On impasse and hypocrisy

Nazia Kazi: Houria Bouteldja’s book is a takedown of white supremacy in its cultural, economic, and political forms. Yet the white supremacy that Bouteldja demystifies is not an objective category but a relational one.

She herself is delicately positioned not as part of the global south, but above it. “To the third world,” she writes, “we are white.” Her “crime,” as she calls it, is buffered by “the IMF, NATO, multinationals, the banking system . . . Between me and my crime, there is my father’s sweat and salary, social welfare, paid leave, labor laws . . . my passport.” She, too, is complicit, then, “in the exploitation of the South.”

As such, her work serves as a challenge to the very conception of white supremacy, a rebuke to those who sloppily invoke the term “person of color” without attending to the nuances of global geopolitics or regional inequality. Whiteness and blackness only exist in their relation to one another and to processes of capitalist exploitation and imperialist violence.

[…] Bouteldja’s book caused a maelstrom because it was unapologetic, marked with none of the lilting softness demanded of us when we speak about race, marked with no quarter for white fragility nor concern for whom it might offend. She claims this crudeness as a very marker of her social position: “The dispossessed indigenous person is vulgar. The white dispossessor is refined.” What are civility, vulgarity, and manners in a world shaped enduringly by the brutality of empire? “Many genocides have been glorified around dinner tables adorned with forks and knives made from actual silver,” writes Steven Salaita, “without a single inappropriate speech act having occurred.”

Indeed, in an uneasy twist, Bouteldja’s decolonial stance means she will not even bother to salvage feminism. (Decolonial feminism, perhaps, but that too with reservations.) “Reproaching us for not being feminist is like reproaching the poor person for not eating caviar,” she says, for feminism “would always be contained within the framework of liberal democracies, founded on the idea of the quality of citizens, and in which white women obtained rights because of their own struggles but also thanks to the Imperial domination.” More here.

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