Here’s bell hooks on…
the problem with ‘diversity’ politics
discussions of race that erase (and perpetuate) racism
the unwitting racism of white liberal environments:
In contemporary society, white and black people alike believe that racism no longer exists. This erasure, however mythic, diffuses the representation of whiteness as terror in the black imagination. It allows for assimilation and forgetfulness. The eagerness with which contemporary society does away with racism, replacing this recognition with evocations of pluralism and diversity that further mask reality, is a response to the terror, but it has also become a way to perpetuate the terror by providing a cover, a hiding place. Black people still feel the terror, still associate it with whiteness, but are rarely able to articulate the varied ways we are terrorized because it is easy to silence by accusations of reverse racism or by suggesting that black folks who talk about the ways we are terrorized by whites are merely evoking victimization to demand special treatment.
Attending a recent conference on cultural studies, I was reminded of the way in which the discourse of race is increasingly divorced from any recognition of the politics of racism. I went there because I was confident that I would be in the company of like-minded, progressive, “aware” intellectuals; instead, I was disturbed when the usual arrangements of white supremacist hierarchy were mirrored in terms of who was speaking, of how bodies were arranged on the stage, of who was in the audience, of what voices were deemed worthy to speak and be heard. As the conference progressed I began to feel afraid. If progressive people, most of whom were white, could so blindly reproduce a version of the status quo and not “see” it, the thought of how racial politics would be played out “outside” this arena was horrifying. That feeling of terror that I had known so intimately in my childhood surfaced.
Without even considering whether the audience was able to shift from the prevailing standpoint and hear another perspective, I talked openly about that sense of terror. Later, I heard stories of white women joking about how ludicrous it was for me (in their eyes I suppose I represent the “bad” tough black woman) to say I felt terrorized. Their inability to conceive that my terror… is a response to the legacy of white domination and the contemporary expression of white supremacy is an indication of how little this culture really understands the profound psychological impact of white racist domination.— bell hooks, “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination”, in Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, edited by Ruth Frankenberg (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997), pp.176-177. Emphases added.
Thank you to Cristina Fernandes Rosa for recommending this essay by hooks.