“Racism’s labyrinth”.

I came across this essay by Prof. Asma Barlas [ link ], entitled Racism’s Labyrinth. It’s a quick read, but quite interesting on a number of levels. An excerpt:

Whether white people want to claim their whiteness or not, whiteness claims them by positioning them as potential saviors of people of color. Liberals speak on our behalf; feminists tutor us, and conservatives discipline us, all of which are ways of saving us from ourselves. I am no stranger to the Catholic redemption narrative, but what I find foreign are the salvational pedagogies of a racism that is packaged as a secular good. Having dispensed with the idea of a religious savior, it seems Western secular democracies have embraced a racial logic that allows all white people to play at being redeemers. Now, everyone can save me, though for what reward, remains debatable.

Even though this secular whiteness feels foreign to me, I don’t use my foreign-ness as an alibi to seek an out from U.S. racial politics unlike many immigrants who dislike being racialized. Distancing oneself from this politics does not indemnify one from the violence of racism and, more crucially, it forecloses the possibility of fighting against it. Ironically, then, it is also racism that allows me to differentiate myself politically by seeking solidarities with people with whom I do not share a common religion or history or culture. If there were no racism, our lives would not intersect in the quite ways in which they do.

There’s a lot that can be talked about here, especially as relates to us as adoptees. It might be interesting to start with the “debatable” as posed in the essay. To what “reward” or “rewards” do the citizens of “Western secular democracies” “play” at being “redeemers”? If we balk at our own redemption, does this explain the negative reaction toward us? How valid to accuse those who “bow out” of racialized politics as being equally invested in that politic’s violence?

Expand upon and ask questions as you see fit.

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7 thoughts on ““Racism’s labyrinth”.

  1. I must begin by acknowledging my whiteness. That said, I see (feel?) an increasing tendency in the realms of adoption discourse in the United States for adoptees to be hands off; that is, to stand aside and take the stand of not taking a stand. Of letting others “save” children without comment, because in liberal, white communities it’s not done to judge other people’s life choices/how they “build” families. Or perhaps better said, the default position is *not* taking a stand?

    I am still trying to figure out how best to articulate what I am witnessing.

    Whose feelings are the “gentle”/”liberal” protecting by enforcing reticence, and why? Why is family preservation suddenly not something to suggest? Why does the individual trump the community? Clearly the market masks racism in individual “choices.”

    I become more and more convinced that the mess I see is the Adoption Mafia at work, in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. There are payouts to be had, if the rules are followed by the worker bees, who provide contrast to the “negative” anti-adoption dissidents.

    More false polarities, but again, the polarities are not contested by the community at large. If there is a community; it is consistently fractured, purposefully. Race and privilege are part of this, for certain.

  2. I want to leave two incomplete thoughts:

    I want to leave two incomplete thoughts:

    1) “My quarrel with such arguments isn’t over the claim that race isn’t “real” or that identities are fluid; rather, it is with the implicit assumption that an idea needs to be real or true in order for one to be impacted by it. Race may indeed be irreal but the racial labyrinths that exist in Western societies are not and neither are the psychological costs of trying to negotiate them.”

    I want to underline this thought – the turn to racial labyrinths away from racism – because it won’t work for everyone who denies racism, but she is getting at something here about “irreality”. What is irreality? In my view and language, irreal is spirit or something kindred, something easily denied but in terms of reality – gets at something actual but not physical. Irreality is a location or type of reality that cannot be affirmed by everyone. It is contested by many but simultaneously intuitively known. Irreality is a word that divides people into those who get it and those who deny it. In this way, transracial adoptees are made materialists until race wakens in them. Race, however, is irreal and not straightforwardly spirit. Something more needs to be added to the discussion of race in order to arrive at spirit. By preserving the language of race, the added element cannot be introduced. The discussion dies.

    2) “This uncomfortable truth suggests that racism creates psychic investments in its own preservation on the part not only of those who are its beneficiaries but also of those who are marginalized or oppressed.”

    A continuation from the bottom of your quote above. Racism in this is a genuine polarity in that it presents a single power in two forces: one which denies it existence and the other which warmly recognizes it in racial or ethnic communities. Both of these manifest the two sides’ polar conflict whose directionality remains hidden in both. The truth is more in-between or primal? How do we say it or think about it? Race is vanishing but hasn’t disappeared…the history of race is still playing a part in events. Those from whom race is being stolen, resist and simultaneously preserve its irreality. Reality is kept away from its seekers by both sides of the polarity – and builds tension.

    • The benefits and detriments argument maybe needs more expansion. Whereas one side of the spectrum is obviously receiving all of the detriments, anyone along the spectrum—especially if we factor in class—can derive “benefits”. This spectrum is vertical and hierarchized, and one can “tend” toward the top but never reach it. I’m wondering (see comment below) if adopters head to American minority children for similar reasons having to do with “distance”—one that makes it harder for us to find family.

  3. Wow, I love what you both wrote and expanded on in this topic. I was happily snuckered at the initial post about who speaks on our behalfs and how we are reduced to two levels of children. Racially, it can be posited that all members of “Outgroups” are treated as children or potential eternal sidekicks to white dominants. (A role I strongly and stridantly loath!!) and that we are children as transracially adopted into a system not created to fully inculcate us and let us be anything more than just “Adopted” children of color.

  4. It is this that interested me “Having dispensed with the idea of a religious savior, it seems Western secular democracies have embraced a racial logic that allows all white people to play at being redeemers.” Particularly it seems in relation to adoption where children are saved from starvation, rotting in the gutter and orphanhood.

  5. I come back to this because of a discussion online about American children, usually black, adopted to foreign countries: Canada, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, etc. which themselves are not free of racism. How to explain? I’m tempted to lean toward the idea of “secular class trophies”, which would add a perhaps missing aspect to the original reading. Especially when these same “Western secular democracies” are the pyromaniac firefighters responsible for the conflagration, how to gauge their self-congratulatory act?

    • Something akin to: “Look at me/us — I’m/we’re not ‘racists’ because we took in this/these little POC(s)”. This is the same self-exaltation relative to foreign aid “given” to various peoples/nation-states (typically after the giver has ravaged those beneficiaries).

      It almost appears these “good deeds” are penance for one’s sins…

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