“My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialised to respect fear more than our own need for language.”
~Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action
It started with a tweet.
In a seemingly ‘liberal’ space [a fairly small, elective book club(!) in the university], charged with the promise of co-learning, of theorising together and of practising freedom(s), through a curriculum decided by its participants; some of my peers and I were subjected to exclusion. This wasn’t the first time; it wasn’t the last either. Yet, this incident stayed with me. Discussions and disagreements on the text were confined to a few, and no initiatives were taken to spatially or physically involve the ‘others’. The discrepancy between debating theories about power and hierarchy in academic ‘kitty parties’, and ironically not realising power differences embedded within such settings, troubled me for days. It revealed the limitations of theory—is theory then only an intellectual exercise, whose real world manifestations can be completely disregarded?
Reaching out to my peers, some of whom were witnesses to the incident and felt similarly, I was heard and comforted. For one of them—a Black British woman—this was nothing new; or nowhere near shocking. Being born and brought up in the UK, her everyday experiences had normalised racism, especially in predominantly white spaces. Despite her affirmations and acknowledgement of my disappointments, I still couldn’t come to terms with the experience. I tweeted because I was in rage for days. bell hooks says ‘Rage can be consuming’, and it was. But she also believed in its constructive potential—of connecting folks from marginalised groups through shared experiences of oppression. In her short essay, “Killing Rage: Militant Resistance” she discusses how rage is pathologised. Instead of perceiving it as an outlet—as a process of healing for the colonised, rage is conventionally seen as destructive, an illness of some sorts. The oppressed, especially the ones who have been able to attain education are often expected to rationalise their rage. We are expected to critically analyse our rage, write books on racism and give powerful speeches in overtly white panels where we are invited only to be able to add to the conversation, never direct it. Rather than feeling rage, anger or pain, we are told to make sense of it through the same structures (education/universities) that promise us our freedom(s).
Repress it. Control it. Silence your rage. Choke on it. Make theories out of it.
This leads to the disembodiment of (our) rage. I realise that some people cannot choose to disembody rage. But I had to, at the moment the incident occurred, and for days after. My discomfort in expressing my anger then and there says something about race and racism. But this shouldn’t be seen as cowardly; rather we should look for strategies of telling our stories—expressing ourselves in ways we are comfortable with, in ways that are kind to ourselves. I believe by expressing ourselves, our pain could be a path to many discoveries. Discovering who we are, what we feel, how we process our feelings, how this transforms (or not) the world around us. How could this transform our-selves? Sometimes it is difficult to locate what we don’t know, or how to think about what we don’t know. But commonalities in experiences have the power to assist that feeling of ‘not-knowing’.
My most (preferred) immediate response to my experiences of racism as a South Asian migrant in the UK is to ignore them. Two reasons—one, unlike other People Of Colour (POC) who might experience more violent forms of racism, I have had the ‘privilege’—or call it ‘good fortune’—to have experienced more covert microaggressions. Ones that could be ignored. Two—in another of her seminal work, ‘Teaching to Transgress’, hooks writes, “There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountain top and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy.” Pain is dense. Burdensome. It consumes time and energy. Sometimes, it is easier to let go, even if it can be interpreted as cowardly.
Yet, I simply couldn’t brush aside this encounter.
When we normalise anticipated racism, it becomes a part of our ongoing biography—like another very ‘predictable’ tale of racism in the UK. Sometimes, these biographies of racist encounters can become repetitive. But as someone who is currently in social sciences and believes in the power of storytelling, I decided to share mine on social media. Since the tweet, I have had the privilege to connect with so many Students of Colour in the UK who have found themselves in similar situations. With similar disappointments. They have shared their stories of isolation, of pain, of the lack of empathy from their own peers, and the inadequacy of structural mechanisms in universities to tackle these everyday forms of unhappiness.
This made me realise something fundamental—this is not just my story, this is (O)ther people’s story too.
One of the first (and quite central) questions I asked myself when I decided to begin this blog was—why should we have another anti-racist blog (when there are already some fantastic ones out there)? Well. The answer isn’t as complicated as you might want it to be. This blog is an intervention. And intervening is a task that we must undertake. Probably not as profound and radical as one might have liked. But it’s a start. I realise the irony of starting an anti-racist blog against the gut-wrenching reality around me; where young Black people are incessantly targeted and killed by the police, where racially marginalised people live in segregated spaces in the city with very little resources, where the implications of wars that are fought among the white Europeans directly impact the sustenance of People of Colour, and where movements like Black Lives Matter become a way for white people to brush off their accountabilities by their tokenistic and disengaged lip service.
In a world, where we constantly police each other, this blog is an attempt to counter those attempts at regulating, silencing, controlling and confining our rage, our feelings, our (perpetual) embodied sadnesses to serve a society that has never been ours. It aspires to be a reminder to stop acting like cops to one another. It is a means to feel—for “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge,” said Audre Lorde once. And I kinda believe her! It is also an attempt to create a community of POCs in Sheffield who refuse to disembody their rage, pain and lived experiences of exclusion, and a community of readers and listeners from all over the world who might find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone. Such exclusion is systemic, constituted by hundreds of individual racist encounters. Racism isn’t a ‘niche’ affair, even though institutions in the UK deny its valient existence. Despite months of going back and forth with this idea of starting a blog, I have (more or less) convinced myself that irrespective of my concerns and uneasiness, it would still be a good idea to have a space for POCs in Sheffield (and hopefully beyond). This blog insists that our stories need not be told through academic jargons; our stories aren’t theories to be discussed by the same people who exclude us from those discussions.
Now that we have gotten ‘the question’ answered, I would also want to talk briefly about what this blog isn’t. This blog isn’t a promise of radical structural change. For that, we need to dismantle the ‘master’s house’. We need to hit the streets, show up on picket lines, ask for better pay and representation of POCs in academia and other public sectors, demand accountability and justice against violence from forces of power and authority, and overthrow this atrocious, life-threatening capitalist system of production. This dismantling is not as straightforward as an anti-racist blog. But till that happens, we can find ways to look out for ourselves and for each other. By speaking, sharing, listening, reading, loving, caring and being present. This blog aspires to do all these things.
As ambitious as it sounds, we must remember that we cannot liberate ourselves in isolation.
We will soon be launching the Anti-Racist blog. This blog aspires to provide a platform for PGRs of colour to creatively express themselves and contribute to the large body of anti-racist and social justice knowledge. PGRs will be invited to submit pitches for short pieces (written, audio, video) that express views or experiences of (anti)racism, the university, or culture and society more generally. Selected pitches will be paid.