brown voices, white spaces
I got into a conversation the other day with my friend, about this post:
I said that a good strategy would be to give up on whitespace ever coming around, tell the bastards to fuck off smartly and carve out some posts in languages other than english because the thieves are too lazy to translate or learn another language.
I read all of it and I disagree at the same spot I usually do
"If Brown bodies create social streams in their own cultures…"
The onus is on us (again) to escape such colonial forms of knowledge production
this really set me off emotionally. I tried to restate my ideas, and that didn’t assuage me. I didn’t want to prove her wrong, I didn’t think she was wrong, I just wanted to not have to agree with her. then I realized that I wanted to deny that she was right. and I thought, “oh my…” and I knew that I had to question my motives.
why was I so attached to fleeing from whitespace? I wanted to believe that I was cynical, resigned and willing to leave whitespace. I wanted to avoid confronting my own active participation in sustaining whitespace and benefitting from it. I wanted to leave whitespace and I did not want to admit that there is no way to leave, no place to run.
whitespace can only be maintained or dismantled. that’s it. there are no other choices. and no one can do your work or my work for us.
social media sites have been talking about brown words being taken from them in whitespace. there are hashtags and blog posts and livestream events discussing how white voices takes the labor from brown voices and say them in whitespace, as if they were their original, white ideas.
this isn’t new or news. and it’s been happening for hundreds of years, in law, in language, in science, in music, in art, in mathematics, in journalism and in academia. as time has marched on, these disciplines have framed, formed, and codified by european whites. these spaces are steeped in whiteness, they are whitespace.
the internet, formed in whitespaces is no exception. what’s a little different with the internet is that aren’t enough gatekeepers to see that only white voices are published. so, where brown voices rarely reached whitespace book shelves or newsstands in the past, brown voices who can afford a device, electricity, language and time - can log onto the internet and say something for the world to see. and just like our white forebearers went abroad to steal land and life from brown spaces in the past, white voices look abroad to steal brown voices today.
colonialism is alive and well, and living with a wifi password.
the process of whitespace taking brown voices and claiming them as white, is part of the daily chores of maintaining whiteness. appropriation is not merely taking someone else’s work and getting credit for it - a simple matter of greed and thievery. appropriation is a linguistic genocide, it eliminates the brown voices altogether and this is what whiteness does.
white people will gladly accept a white voice talking about race, even if the words were completely stolen from a brown voice because white listeners believe and trust that the white voice will not be taking away any of the benefits of whiteness. white voices do not undo whiteness. when white listeners hear white voices, we assume that we will not be challenged or lose status, lose privilege, lose power. white voices will not undo whiteness because that would undo whitespace and their power within it.
we deny the role of white listening in our burning desire to be told without our having to ask for it, that we will not lose power - not lose whiteness. we simply do not listen to anything that undoes whiteness.
white voices in whitespace take the world and package it in whiteness.
if a brown voice talks about race in whitespace, it is a threat, it is denied, ignored and opposed. if white voices say those same words in whitespace, the threat is removed, the discussion of race is labelled as ‘ground breaking’ or something to that effect, but the real message is: ‘don’t worry, we will not change anything’.
we want to be told that whiteness is good and that everybody is better off with things the way they are. in fact, we are told, if things were more white - things would even be better. in the marketplace of ideas, whitespace exists because we buy it by the metric tonne.
we want to pretend that we are not racist, but we are. we want to say that maybe we were racist in the past, but that we are no longer racist, but we are.
if brown voices did not scream about the theft of their words, would whitespace even be discussing it?
leaving it to brown voices to make this topic even exist, is to leave the responsibility for ending whiteness square on the shoulders of the people who have no control of whitespace. where are the hashtag storms, blog posts and global criticism of whitespace that were started by white voices?
whitespace reactions to hashtags and links to blog posts by brown voices when they discuss the theft of their words into whitespace is in no way equivalent to pointing a white finger at whiteness and saying that “racism is alive because we keep it alive”.
I’m saying that we white people need to decolonize whitespace because we built and run the fucking thing. brown people will engage in whatever ways they engage, but they are not responsible for the actions of white people. until white people are actively dismantling whitespace, it stays in place.
wiifm (what’s in it for me?) why will white people dismantle whitespace and whiteness?
will white people admit that whiteness not only exists but that each of us takes an active role in perpetuating whiteness every day while we refuse to admit how we benefit from whiteness? honestly, we can’t undo what we refuse to see. denial is the fuel for the engine of whitespace.
why will tarzan decolonize Britain?
will we dismantle whiteness or will we have it taken from us?
can we say: "this is some racist ass shit that I am a part of, that has actual death, suffering, violence, disease, malice and greed at its core and that I benefit from it"?
can white people start and maintain the effort to dismantle whitespace, with equal or greater effort than we spend to maintain it?
can white people dismantle whitespace without painting ourselves as heroes?
there are no cookies or rewards for admitting our racism and our ongoing complicity in racism. maybe the only reward for choosing to actively dismantle whitespace is to be free of the fear and panic of being honest with ourselves about ourselves, and to live with and love others doing the same.