Emma Dabiri on reframing conversations about racial justice, anti-racism and the alliance
Emma Dabiri is a busy woman. Best-selling author, scholar and broadcaster is an expert at multitasking – having lunch on the stove while taking care of her 18-month-old son, gurgling happily in the background – as we discuss her latest book via Zoom. “This is also how I wrote the book,” she said, considering her surroundings, “so it took a little longer to write than expected.” Like her manifesto, however, it is enviably clear, logical, and has that ironic hint of humor that characterizes her writing.
The book in question is of course What white people can do next, which has become a smash hit since its launch in April. After a busy year with the reality of racism, it seemed to me that despite the abundant “talk” about racism, there was still very little hope in terms of real change. Dabiri’s book provides a tonic: a palette cleanser for the neoliberal approach to dismantling the racism we’ve grown accustomed to.
I remember when I first saw the title and the floral cover that came with it. I (wrongly) assumed this was another run-of-the-mill anti-racist book. “People thought it was a cute ally paperback,” Dabiri said knowingly. “Part of a current sauce train that I was hopping on. But in fact, I put it in place for the present moment, in order to unpack and challenge this method. With that title and cover, she effectively trolled us all on an expert level. The instructional headline aimed at whites – like almost every anti-racist Instagram infographics of 2020 – is a scathing criticism of the alliance and how we have built anti-racism.
“One of the things I explore in the book is this idea that the ally’s needs are secondary,” says Dabiri. “One of the tenets of racism is not to see the humanity in people, and the emphasis on interpersonal racism denies the humanity of those who are not racialized as white. It only appeals to a “white savior type” person who will be turned on by this dynamic, who is not the kind of personality that we can afford to build a movement on. Anything that further enshrines white saviorism is of no help. Expecting whites to selflessly, almost transactionally, “relinquish their privileges” is not only unrealistic and an oversimplification of racism, it is also unnecessary and crippling.
Instead of, What white people can do next focuses on the concept of coalition, which Dabiri stresses is deeply rooted in history. “I just looked at the organization made in the past,” she said, citing the Combahee River Collective and the Rainbow Coalition of the Black Panthers led by Fred Hampton. ” Everything is here. People who think strategically and deeply talk about a coalition. Conversations about alliance and interpersonal privilege are widely seen online, rather than in movements that have a proven track record of success. “
As in the early days of Dabiri, Don’t touch my hair history remains essential for understanding the challenges of the present. “The origins of the race are intimately linked to the first period of capitalism,” she asserts. “Racial construction centers on inherent white superiority and black inferiority … to justify the brutal exploitation and enslavement of millions of Africans and their descendants on whom colonial economies and ultimately many Western economies increasingly depend. more work.
This rigid race conception also deliberately prevents the formation of coalitions between poorer whites and slaves, she continues. “People who are known to be white and who are also exploited, learn not to see humanity in other racialized groups that are exploited and to see their fate and fortunes more aligned with other whites – even if they are whites. which also oppress them.The potential for class solidarity is completely eclipsed by the imposition of racialized identities … Capitalism is very present in all these decisions.
Likewise, social media – the home of the neoliberal capitalist race – comes under Dabiri’s harsh criticism. “Take Twitter, where outrage is instigated and where pretty emotional and reductive views are rewarded,” she explains. He continues to undermine coalition opportunities. “What I have seen again is this emergence of a form of identity politics where borders are tightly controlled and everyone outside of a smaller and smaller group is seen as an enemy.”
Considering how the book deviates from the normative norms of the ongoing conversation, Dabiri was nervous about the reaction he would receive at first. “I was really encouraged and it made me feel that a lot of people had the same frustrations as me,” she remembers happily. “The thirst for change is there.
For me and many others, Dabiri’s manifesto is ultimately about hope – which brings us back to the dotted blanket of flowers. “It’s a testament to the hope in the book and the idea of new growth, moving away from a system we inherited from elite white men long dead and creating something new. ” The ultimate reminder, if we ever needed it, to never judge a book (or its author) by a cover.