From the Editor: On Whiteness

As Editor, I’m lucky to have a solid support team of marketing and business people in Montréal, Rochester Hills, Orange, and Boston. I share the new work of writers from Montréal, Orillia, Melbourne, NYC, Toronto, Merrickville, and Vancouver, and connect with artists from dozens of cities across the world. This project, Word and Colour, wouldn’t work without them.

I’ve always had a passion for justice – which sometimes manifested itself in watching Law & Order as a kid, or in yelling in my all white high school civics class about racism, after watching Disney’s Remember the Titans. Racism (and people of colour) seemed far from us, and what we were doing.

I transferred to yelling at people in university classrooms, on law, philosophy, or political science. None of those years while believing myself a good liberal was I ever exposed to the realities that my advantages were paid for by someone else, or that the very system of education was designed to ignore talking about our advantages – because it might make the Dean feel uncomfortable, having to expose all the sketchy things our school had done.

I was lucky to meet great people who turned me on to great work, and who had the patience to string out how my ideas were connected to collective advantages.

I am sure my guilt on the defense of my advantage was fierce.

And guilt makes sense: you go along so much in your life trying to do the ‘right’ things, and achieve success, as trained, until someone comes along and says hey, actually, you’re doing some really violent stuff.

This is taken as a deep insult, which turns to guilt, and then denial, and then fury, in order to ignore the reality and stamp it out so that you don’t have to consider the reality that you are an imperfect human being – that the material possibility of your perfection sold to you in North America has always been a hoax.

I bring all of this up to underline our current mission: to stop violence by bringing awareness about oppression and accountability to the privileged. I am a member of almost every privileged group in my country, and it is why I am able to spend time on this project – which would have been impossible, for example, from jail.

Our work that aims to bring accountability often triggers the privileged to go through guilty fury on us, which is nothing compared to the real violence on real people under the designs of patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy in Montréal and across North America.

It is perhaps highlighted to me, because I am never the recipient of threats or violence, and my absence of everyday violence permits me the space to examine the underpinnings of this reaction. Our attacks are with words, and, soon, I assume, threats.

What is clear is that the people are passionate about defending themselves to the end in order to avoid discomfort.

Maybe this places them – trolls, as they are called – as extremely valuable contributors to movements against systemic violence: maybe their passion could translate into real allies for our goal to bring accountability to the privileged, in order to stop consenting to and participating in violence.

The alternate possibility is clear: maybe someone who is asleep will never respond to you, no matter the way you talk to them, because they’re comfortable asleep- a characterization by Ta-Nehesi Coats of The Atlantic, during a recent talk facilitated by the Black Students’ Network of McGill. Maybe the asleep don’t want to wake up, no matter how urgent it is, because sleeping feels comfortable.

Also, who will teach them?

How violent will their presence be in social justice circles composed of people who are triggered by their actions – or who will be revictimized by their new violence?

How much will they focus on their own guilt, instead of waking up to urgent need to stop being violent against people?

All of my advantages allow me the space to consider myself one of the people who could lead them to those great thinkers of our time because it is impossible that their presence is violent to me.

It is also because I am also always learning about these advantages, and I feel that I can relate to the initial feelings of guilt. Maybe this is one of the advantages of the Word and Colour movement: to provide word and colour that forces our reader to pose questions, to put aside this guilt, in order to stop their participation in violent systems such as white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy. 

They might also tear the alarm clock from the wall. 

I fundamentally believe in people. I believe in our capacity to change, because I have undergone change, and because I see it everyday when people realize that they are being exploited as soldiers in a war they don’t support.

This ability to believe in people is coloured by my lack of everyday attacks, because of my membership in all those advantaged groups. I understand why the belief may be eroded by those whose regular and systemic attacks render them less enthusiastic to engage with the violent, and it should never be up to the person being attacked to tell a person who is attacking them to do it in a way they like to hear.

Word and Colour is a project I started to bring accountability to people like me, in advantaged spaces, because I believe that stepping on someone to get something is a bad design for living – let alone an idea that requires the destruction of the person on the person on the ground.

As our project grows, I wonder about the politics of gaining new supporters in this fight for awareness and violence reduction. I wonder if my advantages would allow me to talk to those trolls, the asleep, to ask not only if they enjoy supporting this violence to prop themselves up, but if they knew that they were embarrassing themselves, that their reactions of guilt were typical of a generation that could be defined as one that did not step up to the challenge because it made them feel too uncomfortable. 

That tantrums, however articulate, are always received with disappointment.

If not attacking others isn’t considered sexy enough to awake, we might bring in one of those unfortunate truths for the privileged, by one of those great minds, and appropriate it for our own privileged project, such as the great Angela Davis: “It is essential that white workers become conscious that historically through their acquiescence in the capitalist-inspired oppression of blacks they have only rendered themselves more vulnerable to attack.”

Or, we might paraphrase Mr. Coats that “whiteness” (or, people who aspire to be absorbed into the label of whiteness) is in trouble when white supremacy falls. 

Because whiteness is always tied to power, without power, white people will have a serious crisis of identity on their hands: they have never been forced to define who they are, and what they believe. 

As Davis presents, it seems that one of the only truly definable ‘white’ traits is an unquestioning support of violent institutions. True white arrogance may be the assumption that these systems will never turn on us. 

When we rely on someone else’s body to stand on in order to feel tall, how will we feel when they stand up? Who will we be, if we have always centered our identity on feeling tall?

March 24, 2015 – Montreal – Liam Lachance


Author: Word and Colour

words inspired by colour

2 thoughts

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s