All right. Okay. I’m ready to talk about it: I’ve had enough of the world’s white, neoliberal bullshit.
You know the kind I’m talking about: the kumbaya preaching of “all voices are equal!” which conveniently ignores the systemic prejudices and structural disadvantages most non-white, non-native (in terms of migration), non-straight people continually face. What sorts of disadvantages? For example, more often than not, when people see me (I am not so foolish as to attempt to speak for all marginalized peoples who’re similar to myself. The last thing black feminism needs is another saviour who’s deadset on saving The Race), they see my black skin – which makes them wary. They see my button-downs and loose pants, and read me as male – which makes them nervous. When they realize I’m cis-female, however, that just makes them flat-out confused. From there, the conversation usually devolves into them trying to put a recognizable label on me instead of actually listening to what I’m here to say.
Neoliberal equality claims to push against such forms of denigration by emphasizing “we’re all the same” in a seeming gesture of inclusivity, which usually reveals itself to be more concerned with preserving the colonial ego than anything else: singing the sugary anthem of “we’re all the same” affords white neoliberals the false right to ignore social, racial and cultural differences in a so-called attempt to acknowledge our Universal Humanity. Such a stance also ensures white, settler, straight concerns always have a (prominent) seat at the discussion table: “If we’re all the same, then my white concerns deserve to be heard amidst this black-centered discussion, too!” Heaven forbid we non-mainstream folk ever do anything that doesn’t focus on, relate to, or continually gush gratitude to our white counterparts for granting us the space to be!
To put it in pictures, take a look at the image below:
Are you beginning to understand? I learned the hard lesson of differentiating between “equality” and “justice” by being the target of ignorance, egoism, baseless slurs and caustic delusions in a professional collaboration which fell to bits. Now, before anyone comes rushing to offer solace or solidarity, I must own up to my folly: I entered into this partnership of my own naive accord.
I wanted so badly to believe that change was possible, that individual human beings could rise above and work in ways that stretched beyond the social, national and racial narratives we’ve all been scripted into. I wanted to believe in this possibility so badly that I, in turn, enacted my own form of neoliberal amnesia and glossed over the smaller moments of unexamined ignorance that arose during the course of this partnership. “They’re just figuring themselves out,” I told myself, “they’re not a bad person.”
But when our collaboration came into direct conflict with their individual concerns, I was told to back down, to play nice, fall in line and wait my turn. I refused. They gasped! They screamed! They just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t value their heteronormative, middle-class concerns over our professional goals of bringing non-white, non-straight experiences to the artistic fore. All of a sudden, I was the bully. I was evil. I was the one who had no heart.
(I’m purposely using illustrations so that even the most dense neoliberal fool can understand my basic premise.)
Now, to be clear, I am not saying anything newfound or groundbreaking. Though this post depicts a learning moment from my life, this is one window into a series of similar instances in the long histories of working across colonial lines. This is a reality that needs to be said again and again – and thankfully, racialized voices are not the only ones who populate the chorus. Take a look at this post on HuffPo about improving feminisms in terms of race. I urge white/light-skinned feminists, as well as marginalized folk who’re new to their feminisms, to pay special attention to #2.
I have learned my lesson. I’d like to believe that there’s still a possibility of harmonious collaborations becoming more and more everyday, but it’s difficult to foster such hope while under the weight of this harsh reality. In future projects, I will have the good sense to protect my ass with a contract. Maybe two contracts. Actually, make that two contracts, an edict from a judge, and a binding agreement presided over by a spirit doctor and sealed with samples of our blood. Because shit’s fucked up, and those holding structural advantages will too often resort to the most banal avenues possible to get what they want.
My name is Christina Cooke, and I have no more fucks to give.