Dr. Srivastava: ‘You're calling me a racist?’: The Emotional Landscape of Racial Encounters
Why have decades of anti-racism workshops and diversity policies failed to challenge racism? Deeply divisive conflicts over racism have been among the strongest challenges facing organizations in North America and Europe over the last three decades, yet progress towards diversity and equality has been slow and uneven. Sarita Srivastava’s forthcoming book, ‘You’re Calling Me a Racist?’, unpacks the emotional and moral preoccupations that lead us to greater conflict, drain our energy and divert our resources.
“You’re calling me a racist?” is the familiar emotional response that derails most attempts at anti-racism. Sometimes it is an angry retort. At other times, it’s a shocked, tearful or shame-faced response. In all cases, whether in a diversity workshop, a political debate, a classroom, or a community dialogue, these kinds of personalized sentiments divert energy from the practical work that needs to be done in moving towards racial justice. Approaches to diversity and equity are too often governed by what Sarita Srivastava calls feel-good racial politics—the desire to both feel good and to be good, rather than to make concrete organizational changes. The recent exponential rise in workshops and books that propose a therapeutic and pedagogical approach means that we are in danger of repeating these same mistakes.
Dr. Nicoll: Anti-Racism Beyond Racial Fictions of Fragility: Challenging the Epistemological and Affective Grounds of the White Possessive
Over a decade ago, I explored the affectively charged atmosphere of discussions about race and whiteness in and beyond the university classroom, encapsulated in the following question: ‘Are you calling me a racist?’ (Nicoll, 2004). Several weeks ago, President Trump declared several times during a televised debate that he was ‘the least racist person in the room’ (Politico, 2020). What has persisted and what has changed in the ways that concepts like whiteness and structural racism circulate politically, in legacy and social media, and within our everyday lives? This short talk will identify and contest an enduring preoccupation in white anti-racist scholarship with being right and/or feeling good, with reference to popular research that attempts to reconcile white privilege with subjective states of vulnerability and fragility (Di Angelo, 2015, Brown 2018). Drawing on Moreton-Robinson’s concept of the white possessive (2015) and Sara Ahmed’s research on the cultural politics of emotion (2014) I explore seductions and pitfalls of these accounts of white virtue and fragility. The second part of the talk considers how decolonial processes of Indigenous resurgence and intersectional anti-racist activism and scholarship are actively reshaping the language through which knowledge is created and disseminated about what it means to be human amid catastrophic climate change, a global pandemic, and reinvigorated and organized platforms promoting white supremacism and misogyny. The final section touches on the work of art in providing an accessible and powerful meta-language to devalue the currency of white racializing epistemologies and affects.