Tired of Race?

So am I.

But I’m not sure we’re tired of the same thing.

I want to believe that silence means what you think it means. See, I’m polite. I’m not even trying to read your mind.

* * *
What does it mean to be “tired of race”?

Does it have something to do with working at race? Does race demand a certain kind of labor? If so, what are the aspects of that labor? What does it pay? Do we ever get time off? Or, might race be caught in a perpetual Hegelian struggle between master and slave?

I often claim that I work on race. Since I am currently in minor Hegelian mode, I wonder if “working on race” is similar to the slave’s work on “the thing.” As Hegel explains, the master appropriates the slave’s labor, embodied in “the thing,” to substantiate his own subjectivity. At the same time the slave comes to consciousness by recognizing the fact of his (alienated, Marx) labor as embodied in “the thing.” Here, I lack nuance and real Hegelians may correct me.

But I return to this scene to ask what it means that racial minorities are often asked to “work on race,” to produce “race” as an object, a “thing,” that can then be appropriated by others. And, further, that the “fact” of their labor is often lost or minimized through the various ways that “the thing,” let’s call it race, becomes available for use: rejection, denigration, engagement, disengagement. Thus, even to say that “black people talk about race too much” entails using “the thing” to create a position as a subject “outside race.”

Simply put, the claim by majority subjects that they are “tired of race” appropriates and negates the labor of minority subjects that has made discourses of race available for use and analysis.

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Yet, the fact of labor on race by minority subjects is often negated by the pleasure imputed to them by majority subjects. Talking about race and racial injustice is understood not as psychic, ideological, and physical labor, but as petty gossip: “those people just like to complain.”

How can minority subjects explain the fatigue of psychic pain? How do they explain that recounting acts of racism forces them to re-live painful, humiliating, and soul-destroying moments? How can they explain the labor of race?

How can minority subjects interrupt national narratives by making visible their elisions? It is tiring to keep pointing out that each invocation of the founding fathers requires an attention to slavery; that the so-called nostalgia for the 1950s needs us to recognize the lack of racial parity; that the so-called beauty of the British Empire depended on the dehumanization of black and brown bodies.

It’s tiring to be the only black student in a class who notices that the Sociology textbook, the Philosophy selections, the History textbook, the Poetry and Fiction selections, the Political Science offerings, in 2008, may often say nothing about race. It’s tiring to demand supplements, correctives to history, to make a stand, to insist on the presence of what Paul Gilroy terms a “counter-culture” to modernity.

The negation one risks in not making a stand is even more unbearable.

* * *
To be sure, there’s a discussion to be had about the labor of being in the “majority,” a discussion that complicates the seeming facticity (ugly word) of whiteness and focuses, instead, on the work it takes to be white. For now, I want to mark—and defer—that discussion, using instead, the shorthand of citation: David Roediger, Eric Lott, Mason Stokes, Matthew Frye Jacobson.

2 thoughts on “Tired of Race?

  1. That’s interesting. I had it at a Togolese friend’s house…but an Accran Ghanan later told me that he’d never eaten such a thing in the country next door. And then they’re eating it in Kenya…

    (I suppose, though, that makes it kind of like Polenta. A region-skipper.)

  2. I came home and as I often do, I google how I feel and go trolling, like the time I goggled, “have you ever felt like running away and not telling anyone?”. So, how wonderful to read your blog after googling, “I’m tired of talking race!”.
    Because, today I reached a breaking point of being tired of talking about race, navigating and diffusing possible disasters that stem from naivete and battle fatigue.
    I’m tired of being that inherently talented bi-racial bridge to fires and fists that erupt around oneself as we stumble awkwardly in the modern world, hundreds of years later, on the skeletons of slave and the master.
    I’m tired of, as you say, the fatigue of psychic work that creates psychic pain from trying to help the world be more human.
    Who understands that it begins with the first time you are called the N word as a child and doesn’t end, and it’s the endless on-going struggle for some god damn acceptance that wears the skin on my knuckles thin.
    All this and that to say, Thank you!

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