On the Persistence of Whiteness and Reiteration of Racism
AN Original
By Maria Mercone

We all saw what happened. We all saw what has been happening. For years. Decades. Centuries. And still we remain speechless in front of the repetition of history. We have no words. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to dismantle what we have created and benefited from for so long. For generations. We do not know how to effectively engage with our own white community. We don’t know how to speak to them. We do not know how to respectfully use our voices to fight against racial injustice. We have no clue. Whatever we have (not) been doing, we have failed. And the worst thing is that yet again another Black person had to be killed by police for us to be forced to see that. As a white person, part of the academia, today I feel powerless and helpless. I feel pervaded by a profound sense of self-hate caused by the fact that the perpetrators of racial crimes always have the color of my skin. How do we deal with always looking like the murders? How are we going to face the heritage of whiteness? How can we free ourselves from what it means to be white in the world?

The origins of the brutal violence perpetrated by police in Minneapolis go back to the foundation of the country itself. We can argue indeed that the USA police is an institution – as many others – genealogically linked to slavery and racial capitalism. The first forms of police services were in fact private militia with the task of protecting white private property – land and slaves. Those private patrols then had the job of surveilling the plantations and returning fugitive slaves to the masters. Dead or alive. Plantations have been the training field of police in the USA. This is the reason why the genealogy of the police force is extremely relevant in this context. It clearly explains the evolution from slaves’ patrols to institutionalized police and the role racism played in the genesis of police force and in the process of its transformation: from private guards in defense of whiteness to a State institution. By pointing out this aspect, we can better understand, just from this example, how institutionalized racism works and how pervasive its material and symbolic effects are. Racism is a constitutive trait of global North societies, and it permeates material structures and discursive representations as well. Moreover, racism is defined by its ability to transform, to shed skin, to reproduce itself not just within power systems of social control but also through the continuous mobilization of references and elements of colonialism, which still define the way knowledge is conceived and produced. This process of racism’s reiteration persists because so many people benefit from it. Us, white people, precisely. The system of whiteness is a set of institutionalized and racially determined privileges, it is a form of property to invest in a continuous loop. It perpetuates material and immaterial benefits throughout generations. It is the principle that hierarchically structures our societies and protects the social and material advantages of white populations.

But racism and white supremacy are not exceptional features of the USA. It is so easy to point the finger at the brutality of US racism. But what about our countries? What about Europe? Racism inhabits the foundations of our nation-states, the constitutive traits of our cultures, education and languages, is part and parcel of our history. Europe also is still killing in the name of race. We have believed in myths and legends throughout the time, because we did not have to bear the burden of them. And now that we are trapped in those mythical webs, we find it difficult to set ourselves free from those narrations and representations. We have the urgency to investigate that history and to seriously engage in personal and collective processes of deconstruction of racist epistemological and material structures. When we talk about decolonization of knowledge or decolonization of the mind, most of the times we seem to fall in such generic and unspecific definitions that we end up emptying the powerful scope of these processes. We need to set precise and punctual goals within the communities we are part of and in the spaces we occupy. It must be a transformative practice. We must be constantly involved in self-decolonization processes, educating ourselves, getting rid of Eurocentric narrations and carefully listening to the voices and experiences of Black people. We need to start from our families, friends and close circles. We do need to engage in forms of antiracist pedagogy which begin in the intimate and most fragile spaces. That also is political activism. We need to support and create space for Black scholars and researchers within one of the most conservative places, the university. And we do need to effectively let what happens in the streets in. The history of the antiracist struggle must dwell in our rooms. In her book Teaching to Transgress. Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994), African American feminist and scholar bell hooks recalls the teaching practices during segregation in the South. She analyzed how those schools became political laboratories of antiracist practices, precisely because the long history of antiracist struggles informed the pedagogical methods. A decolonized pedagogy is a critical political posture that rejects the ways through which education has been established as the central apparatus of the reproduction of determined power relations and dominant representations. Because of this, the history of antiracist struggles is fundamental in the process of creating in-disciplinary practices in the academia and outside. Education as a constant political commitment, a never-ending engagement to preserve the political memory of long and rich traditions of radical struggles, to learn from them and to amplify their resonance.

Let’s not forget that what we are witnessing today is Black lead rebellion that has conquered all the States of the country and is demanding the end of the war against Black people and the end of white supremacy. It has been entirely organized by African American local grassroots movements, coordinated on a national level. The Movement for Black Lives – M4BL – has declared “The Week of Action”, from June 1st to 7th, seven days of protest nationwide, each one of them focused on a specific demand and ultimately the fall of institutionalized racism. Our task is to support, spread information and amplify their statements and actions. What follows will be a collective challenge.

Maria Mercone is a PhD student at CES in the programme “Postcolonialisms and Global Citizenship” and works on radical prison writings, African American history and antiracist pedagogy. She is currently living in San Francisco, California where she has been working with “Freedom “Archives”, a non-profit community-based organization in the Mission District as part of her PhD project.