Thursday, April 10, 2008

No, reconciliation is not really the primary goal.

As I have previously mentioned, I am taking a Caribbean Studies class this semester (which, note to Anthropology department, is really an Africana Studies class and not an Anthropology one, and should be listed as such, just fyi.). And as I have mentioned before, it's full of people who are a huge annoying pain in the ass.

Something happened during a discussion in that class the other day that was quite reminiscent of certain events in the blogosphere as of late, namely this and this. Specifically, yet another incident of No, White Person, it is Not All About You.

We were discussing the book A Small Place by Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid. Pretty awesome book, actually. If you haven't read it, it's a really scathing takedown of the tourist industry in Antigua, of white tourists in Antigua, and of the Antiguan government's corruption and impotence in the face of the tourism industry. (And incidentally, if you have a Netflix account, you can hear most the book in the narration of the film Life and Debt, just click "Watch Now." Go on, I'll wait.)

In any case, the overall tone of the book is one of sardonic, fuck-off anger. And our professor asked us if we thought that was a valid literary technique, if the author was really angry at us, or if she was just, "venting," or what have you. A white male student who sits down the row from me popped his hand up and replied that he didn't think the anger was a valid technique, and that it really put him off the whole message of the book. He said that if the goal of activists for racial equality is to achieve "reconciliation," then this wasn't the way to do that because he didn't see a place for himself with someone who was so mad about something he couldn't do anything about.

Which is an argument that probably sounds familiar to some people.

And besides, when he travels to the Caribbean, he doesn't stay in all-inclusive resorts, but slums it the way the real, native people of the Caribbean do! He's not the assholes the author talks about, he hates those people! Doesn't he get credit for that?

Here's what I wanted to say to this young, white, male, dreadlocked college student. I wanted to say that no, the goal isn't reconciliation. The goal is the end to the oppression and suffering of people of color. I hope reconciliation can happen as part of that, and I think that would be a natural byproduct, but no. That's not the ultimate goal.

While the book A Small Place was written with people like you as its intended demographic, it was not written for you or for your benefit. It was written for the benefit of the people of Antigua. It is not meant to make you feel better about exoticizing the "slumminess" of other cultures so you can feel authentic about your dreadlocks. It's not all about you, dude! Black people don't need you or anything from you, really.

You do not have something to give us that we lack.

I wanted to say these things, but instead bit my tongue until blood came out my nose, because I didn't want a repeat of the incident that started off the semester. And I feel like a right stupid fool for not saying anything. I'm as angry as Jamaica Kincaid.

After class, the only other black female student in the class came up to me and said, "Can you fucking believe that guy? I almost went off on him! It's not all about you, dude!"

Heh. My thoughts exactly.


Maegan la Mala said...

Ah how I don't miss the white people thos types of classes. Just the stress alone could kill ya and then to deal with them and that same attitude in your homeland, be that the island of Antigua or the island of Manhattan.

I love that book by the way. I read it back in the day for a similiar class in college.

Plain(s)feminist said...

He said that if the goal of activists for racial equality is to achieve "reconciliation," then this wasn't the way to do that because he didn't see a place for himself with someone who was so mad about something he couldn't do anything about.

Which is an argument that probably sounds familiar to some people.

Yep. White people always want to be liked, and they/we don't get it when someone is angry. So then, we take it personally, assuming that it's all about us.

I hope you and the only other Black woman in the class at least sit together for moral support...

Daisy said...

Sigh, gonna sound like an old lady again. But I grew up with the Black Panthers over at stage left...they didn't fuck around, and they didn't compromise. I always knew that was the radical position. I think these kids growing up now are unused to that position; absolutism of any kind freaks these kids out. (The ones who CRAVE it end up as fundies of some kind, since there is little organized radicalism left.) They act you're "being mean" or something; they have no concept of what personal and political autonomy are, since Dubya and his gang have fudged the boundaries. IMHO. "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together"=Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, what's the difference, we own it all!

And see, this guy acts like he owns the Caribbean slums too! It's all his to do what he wants, and what he wants his nicey-nice we-all-live-in-a-yellow submarine!

That's two Beatles quotes in two paragraphs, sorry about that.

belledame222 said...


(fantasizes briefly about locking this dude in a room with maxjulian for an hour or so)

You know what I really love? How a lot of the time, it's the same "peace! one love! woo! reconciliation!" (or Zen Buddhism as per Mahablog that one time, that was special) people that either defend or are curiously silent about the Angry White Boys (and Girls, sometimes, depending on where we are) who're "just joking," so young, so fucked up, need to be cut some slack, etc. etc. etc. etc.

whatsername said...

How would you have felt if a white female class mate had raised her hand and told him it wasn't all about him?

Is that the sort of moment where such an action is acting like an ally? Or one where it's doing more harm then good, do you think?

Because I couldn't have kept my mouth shut about that tripe.

Vanessa said...

Whatshername: Well, yes, I do think that's one of those ally moments, for sure. I'm not entirely sure *why* I didn't speak up in class.

Well, yes, I do know why. A lot of this online stuff was happening at the same time and I didn't want to open that can of worms all over myself.

Vanessa said...

maegan: I know, I was just totally taken by this book. I read it twice!

Vanessa said...

PF: We do sit together, actually! And with the want-to-be-liked thing, I think that does play a big part, esp with white feminists, maybe, part of American gender roles?

I dunno, don't want to speak for white women or anything.

Daisy: (let the Beatles references fly, btw) There's that, and that people just can't be uncomfortable nowadays.

Belle: I think it gets back to who's allowed to be angry.