Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This next week might be a bit slow...

My first real paper of the semester is due on Friday and it's one that's going to take a bit of effort to put together. Then I have to get researching because I have a big research paper being put together in installments and a first draft is due after spring break, and my first paper in another class is due after we come back as well. I also might be taking some time out during Spring Break to, well, have a break. :P But we'll see.

Anyway, I've written the first page of my paper and I thought some of you might be interested to read it. It's for my Making Whites class, and you'll see some familiar names in the footnotes, even from this first page, as sources.

The prompt I'm writing on:
In 1997 bell hooks noted, "although there has never been an official body of black people...whose central critical project is the study of whiteness, black folks have,...shared 'special knowledge of white folks.'" What is this special knowledge of whiteness among hooks and other POC and how is it the same or different from white folks' understanding of whiteness?

“Blacks, I realized, were simply invisible to most white people, except as a pair of hands offering a drink on a silver tray.”(1) It is a profound thing to be deemed beneath the notice of other people. One will never see another human being in quite the same light as they can when put in such a position. Anyone who has worked in retail or food service, or as a woman amongst men, or a person of color amongst white people, can speak to this phenomenon. When one is believed to be beneath notice she is no longer someone to impress or to whom standards of civil conduct apply. This is the root of the “special knowledge” bell hooks states black folks have of whiteness(2); a root shared in divergent manifestations by all bodies oppressed under kyriarchy.

It is only when something is said or done that is generally acknowledged as specifically offensive to a body with her qualities or configuration (a sexist, able-ist or racist joke, for instance) that quite suddenly all attention is on her to see how she will react; whether she will absolve the privileged bodies around her or prove to be one of those “unreasonable” people who “can’t take a joke”. While an understanding of what is hurtful to say to people of varying genders, ability and races has become more widely disseminated this same situation plays itself out over and over again; not just in the workplace but in feminist and/or anti-racist organizations and conferences as well(3). Even these supposedly safe spaces are not immune to the imprinting of kyriarchy, where the person occupying the privileged position is capable of choosing to ignore the other people around them.(4) This is integral to the special knowledge people of color have of white folks, because it demonstrates how saturated our daily existence and lived realities are with the hierarchal values of kyriarchy.

(1)hooks, bell. "Whiteness in Black Imagination." Displacing Whiteness. Ed. Ruth Frankenberg. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. 168
(2)hooks, bell. 165.
(3)Smith, Barbara. "Racism and Women's Studies." In All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: But Some of Us Are Brave, Barbara Smith Patricia Bell Scott, and Gloria T. Hull, 25-28. : The Feminist Press, 1985.
(4)Martin, Renee. "Negotiating White Spaces." Womanist Musings. http://www.womanist-musings.com/2009/01/negotiating-white-spaces.html.