[Discussion] Against Innocence: Race, Gender and The Politics of Safety

Submitted by Tequila_Wolf in readingclub (edited )

So, in line with the subtitle of the text, this piece examines how innocence is employed with regards to race, gender, and the politics of safety (in particular, ‘safe spaces’).

I’ve read this text a few times over the years and like it quite a lot for how it identifies innocence as a category that traps us within a liberal paradigm by invisibilising structural violence and effectively designating a group ‘the guilty’ who are as a result somehow deserving of structural violence. “A politics of innocence is only capable of acknowledging examples of direct, individualized acts of racist violence while obscuring the racism of a putatively color blind liberalism that operates on a structural level”

An example of the innocence paradigm working:

Ultimately, our appeals to innocence demarcate who is killable and rapable, even if we are trying to strategically use such appeals to protest violence committed against one of our comrades.
When a woman is raped, her sexual past is inevitably used against her, and chastity is used to gauge the validity of a woman’s claim. “Promiscuous” women, sex workers, women of color, women experiencing homelessness, and addicts are not seen as legitimate victims of rape.

And most importantly her highlighting how innocence is related to a dependency on the state:

When we rely on appeals to innocence, we foreclose a form of resistance that is outside the limits of law, and instead ally ourselves with the State.

As usual, I've made new comments for individual conversation threads. Feel free to do the same, or to continue a thread!

(Sorry I’ve been slow to deliver on this, hopefully it makes little difference to anyone. My life is not what it was.)

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

I was particularly interested on this reading in two of her references to Fanon:

As a Fanonian, I agree that removing all elements of risk and danger reinforces a politics of reformism that just reproduces the existing social order.

I think this has a huge amount of implications for a lot of positions. A random example that comes to mind is perhaps taking psychiatric drugs to deal with ones problems and to function in society, and how that might affect your ability to to avoid reproducing society.

And this quote:

For Fanon, it is precisely the element of risk that makes militant action more urgent — liberation can only be won by risking one’s life

This one is interesting, especially because it has implications for decolonisation. For example, whites could probably not simply give back the land, because “Militancy is not just tactically necessary — its dual objective is to transform people and “fundamentally alter” their being by emboldening them, removing their passivity and cleansing them of “the core of despair” crystallized in their bodies.”
That is, the land must be taken back as part of a transformative process that creates the new human who will then live liberated upon it.

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Fossidarity wrote

This is a great quote:

“Militancy is not just tactically necessary — its dual objective is to transform people and “fundamentally alter” their being by emboldening them, removing their passivity and cleansing them of “the core of despair” crystallized in their bodies.”

So if I understand it correctly: you're argument about whites simply not giving the land back is that even though they would do that, the native people wouldn't go through a process of transformation that militancy provides and thus it would be pointless for them?

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

Yes. Realistically any land restitution would include both militant action and some kind of returning of land by whites, but the kind of transformative processes involved in fighting back seem to me to be an important part of building real autonomy.

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Fossidarity wrote

Right because then it would be the white people who choose the moment and probably the terms to do that, and thus still exercise their power in that way. Makes a lot of sense to me.

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CopPuncher wrote

from a good book, Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalisation and the Genealogy of Dissent:

It's therefore not surprising that, just as in other instances when protestors have moved from martyrdom to confrontation, the suffragettes' turn to militancy led to harsh criticism. Violent action, many suggested, annulled the benefits of mythic feminine status-that gift that "enabled" women to transcend dirty politics through ontological purity. By refusing the status of both victim and muse, the suffragette became nothing short of a political and symbolic anomaly. She appeared on the world stage by defiantly extricating herself from the rubble of a historic contradiction that has yet to be resolved. Producing a new and intelligible category from the nineteenth century antinomy between "Woman" and "the political" required decisive action. And so, even as they sought recognition from constituted power, the suffragettes nevertheless understood that "Woman" as representational category needed to be more than a myth, a muse, a node in the organization of consumption. Through systematic and uproarious interjection, this new woman entered history not as an abstract universal but as a conscious actor-a force to be both recognized and reckoned with. According to historian Melanie Philllips, suffragettes like Teresa Billington-Greig began to recognize the ontological scope of their claims when their actions led, them into direct conflict with the state. Sitting in Holloway prison for assaulting a cop at a demonstration, Billington-Greig concluded that, since women were denied the rights of citizenship, "logically they had to be outlaws and rebels" (2003: 182). Billington-Greig refused to testify at her trial, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over those it did not-and could not-recognize as its citizens. Reflecting on a similar feeling of ontological transformation a few years prior to Billington-Greig's arrest, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence could not help but to feel inspired. Suffragette action had changed her: "Gone was the. age-old sense of inferiority, gone the intolerable weight of helplessness in the face of material oppression ... And taking the place of the old inhibitions was the release of powers that we had never dreamed of," she wrote (2003: 172). she wrote (2003: 172). Despite the remarkable differences in their objective circumstances, Pethick-Lawrence expressed a sentiment that neatly anticipated the dynamite that Fanon would commit to paper 60 years later. It's therefore not surprising that, according to Phillips, by 1908 "civil disobedience gave way to threats to public order." These included "destruction of property such as window? breaking and occasional violence against members of the government" (189). During this period, many suffragettes argued that violence was not the antithesis of rights (as many liberals had claimed) but rather their precondition.

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Fossidarity wrote

Nice, thanks! That one is going on my reading list.

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CopPuncher wrote

Aye, it's worth the read for any white person in industrialised countries.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

The first time I read this I was a baby anarchist of the post-left variety, and this was the first time I really came across a text that articulated the critique of the post-left that my more politically astute friends simply understood already:

Like liberals, post-left and anti-social interpretive frameworks generate political narratives structured by white assumptions, which delimits which questions are posed which categories are the most analytically useful. Tiqqun explore the ways in which we are enmeshed in power through our identities, but tend to focus on forms of power that operate by an investment in life (sometimes called “biopolitics”) rather than, as Achille Mbembe writes, “the power and the capacity to decide who may live and who must die” (sometimes called “necropolitics”). This framework is decidedly white, for it asserts that power is not enacted by direct relations of force or violence, and that the capitalism reproduces itself by inducing us to produces ourselves, to express our identities through consumer choices, to base our politics on the affirmation of our marginalized identities. This configuration of power as purely generative and dispersed completely eclipses the realities of policing, the militarization of the carceral system, the terrorization of people of color, the institutional violence of the Welfare State and the Penal State, and of Black and Native social death. While prisons certainly “produce” race, a generative configuration of power that minimizes direct relations of force can only be theorized from a white subject position.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

We need to consider the extent to which racial violence is the unspoken and necessary underside of security, particularly white security. Safety requires the removal and containment of people deemed to be threats. White civil society has a psychic investment in the erasure and abjection of bodies that they project hostile feelings onto, which allows them peace of mind amidst the state of perpetual violence.

A standard afropessimist line; worth keeping in mind.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

We have this where I live also; it is probably everywhere:

The engineering and management of urban space also demarcates the limits of our political imagination by determining which narratives and experiences are even thinkable. The media construction of urban ghettoes and prisons as “alternate universes” marks them as zones of unintelligibility, faraway places that are removed from the everyday white experience. Native American reservations are another example of a “void” zone that white people can only access through the fantasy of media representations. What happens in these zones of abjection and vulnerability does not typically register in the white imaginary. In the instance that an “injustice” does register, it will have to be translated into more comprehensible terms.

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Fossidarity wrote

I guess this also explains the media's fascination with prison life, there are so many series/documentaries about that..

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BADC wrote

The same narrative is being played out over and over. The ruse of egalitarian society is the cherry on top of a mountain of lies, Be it white, black, yellow or brown. Power does whatever it wants. The state is there to protect the innocent from the state; like the Rothschilds, playing both sides. You add the innocent to the ignorant and then control them to make wealth.

The states paradigm here is the quest for more psychological control, not to truly help people understand themselves. The academics are in on it and enjoying state funded tenure. Psychological programs push people into the arms of the state. This deflection of the herd into captivity while being blinded by green paper is astonishing. We beg to be led to that safe place but there is no safe place ultimately.

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