Brexit, Blackness, Whiteness, Duality, Identity, Hybridity, History…
The 25th March 2017 was an interesting day of confluence and coincidence. It was the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, out of which developed the European Union. And as Britain’s membership of this is currently under attack, it has coincided with our anti-brexit marches in London and Edinburgh. The marches were quite massive, as we were both celebrating with the rest of Europe, and protesting the breakaway from Europe. We are hanging on for dear life here, to be able to remain in the club.
I’ve been worried about division before, I’ve known the feeling before of how a dialogue does not arise because divisions are too hard, borders and boundaries too entrenched, as well as taken for granted, and therefore division is seen as ‘normal’: those ones in the mind, inside, and those ones further afield too. I’ve been concerned about this all along but now it’s all getting more and more dangerous in some way.
Since the referendum and the American elections our divisions have taken on a new dimension. The result of the referendum in itself was testimony to the desire for division. Of course it was, on that particular day, only a slight majority of those who did vote, desired division, but now this is haunting us. And now there’s a double issue, a double division looming: that from the EU and that in the UK.
Yet more and deeper divisions: ‘race’
And there’s more: interestingly, this very day, the 25th March, also is the UN Day to Remember the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade! This has traditionally been an issue of understanding race relations and Black History, issues that often slip from the minds of the inhabitants of countries that were once engaged in colonialism. There is a hidden Holocaust here, also called Maafa, of millions who died. The slave trade did not only kill people, but it also gave rise to structural racism and the horrendous split between black and white people, a split enduring until the present day, and from which a dangerous dualism has settled at the heart of our societies and our world.
There is a split, in everyday life as well as ontologically, between “blackness” and “whiteness”, the coloniser and the colonised. Though colonisation as well as some aspects of the slave trade also happened beyond blackness and whiteness, the split has always been at its most pronounced, far-reaching and painful between black and white. It’s an economic thing, but also a life-world thing, due to the spatial distribution of the duality, which has pushed blackness into the margin and whiteness at the centre – which, in turn, had the knock-on effect of generating consciousness of this at the margin and ignorance of the same at the centre. This is how the structures have evolved, but within those structures have always been overlaps, due to our multiple heritages. If awareness of this survives, then blackness can survive even in ‘whitened bodies’, but access to this is often a spiritual question as well, because it calls on the intergenerational transmission of feelings related to suffering and survival, memory and experience of this particularly insidious system of injustice called colonialism and slave trade.
Convergence of issues
Now these two issues of the transatlantic slave trade and that of Europe coincide on one day! Historically, it’s a weird thing, and it has even confused some in the debate on brexit, but this is where we are: at a time of confluence and coincidence!
Brexit will not reverse Britain’s colonial legacy, it will increase it, as it fuels division and racism! And so we have to pull together now, be a part of Europe and at the same time acknowledge Blackness as a major source of knowledge and learning – and find it, perhaps and more or less, within ourselves too! It is a time of acknowledging our shared history. Even if some of us were on opposite sides in history, there must now be a peace process. It’s ironic, perhaps, but it’s the only way because we depend on it, otherwise those of us at caught off-centre will always suffer and injustice will be perpetuated!
There are, in fact, two margins at least. One margin is the one that has been created by the black-white duality in itself, and another margin is one of people caught between blackness and whiteness. We who are caught between margin and centre, even if more privileged, we are hidden too!
So, for the sake of ourselves, we must unify. But the point is that this is only possible with awareness and respect. It’s also a matter of developing a ‘double consciousness’, as W.E.B Du Bois suggested. Maybe some won’t see the need for this because on the face of it, it doesn’t seem necessary for white everyday-life, but if you look deeper under the surface, it is important to every one of us to develop a double consciousness!
Courage to talk about experience
To some readers, this might be difficult to get your head round, to others – literally to ‘Others!’ this might be a description of everyday-life. It just goes to show how different our experiences and our life-worlds are. Writing this can be dangerous because it might come across as heavy or a bit of an accusation, but does that mean that those of us who do experience this reality, can’t mention it? (I cannot imagine a future in hiding of my experience).
It might come as a surprise too, that the experience I describe is so structural and so much based on ‘race’ – which is especially surprising for me, as I don’t look physically black, so I don’t experience the margin and the marginal in this visual way. Yet I do experience it otherwise, ontologically, which is much safer because it’s like as if I have my cake and eat it. But it’s my personhood, my selfhood, my self, who encounters the social duality-game, the dots that are not being connected, the ‘impossibility of whiteness’ due to my experience, insight and interpretation of events, which mark me Other and remind me of Other heritage within me. I cannot give up myself or fool myself that whiteness corresponds to the interpretation of my world, even in the face of all-too often-ignored visual signs of otherness on my skin. My inner life is in a different world, and notices the black-white division constantly, gets stung by these structures constantly, feels surprise and anger at the not-noticing of these structures frequently, and hence wants to talk about ‘race’.
It puts me in a difficult position in so far as I am not physically divorced from whiteness. So I have no visible constituency of my own, which is also challenging, even if under a sign of privilege. It thus generates constant unsettlement and self-questioning: “why am I different?” And indeed, this is a pattern I grew up with, my class mates had asked me the same question. We agree, therefore, on this question. So this pattern (of being able to see/be otherness) is part of my self. It’s the most overt manifestation of ‘race’ outside whiteness within me, and moves on from there (there is the traceable ‘race’ of otherness within me as well, the Sephardic line, but I haven’t reached the end of that line yet! – or the beginning, rather, the prehistory of that line or the line before that line).
It would be great if we could just flow like rivers and grow like forests and experience liquid instead of lines, but there’s an earthquake to address, the tremors of which still occur to us – with the latest tremor being brexit.
Divisions: Silence, Opinion-Making, Class, Era
And here are some other issues that contributed to the brexit-vote (and languages of activism – or call them discourses if you like): the issue of silence, the issue of opinion-making, the issues of class and era.
For some (such as the house I grew up in) there’s a problem with opinion-making and with opinion-having: and some of it has to do with calling silence a virtue (a somewhat dangerous tradition), and some of it has to do with class, and some of it has to do with both.
So I noticed some of these issues whilst growing up. The house I grew up in was quite opposite to the school I went to: school was a good thing – home wasn’t really. This was because, unlike at home, at school we were encouraged to form an opinion and to discuss, critical thinking was valued. School was doing its best to go against the tragic tradition of silence and not having an opinion, which homes like mine were partly encouraging.
Then there’s the era-thing: in the hey-day of second-wave feminism, the civil rights, the anti-apartheid and the peace movement, it was encouraged to have an opinion. Society was flourishing with activism. Community was valued, and collective action. Again this was a good thing, and conducive to civic values.
In this era, however, we more often withdraw, individualism has encouraged division, social networks broken down and replaced by social networking. And at the same time this picture is too bleak, there’s a massive irony here too: the younger generation has been more positive about the EU.
So it’s not a generation thing, it’s more of an era-thing. It’s strange to understand how some of the erstwhile hippie generation would now be in favour of brexit. It goes to show that, firstly, not everyone was ever caught by the hippie-spirit of peace and love, and, secondly, that some have changed their mind, and yet again some didn’t notice the contradiction between being a hippie/being left-wing and voting brexit. So there are various reasons: though in the end an overall trend against collectiveness and towards division is manifest. And this is what’s so dangerous!
Still oppose division
There are, thankfully, many of us who oppose the trend of division, which has been seen by the massive protest against brexit, so this is a very good thing. And on top of this there are yet more divisions amongst ourselves to address – such as how the issue of ‘race’, and its colour line, its duality with its spatial suffocation. Unlike brexit, this has been a very old and long-standing issue, but we have to address this too, for our liberation, understanding and togetherness.
So these are some of the issues brought up by the 25th March. Let’s see what happens by the 29th… (the expected begin of official brexit division).