white privilege will be re-centered” (Applebaum, 2015: 2). Despite the caveats, it is important to acknowledge that anti-racist work is not just the person of colour’s burden, it is work that all academics with similar concerns must seriously engage with in ways that are relevant to their class, gender, sexuality, religion, age, ability, caste, etc.

[10] People of colour, including academics, have consistently described the way their experiences of racist discrimination and exclusion are recaste as issues of well-being and are, as such, pathologised by universities. Shirley Anne Tate (2017) argues that well-being management is used as an affective strategy to discipline what can and cannot be said in institutions, it deracinates black women’s experiences and consciously fails to recognize the daily experiences of racism and exclusion black women face in the U.K academe.

[11] By identifying culture as a depoliticised commodity, I am drawing on Hortense Spillers (2003) work that interrogates what Black culture is and what it becomes when it is appropriated. Spillers notes an important difference between occasions when Black culture is appropriated and becomes commoditized and when it reveals itself as a critical practice that resists submission through rigorous reinvention and creativity. These two definitions are not exhaustive by any means, but by thinking through the contradiction between them, we are offered the opportunity to consider how blackness becomes encultured by whiteness, and hence de-politicised through appropriation. An example of this would be when universities publically demonstrate their commitment to racial equality by organizing events and awareness of Black History Month in October. These are often organized as public events by university marketing or events teams as an affirmation that the U.K. university is a post-race institution and black people are respected/ valued in this space. Such visual campaigns are violently tokenistic, given the extreme ‘attainment gap’ between white students and students of colour degree outcomes (ECU, 2015) and the aforementioned lack of representation among academic staff racialised other than white. By using Spillers’ critique productively, the limitations and traps set up through appropriating Black culture become more apparent.

[12] The UK higher education sector has shamefully low levels of inclusion of BME academics. For example, UK BME staff are underrepresented in the highest contract levels and overrepresented at the lowest (Equality Challenge Unit, 2016). Despite U.K. BME student numbers growing year on year, U.K. BME academic staff have increased narrowly from 4.8% in 2003/2004 to 6.2% in 2014/15 (Equality Challenge Unit, 2016). These statistics are compounded by the fact that members of staff with African and Caribbean heritage are the lowest paid and hired on lower ranks compared to other ethnic minorities and white workers.

Further, assimilation of academics of colour into U.K. universities is structurated along racial and religious lines. ECU (2016) finds that out of all UK and non-UK BME academic staff, South Asians are best assimilated and represent 40.4% of all BME staff working in UK academia (Black people are next at 18.8% followed closely by Chinese at 17.1%). Among Asians, Indians (and therefore most likely Hindus) fair best: Indian (20.4%), Pakistani (5.6%), Bangladeshi (2.5%), Other (11.9%). It is interesting to note that HESA does not adopt a similar complex analysis of ethnicity, and collects data against the label ‘Asian’ without breaking this down across regions and nationalities. This practice reproduces Orientalist categories masking differences between South Asian religions and castes, it furthermore, fails to discriminate between East Asian, South East Asian and South Asian ethnicities.

[13] Despite all good intentions, white academics who drive to assimilate academics of colour into white structures are committing a dangerous act of ensnaring alterity within universal whiteness. As Yancy (2008: 229) states: “white interlocutors, when in discussions involving race and racism, may (more than they realize) deploy theory as a way of not being forced to examine aspects of their own white subject position. Indeed, the deployment of theory can function as a form of bad faith. Whiteness, after all, is a master of concealment; it is insidiously embedded within responses, reactions, good intentions, postural gestures, denials, and structural and material orders.”

[14] White patronage materialises through practices of co-authoring, PhD supervising and mentoring; it re-produces hierarchized colonial relations. The white academic has no access to the lived experience of being black, brown, Asian, African in the British university and would struggle to provide mentoring that is congnizant of the barriers academics of colour face. By refusing to recognize racialised subjective experiences in white patronage, such relations flatten out our differential histories and fail to account for the fact that academics of colour require very different career strategies from white academics.

[15] I am drawing on Harryette Mullen’s (1992) essay: “Runaway Tongue: Resistant orality in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Our Nig, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Beloved” in which she argues white society has reframed black women’s orality as recalcitrant so that its potency and virtuosity remain hidden to the white imagination.

[16] Academics of colour have higher rates of leaving British universities compared to white academics (ECU, 2016) and when they do leave, they often take a demotion or side-step to an equal position in another institution. As academics of colour continually fall behind and are kept behind, white academics keep their superior positions intact.

Follow

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Contact

Address

London, UK

©2018 by Left of Brown. Proudly created with Wix.com