When Emma Dabiri announced the title of her new book, What Whites Can Do Next: From Ally to Coalition, on Twitter last year, she was attacked from all sides.
Some people told him that addressing whites as a homogeneous group was offensive, others asked why we need another anti-racist guide and some lamented that educating people on how not to be racist shouldn’t be another job for black people. . Dabiri accepts all of this – in fact, which is why she wrote the book which, despite its appearance, is not another guide to being an ally.
“I felt that we were deviating from our course,” he explains. “The Allied guides who came out in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests have become overwhelming and much of the anti-racist conversation is anhistorical, devoid of class or capitalism analysis. “There were a lot of good intentions but, as she puts it in her new book, quoting researcher George Lipsitz:” Good intentions are not enough in the face of endlessly oppressive and powerful and well-funded military and economic political systems.
We’re talking about the week former cop Derek Chauvin was charged with the murder of George Floyd. “This verdict was the bare minimum,” Dabiri said with a sigh. “However, this is a first, which shows how dire the situation is. It’s not fair, because George Floyd is dead, but it does say there is a certain level of responsibility. But at the time of the verdict, the same extrajudicial executions were continuing ”.
Dabiri manages to sneak into this phone interview while his 18 month old son is sleeping. She has two children and has twice suspended her doctorate (on Métis identity politics) to write books. Don’t touch my hair was released in 2019 and topped the bestseller lists. It traces the history of black hair inspired by its own origins (Dabiri’s father is Nigerian, his mother is Irish). Writing it, she said, was “worn out and exhausting” but What white people can do next was “cathartic”. “I was very responsive to what was going on right now, drawing on years of research, but applying it in an immediate context to keep it fresh and intellectually fun. I feel there is hope behind it and a lot of people have responded by saying that they find hope in it.
The problem, she artfully argues, is that the anti-racist conversations we have only strengthen our belief in race. The Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey, for example, showed how we “have to get beyond the discussion and say ‘is that racist or isn’t it’.” “He gets stuck at this level and we don’t have the most meaningful conversations and take the action that we need to. The historical context is still missing, as are discussions about class and capitalism. I am not saying that race does not exist, historically, but we must at least try to question its concept and the injustice it reinforces.
Race, says Dabiri, cannot be seen in isolation from class and capitalism. For the book, she returned to 17e century, when the idea of race was invented after an armed rebellion held by settlers from Virginia. “It gave the newly created white race the power of life and death over the newly created black race,” she says. “A black could not testify in court against a white person. So white people can do whatever they want to a black person and there is no recourse to the law. While things have improved since then, they haven’t improved as much as you might think – George Floyd’s verdict is the first time that a policeman who murdered a black man has been convicted after centuries and probably thousands of similar lynchings, so it’s really f *** ed up. “
In the UK, there is “historic amnesia” about race, she says, and the government investigation into racism “was lacking in all contexts.” “There is no commitment about the British Empire and the history that created the racial apparatus but still frames our lives today. Much of the anti-racist literature attempts to make whites nicer, by cuddling them, begging, demanding, training, but it never really deals with the concept of what it means that there are people. racialized as white. Racism is bad, but it acts like there is some other outcome other than racism when we continue to see the world as made up through this taxonomy of race. The idea of race was invented to create racism. So as long as we continue to organize the world according to this system, there will be racism. “
So what can be done to stop racism? Dabiri isn’t convinced that posting black squares on Instagram in solidarity or participating in marches can do much. “Filmmaker Boots Riley talks about how protests and protests were organized around workers and strikes, which meant they had the power to make changes because there was an impact on profits. But this has shifted to students and young people, which means they are less effective. Protests can bring about change if they ask for a specific legislative change, but if they don’t have a particular set of demands … that’s just largely symbolic. ”
Instead, we need more union between different groups, “to recognize that there are shared experiences and similarities that we can work together in a way that makes everything better as a whole” . This applies to the current Stop Asian Hate campaign. “There should be solidarity with Asian groups,” Dabiri said, adding, “The term Asian is also such a catch-all term that there are so many people included. In the book, I talk about how white and black are generic categories. I think we should have more specificity. “
She continues: “Ideas are deeply rooted psychologically. They are related to the way people understand their identity and themselves and have had 400 years to take root. How is that going to be challenged by berating people about their privilege? This is where this idea of coalition comes in. “In the book, I say you might not feel racism as a white person, but that doesn’t mean your life isn’t shit. , that you are free from other forms of oppression and inequalities, and that your life opportunities are diminished in some ways. We can begin to see this and see the struggles as interdependent – for example in America 17e century Irish indentured labor and enslaved Africans fought the landlord classes but once the breed was introduced this prevented these solidarities from occurring.
There is an interesting section in the book about how we are so bogged down in a way of thinking that psychedelic drugs can help us conceptualize these ideas differently. Dabiri laughs as she says she hasn’t taken any herself – she doesn’t want to be the subject of the research – but is intrigued by how psilocybin, which is found in mushrooms, can change deeply rooted values. and worldviews, like our views on racing.
Growing up in Dublin, Dabiri says she “learned more about the British Empire than people learn in England.” She also started reading black history at a young age. “I felt very isolated and reading black stories and stories was my refuge in many ways. Black American writers gave me a sense of sanctuary that didn’t exist in my real life. I could see a lot of racism growing up and reading American black books I was able to contextualize what was happening to me and a broader understanding of the racism that black people experienced in the world. She adds a caveat: “That being said, in the book I am calling for not just importing American narratives into what is happening in the UK and what is happening in Ireland. Because if there is has parallels, there are distinct differences. ”
Now that the book is out, she really needs to finish her PhD. We joke that both books have been dithering on a large scale. But she’s been busy. She was on Have I Got News For You last week (she loved being with Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host and was proud to have won) and was a subject for Portrait Painter of the Year on Sky Arts, which will be soon to be broadcast on television. . “It was so fun to do,” she says. “Posing meant I was left alone for a few hours – I constantly have young children and I’m very busy, so it was nice to just sit and watch.” Then she would like to write a fictional book. “I love folklore and mythology. So I think there will be aspects of magical realism,” she said. “I don’t always mean just race.”
Emma Dabiri’s What White People Can Do Next is published by Penguin, £ 7.99 in the paperback original.
Emma Dabiri speaks at the Evening Standard London Rising event. Join us at the online event (April 28-29, 12 pm-2pm) as we explore the challenges and opportunities ahead; championing the people, ideas and emerging trends in business, the arts, fashion, hospitality, retail, sport and politics that will help London get back on its feet. The future begins now. Sign up for a free eTicket: https://londonrising.standard.co.uk #LondonRising