Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Reference text Rainer long
Reference text Rainer short
|The facts of Blackness: the psychic life of white myths
Shirley Tate, 2012
The fear of the Black woman, of laying the white woman’s psyche bare for judgement, is an interesting position of lack of privilege. However, placing oneself as someone who feels fear and uses all her courage to tell the story in “its barest form” speaks privilege. Revealing your prejudices to the racialized other to assert an antiracist consciousness to which you might not even feel political attachment speaks privilege. As does seeking absolution from racism through the other’s empathy based on a shared feminist position on rape, misogyny and domestic violence. The unspoken request that the Black woman takes the side of the feminist cause in support of white racism because of sisterhood asserts the invisible privilege of whiteness which often still goes unnoticed in today’s feminism. Feminism still demands a de-racination of the Black other and politics if sisterhood is to be declared.
To say you are scared puts you in a position of inferiority at the same time as implying superiority. This allows you to lay claim to fear of the Black male other without that diminishing your standing, because the name “racist” will not be hurled at you. After all it is always already known that the Black male body’s threat invokes white dread. YOU forget about racism and your own complicity because YOU can. YOUR white privilege enables YOU to make racism disappear, and racialized bodies appear fixed through YOUR gaze, but for racialized others, racism can never be forgotten. What fascinated me most about Privilege is how in an interview with white women about menopause, “race” and racism emerge to illustrate the continuation of white women’s privilege through a narrative of (dis)encounters with Black/Blackened male bodies amidst the invisibility of young Black women’s bodies.
The story of white women’s privilege also implies another story. One written on and through the body of the Black man, as rapist, perpetrator of domestic violence, poor, un/under-employed, womanizer and political activist with a radical “race” critique of society stemming from Black Power. All of these myths reinforcing the Black male body as a sign and scene of danger for white women, whether lesbian or straight, make us aware that the psychic life of Black male danger to white womanhood can so easily be dredged up in white women’s memories. As a site of danger to white women Black men become a danger to society and the white privilege so embedded within that. Their assumed hyper-desire for white women and the denial of white female desire for Black men is critiqued by Carlos who speaks of Black male sexuality as a dark continent.
There is as always in Black male danger a very specific politics of ruling internal racial colonies based on the dangers of racial and sexual difference. Establishing difference implies never questioning whiteness as a category that different bodies can occupy in different contexts alongside a closing down of the category Blackness through the impact of the one-drop rule of hypodescent. This biological essentialism is ironic in a film which speaks against the idea that women are trapped through biology as their aging bodies enter menopause and inexorable decline. Yet we see “race” essentialism replayed as Stew and Carlos read the white world that they occupy in which skin color is linked to privilege.
Stew thinks about the facts of Blackness outside of the United States as being about the construction of Negroes by white power and continuing white privilege in the Caribbean and Latin America as it is in the United States. Within this particular geo-political context Stew reminds us that irrespective of individual identifications, origins and agency, whiteness ensures the emergence of an undifferentiated Black mass. So Carlos is as Black as Stew irrespective of his trigueño looks and white ancestry in Puerto Rico, as we see when Carlos sits in the park and we listen to his reading of Fanon’s take on the impact of the racial epidermal schema.
As a man constructed as Black by US white terror, Carlos’ presence will always be read as a threat to the white woman and girl as much as to his Puerto Rican wife, Digna, who is always already constructed as a woman who will suffer abuse at the hands of her Black(ened) husband.
She makes us aware of the continuing abuse and death of women at the hands of their partners and the misogyny that keeps abuse a part of the wider social fabric. What is important about this is that it is presented as a particularly Black pathology which Black women have to endure, especially if they are migrants. Migrant status as an aspect of racialized difference is raised at several points by Carlos, but Digna shows us a particular feminization of racism within mental health diagnoses and incarceration in mental health institutions.
This experience which speaks so loudly of racist oppression is oddly silenced in the film as it rattles the cage of white feminist privilege perhaps too much. If YOU are to look in detail at YOUR most cherished categories such as scientific knowledge about mental illness, if YOU are to give up categories such as manic depression and schizophrenia for examination, YOU would see a racialization and feminization which might make you wonder about the voracity of such knowledge and diagnoses. Choosing to look at menopause and Black men as threat erases the intersections of racism, sexism, class and white feminist privilege in narrating lives and subjectivities.
Shirley Anne Tate is Professor of Race and Culture at the University of Leeds.
Edited by Sabine Rohlf & Jo Schmeiser
This text was published on November 30, 2012, in the Viennese magazine MALMOE.