Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chasing their own anti-racist tails

I graduated from college in 1987. I was there for the initial rise of "political correctness," when the hair-shirt brigades descended on universities to demonstrate conclusively that dedicated lefties could be every bit as humorless and intolerant as the most frigid tee-totaling Methodists. No sex, no jokes, no fun -- and, most of all, no comfort in your own skin.

Well, it's good -- sort of -- to know that some things never change. Over twenty years later, that aversion to leaving people at peace to be their own damned imperfect selves comes through in hilarious form in a column from Canada's National Post, after an editor sat in on a four-part Toronto workshop on "Thinking About Whiteness and Doing Anti-Racism." Here's author Jonathan Kay's take on one participant's frenzy of self-doubt about the propriety of sharing her expertise with a class full of students, since that expertise might be the result of race-based advantages.
"Should I say yes? Or is it my responsibility to say no?" she said. "But then [my friend] may say, ‘I want you to do it -- because you have a particular approach ...'

"But wait! Could it be that the reason I have that ‘particular approach' is that I've been raised to think that I could have that particular approach, that I have the ability, that I am able to access education in a particular way? All these things are in my head, in my heart, not really knowing how to respond. On the other hand, I also recognize that the person asking me has the agency to decide that I'm the right person ... so I say yes! ... But then I'm still thinking ‘I don't know if I did the right thing.' I still struggle with this all the time ..."
All of this over whether or not to give a presentation on media arts. As Kay concludes:
In private conversation, they all seemed like good-hearted, intelligent people. But like communist die-hards confessing their counter-revolutionary thought-crimes at a Soviet workers' council, or devout Catholics on their knees in the confessional, they also seemed utterly consumed by their sin, regarding their pallor as a sort of moral leprosy. I came to see them as Lady Macbeths in reverse -- cursing skin with nary a "damn'd spot." Even basic communication with friends and fellow activists, I observed, was a plodding agony of self-censorship, in which every syllable was scrutinized for subconscious racist connotations as it was leaving their mouths.
Good times.

Have you ever wondered why some people don't just kill themselves?

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