running up that hill
February 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
it does come as a bit of a shock to realise that i’d abandoned the blog for about four months. in my head, it just seemed like a few weeks at most, but here we are, months later, and i haven’t said a thing here. i wonder if this silence is disrespectful to the blog. for some reason disrespecting the blog seems really awful; an accurate indication of how bad i really am.
really, really bad.
i didn’t expect to stay away from twitter that long, either. i just needed a break — a few days at most, i thought — and the next thing i know, it’s been months, and i’m nervous about going back to it, like returning to work after a prolonged absence. you know that some people will be happy to see you (maybe) but most colleagues will be contemptuous, and perhaps irritated. twitter felt so much like work at one point, that fitting it into a life with real (real?) (unstable) freelance work and caring for elderly parents and dependents (i hated myself for typing in “dependent” and this popped up on my tumblr dash, a dash i’d long neglected but i follow good, smart people and they often reblog and share things like this, things that i need to keep front and centre in my mind) and spending time with nephews who were back home for a holiday just felt like too damn much, even though twitter doesn’t care. “twitter, i quit,” i actually said to no one, at one point, and i knew i would be punished for OPTING OUT of social media visibility. but you already knew that the punishment is invisibility and not-knowing. not-knowing everything or as much as what everyone else knows. not-publishing in online spaces or being retweeted or favourited. a very specific form of invisibility, that of being unknown even to yourself. what am i if not an aggregate of favourited tweets and liked posts? a precarious existence. who was i before the internet? fuck if i know. while i was away from twitter i kept thinking, in the shower, or while eating, that i needed to get on twitter and tweet about how i’m not on twitter.
In twenty-first century life, driving or walking away (‘dropping out’) would merely be symbolic. All disappearance acts are announced online, and are more often than not, just empty threats. Retreats are narrated as they happen. Everyone expects us back soon. We call our own bluff. We cry wolf.
you don’t mean to stage a disappearing act, you just want some more time to yourself. for yourself. along the way you realise even “taking time off” from twitter or whatever is performing an absence. i’m constantly harangued by older relatives about how i’m on facebook but i never show up on facebook. they take their commitment to facebook seriously, these older people. if they’re there, they’re there. none of this business of reactivating your account, liking a few pictures, then disappearing. what’s the point of that?
what is the point of that?
what am i doing really? is the question that’s been running through my mind the last few months and i don’t know the answer to that either, but while i was on twitter or tumblr it was a question i could pretend to avoid as i reblogged yet another selma james quote.
you’re always exchanging one form of work for another, really. i’d like to get back to the work of twitter to avoid the real work of i-don’t-know-what-i’m-doing, but that’s a false dichotomy, all this work feeds off each other.
i recently became aware of that bloody awful piece by michelle goldberg in the nation about toxic feminism (huh), and various responses have popped up — some rather excellent responses — but it made me sick to realise how easily someone with a platform, a paid platform, can dismiss the work done by black women and women of colour, women without academic or media affiliations, just like that. i don’t mean to be all wide-eyed and minnie mouse, i’m no innocent, this is the world and this is how it works, but i felt such rage at how easily their work is made an object of contempt because it’s labelled undisciplined, unruly, hysterical, or excessive, simply because some women (i.e. white, rich/financially well-off, and connected) were made uncomfortable.
no point just feeling the rage and refusing the work, perhaps. in the spirit of audre lorde, what are the uses of anger? as for women like michelle goldberg, imagine a world where women (and men) like her could simply learn to sit with their discomfort.
i was thinking about this recently because i was just in australia and surrounded, in various places, by that particular class of entitled white people — how do you identify “entitled white people”, you ask? i don’t know, i guess you identify them by how they see right through you so that they don’t need to see you at all (and this includes the asians who aspire to whiteness and have achieved it, somehow) — surrounded by them in planes, trains, trams, hotels, and restaurants and it became obvious to me how important it was for them to be comfortable all the time, on the plane ride back and in the airport, how comfortable they were everywhere, putting their feet up, taking their shoes off, young white men blessing us with not just regular body odour but the body odour of hale and hearty white contentment, laughing at the way the air asia flight attendant mispronounced certain english words — how comfortable they were in their ability to laugh at someone not-english for not being english enough! — and sara ahmed’s recent post arrived like a gift, for enabling this kind of thinking:
Racism often works by identifying the arrival of some bodies as the generalisation of discomfort. We can identify these same mechanisms at a national level. Take for example Jack Straw’s comments about the burqa made when he was British Home Secretary back in 2006. He suggested that the burqa made him feel uncomfortable, and that the failure of the covered woman to show her face was a refusal to communicate. When defending his comments to a Muslim woman he said, “If we bumped into each other in the street, you would be able to say hello to me. I would not be able to do the same. The obvious reason is that I cannot see your face. Chance conversations make society stronger.” The Muslim woman becomes the stranger; she prohibits the capacity to say hello, as a happily weak signifier of social solidarity. We might say that the Muslim woman is constituted as unfriendly, as refusing the very grounds of friendship. Her difference becomes the blockage point; the point where communication stops. Note also how discomfort becomes the basis of a political demand: for the white body to be comfortable, others must unveil.
More recently an article in The Guardian reports: Cameron will warn that immigrants unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate have created a ‘kind of discomfort and disjointedness’ that has disrupted communities across Britain.”[i] Those unwilling to integrate dislocate the national body, causing discomfort. To make others uncomfortable is to cause disruption. This is how the citizenship duty can become a comfort duty: you have to work to make others comfortable by minimizing the signs of difference.
Antiracist work could be described as a politics of discomfort. This is not to say that we aim to make others uncomfortable but that discomfort might be a consequence of what we aim for: after all to challenge whiteness is to get in the way of an occupation of space. Sometimes, we might even use comfort as a technique. Some diversity practitioners described to me how they use words such as “diversity” because they are more comfortable words. To use more comfortable words can be a way of getting people to your table. Once people are seated, you can then use more confronting words such as “whiteness” and “racism.”
But of course, sometimes no matter what we say, no matter what we do, we already cause discomfort. The figure of angry woman of colour – as feminist killjoy and as killer of feminist joy – reminds us how discomfort involves explanations as well as expectations: discomfort is explained as caused by such-and-such body (in the context of feminist rooms, this such-and-such is often the brown or black feminist body) such that she is expected to cause discomfort before she even arrives.