Week 9 Posts

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7 thoughts on “Week 9 Posts

  1. Frantz Fanon’s “The Fact of Blackness” chapter in Black Skin, White Masks is one I have come across in three different classes, but never in the context of Sara Ahmed’s “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”. I found the latter exceptionally helpful as a follow-up to Fanon’s iconic writing. Ahmed’s initial focus on “Orientations” asserts that “The starting point for orientation is the point from which the world unfolds: the ‘here’ of the body, and the ‘where’ of its dwelling. Given this, orientations are about the intimacy of bodies and their dwelling places” (Ahmed, 151). Fanon captures this theory early in “The Fact of Blackness”, “Ontology… does not permit us to understand the being of the black man. For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man” (Fanon, 110). Fanon seems to argue that the “‘here’ of the body” does not exist for people of color because nonwhite spaces have been so thoroughly colonized by the white world. Therefore, nonwhite bodies must orient themselves in relation to white bodies in white dwelling places. This is where Fanon’s argument that “Consciousness of the [nonwhite] body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-person consciousness” (Fanon, 110). In a white world, even writing about the nonwhite body is a negating activity. How many times have I repeated the term “nonwhite” in this very paraphraph?
    Ahmed moves onto “Whiteness as an Orientation”, making use of both Fanon and Marx to construct her argument that “we inherit the reachability of some objects… whiteness is an orientation that puts certain things within reach. By objects, we would include not just physical objects, but also styles, capacities, aspirations, techniques, habits” (Ahmed, 154). In this way, she argues, whiteness is repeated and reproduced. This reminds me of the passage in “The Fact of Blackness” when Fanon repeats “Look, a Negro!”, painting a picture of a frightened child speaking to their mother. The image of the mother and child discursively producing Fanon through language and affect passed down through generations is chilling, and creates what Fanon calls the “racial epidermal schema” (Fanon, 111-112).
    Next, Ahmed writes about “Habit Worlds”, in which she describes the ways in which spaces acquire and maintain whiteness, even in their quest for diversity. Much of this section connects to Fanon, particularly when he asks, rhetorically, “Where am I to be classified… where shall I hide?” and states “the white world, the only honorable one, barred me from all participation” and wishes silently for the white-only concept of anonymity/invisibility (Fanon, 113, 114, 116). This is a short response, however, and so I’m going to move on to Jennifer Doyle’s “Introduction: Dirt off Her Shoulders”.
    In “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”, Ahmed writes “If habits are about what bodies do, in ways that are repeated, then they might also shape what bodies can do” (Ahmed, 156). Ahmed uses this understanding of habits to describe the ways in which certain bodies feel more “at home” in a white-dominated world than others, and those bodies therefore have more reachability– more within their reach. After reading Doyle’s piece, I would add that habits shape what bodies can do, and what they cannot do. In her introduction, Doyle writes about Caster Semenya’s 2009 800-meter dash win that threw her sex into question and required her to undergo various tests to assure the sports world– and others– that she is female. The fact that Semenya pulled so far ahead of the pack during that race made her a sort of gender outlaw– a woman whose capacity for speed dismantled preconceived notions about what a woman’s body is capable of. Habits of gender, therefore, shape what bodies can do– and what they cannot– because the habits are constructed through repetition and inherited. If a female body does something that habit tells the world it shouldn’t be able to do, the world reconfigures that same body as something other than female.
    Of course, this isn’t always the case. Records are always being broken, and speeds, distances, weights, and other capacities are regularly increased amongst people of all genders. Doyle argues that because Semenya is a black woman, her speed makes her seem all the more ungovernable, “As a black woman faster than all other women, Semenya is estranged from her sex… She runs out of gender; she does not make sense… The question asked of Semenya is not “who is she?” but what?” (Doyle, 421). Here, we are taken back to Fanon, who finds himself objectified by the white gaze, “As color is the most obvious outward manifestation of race, it has been made the criterion by which men are judged, irrespective of their social or educational attainments” (Fanon, 118). Because Semenya is black, she “fails to become habitual” and is therefore doubly failing to become habitual when she becomes too fast to be considered female (Ahmed, 162). Fanon writes, “The people in the theatre are watching me, examining me, waiting for me” (Fanon, 140). This surveillance, this spectatorship, is inherited by Semenya. Spectators watch her win a silver medal in the olympics, and they breathe a sigh of relief when this “proves” that Semenya can still be considered a woman. In the meantime, doctors watch her and examine her, searching for “hormonal masculinity” (Doyle, 421).

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  2. I believe this was my second time reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Fact of Blackness” for a PS class. While I enjoy the text, I must say that Sara Ahmed’s “Phenomenology of Whiteness” was one of the most helpful pairings to go along with Fanon’s dense chapter. Fanon recounts his experiences as a black man in white spaces. This account shows that “[c]onsciousness of the body is solely a negating activity” for bodies of color (Fanon 110). This is precisely because as Sara Ahmed notes, white bodies take up space in a particularized positionality. In this orientation, to use Ahmed’s language, whiteness habitually trails behind; it is what goes unsaid so as to allow the white body to sink into its surroundings. The discussion of comfort is one I find exciting here. “To be comfortable is to be so at ease with one’s environment that it is hard to distinguish where one’s body ends and the world begins,” (Ahmed 158). Is whiteness a search for comfort then? Ahmed notes that a sensation of being “out of place” is experienced when an interruption of the whiteness of a space occurs. As Fanon says, “I feel, I see in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man,” (Fanon 116). In a similar vein, the sex/gender of female athletes is a precarious facet of their identity as shown when women/female athletes go above and beyond what is expected of their sex. Jennifer Doyle discusses how “[a]s a black woman faster than all other women, [Caster] Semanya is estranged from her sex. When she runs faster than ever other woman, she runs like the man she is not. She runs out of gender; she does not make sense,” (Doyle 421). Like blackness to whiteness, femaleness is what must constantly be oriented amidst preexisting constellations of maleness. Like whiteness, maleness allows its body to slip into comfort, to inhabit spaces that extend the body so that sex/gender trails behind as a given. But this given is misplaced as soon as a body of difference, a new kind of body, enters the configuration. Does this notion of habitual whiteness translate to a discourse of sex/gender? Can we discuss habitual maleness too?

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  3. The Franz Fanon reading “the Fact of Blackness” is, I think, best contextualized for today’s discussion by Sarah Ahmed’s “The Phenomenology of Whiteness”. I am glad to have re-encountered this Fanon reading after this semester so far because it landed on me in a very different way than it did a year ago. His description of the corporeal schema required for a black man to light a cigarette, for example, is intensely dependent on not strictly the phenomenology of the environment, but upon the systemic undercurrents which orchestrate it, creating a sort of oriented system with clear epicenters. Ahmed explains that “in this sense, for Fanon, race ‘interrupts’ the corporeal schema. Alternatively, we could say that ‘the corporeal schema’ is already racialized; in other words, race does not just interrupt such a schema, but structures its mode of operation” (Ahmed 153). The body precedes, and the body remembers. I also especially liked Ahmed’s analysis of Marxist conceptions of inheritance and family, with race as an extension of the family form, and thereby contains similar systemic limitation: “if we are shaped by ‘what’ we come into contact with, then we are also shaped by what we inherit, which de-limits the objects that we might come into contact with” (Ahmed 155). The familiarity of the placement of whiteness and non-whiteness is inherited, similarly to how the familiarity of an object lies in what we can and cannot do with it. This illustrates nicely Fanon’s overarching theme of negation: that his “I can do’s” are conversely “I cannot do’s”. Agency of white cis het bodies is not called into question, as it is “the what”, and Jennifer Doyle’s “Dirt Off Her Shoulders” highlights the continuing demand of the non-white queer body to defend it’s placement, specifically in the ‘case’ of south african runner Caster Semenya. “It looked as if she were built of different stuff” (Doyle 420), and this queer or unusual body (though very technically common in athletic fields) drew attention likely for it’s inherited placement as well: a non-white body, with gender markers which audiences found questionable, of extreme strength (for a woman), running her literally out of gender and into a queer space dictated by the binary of sports. However, as we have talked about in class before, the nature of sport is to extend beyond the ‘natural’ body, as Doyle puts it, “sports are fictive and frighteningly real” (Doyle 423). They reflect soundly the structures of our world, and “there is no end to the work of tracking heteronormative (or, in writing about the Gay Games, homonationalist) operations of sport as a disciplining apparatus” (Doyle 424), but they also take the idealized body and make it real, which for some viewers can be a shocking physicalization of what they come to realize is an extreme ‘queering’. Doyle states, “the athletic figure is queer: it is elemental, fleshy, and intersubjective. That figure holds together plea- sure and pain, discipline and its undoing: immanence and transcendence” (Doyle 426). I am especially interested in discussing today the differences between a non-white body violently in-view but violently ignored (non-white lesbians in sports for example) and the white body ignored.

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  4. In Sarah Ahmed’s A Phenomenology of Whiteness, she writes, “[w]hat you come into contact where is shaped by what you do: bodies are oriented when they are occupied in time and space. Bodies are shaped by this contact with objects. What gets near is both shaped by what bodies do, and in turn affects what bodies can do” (Ahmed 152). Our bodies are seen and categorized, and through that process we become cogs unable to escape that definition that is placed for us.
    In Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask Fanon writes about a time when he was called out for being black on a train by a child. He writes that in that instant “my body was given back to me sprawled out, distorted, recolored, clad in mourning in that white winter day” (Fanon 113). This was not because of the fact that he was called out for being this, but because of what it meant to be called that. He states, “I wanted to be a man, nothing but a man”, but the black man is seen as being something that is not a man, but some other outside of it (Fanon 113). Blackness is a subject hood that has limited his ability to move within society because of what being black means. Fanon says that this gaze is so powerful he is no longer seen as being human, but people impose upon him the ideas of what being black means: “[b]ut in my case everything takes on and you guys. I’m given the chance. I’m over determined from without. And the slave not have the “idea” for that others have of me but of my own appearance.” (Fanon 116)
    Ahmed seems to be taking Fanon’s writings one step further by examining the whiteness component of his argument. What is whiteness look like? Ahmed states, “Whiteness could be described as an ongoing an unfinished history, which orientates bodies and specific directions, affecting how they ‘take up’ space” (Ahmed 150). In this sense whiteness is more than just a type of affect, it is a manipulative force that controls the dominant narrative. It is more than just an embodiment. In order to embody it means to have a certain type of power and to in turn be manipulative. Ahmed belives that “[w]hiteness is inherited through the very placement of things” (Ahmed 155). This is similar to what Fanon was getting at when he was saying “[f]or not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.” (Fanon 110). When two things are placed next to each other, we feel the desire to categorize them and in this categorization we lose the essence of what these people, places, and things really are. The difference between “whiteness” and “blackness” however is that “whiteness gets reproduced by being seen as a place of residence: as if it were a property of persons, cultures and places” (Ahmed 154). Because it is read this way, it becomes seen as something that is inherent about a that thing rather than something we chose to see it as. If we only read whiteness this way, then it gets confused as being the source, and from their construed as the “good” section of the binary of race. Then when something is “not white” it gets read as having become that way, or having “fell from whiteness”. There are many problems with this line of thinking, but one of the major ones is that the categories that a subject is placed in become permanent. One is confined to the capacity of the subject hood they inhabit based on the controlling forces of society.
    I believe that this categorization also takes place in relation to gender. In the Jennifer Doyle writing Dirt Off Her Shoulders, Doyle quotes Monique Witting saying “t]he category of sex sticks to women, for they cannot be conceived outside of it” (Doyle 419). In terms of woman athletes, it is always placed in relation to the man. They are kept separate and the men are seen as being better because of their privileged position within society. Doyle writes, “[w]e spend less time thinking about “what “her body is in more marveling at what her body does ” (Doyle 423). The woman athlete’s body is still seen as being a woman rather than being an athlete. The feats she accomplished are seen as “lesser” because of the of the subject hood that has been placed upon her.

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  5. I have also read Fanon’s The Fact of Blackness in other Performance Studies classes before. Fanon uses his experience on a train, when a young child interpellates (am I using this correctly?) his blackness and expresses fear because Fanon is not white, to examine the discourse of being black in a world governed by whites. Fanon addresses how through the calling out of his race by this child reconstructs the way that he is taken in by society. He positions that “not only must the black man be black; but he must be black in relation to the white man” (110), which calls to attention the way in which his skin color and therefore in this context, subjectivity is formed in relation to how those that are white choose to create it and perceive him. He further discusses that there is no way for him to define or express himself in his own way because of the subjectivity that he has been bound to by virtue of his race, “The white world the only honorable one barred me from all participation. A man was expected to behave like a man. I was expected to behave like a black man…” (114). He continues to write about the ways in which he is given no chance to determine a definition of self since he is bound to not the ideas that have of him but to his own appearance (116).
    In A phenomenology of whiteness, Sara Ahmed takes on the approach of examining what whiteness really is, proposing that whiteness orients bodies through how it takes up time and space. It would appear that whiteness almost really isn’t much of anything but is made up of everything that it is not. The affect of whiteness is a dominant power that is meant to control everything around it. When Fanon talks about how blackness can only be defined in relation to whiteness, he furthers this concept that whiteness is defined by everything that it is not. We can see this in Ahmed’s statement that “spaces are oriented ‘around’ whiteness insofar as whiteness cannot be seen” (157). As mentioned before, it is because everything that whiteness is not, is visible and markable that whiteness is able to disperse itself between the cracks and fill all unoccupied space causing everything that is not whiteness to float on top of it. In this sense whiteness acts as the dominant tide, dictating how everything around it travels.
    In Dirt off Her Shoulders by Jennifer Doyle, the issue of femininity within sports is addressed especially in relation to race. Doyle talks about how female athletes are placed and examined in relation to their male counterparts (just as blackness is always in relation to whiteness). As a female athlete one must fit into certain categories and distinctions in order to still be considered female within the athletic lens. This is an even more difficult task for female athletes of color who are constantly being boxed out of feminine describers and are put into categories that have more masculine terminology.

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  6. In Fanon’s chapter “The Fact of Blackness,” Fanon details an experience in which a young white child called out the very obvious fact that Fanon is black. Fanon describes the different sorts of consciousness under which black people live and how black people are forced to grapple with them. He compares Sartre’s writings about the possibility of invisibility in being Jewish and how that is basically impossible for black people. Re-reading this (from Concepts of SCA originally) was an absolute joy. I was originally completely impressed by “The Fact of Blackness,” as this was one of the first critical race theories that I have ever read. However, now that I have a tiny bit more world experience, this chapter has made even more of an impression on me. Fanon specifically mentions the relentless plague of racism, and how it is never something to which a black person can just acclimate; “still in terms of consciousness, black consciousness is immanent in its own eyes. I am not a potentiality of something, I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My Negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is. It is its own follower”(135, Fanon). These words have more relevance as I have experienced the corporate and higher society world in full capacity, as I have recently begun to question how I have learned the professional world, and how my blackness plays a role in it, and questioning if even being culturally black in the professional world is possible (see Episode 3 of Insecure).
    In Ahmed’s essay “The Phenomenology of Whiteness,” Ahmed deconstructs whiteness as form nearly paralleled to critical race theory; it felt as if whiteness became the surprising other. Ahmed first describes whiteness as an orientation, as people are oriented into whiteness as that is the cultural dominance in Western society. Then, Ahmed states that whiteness becomes the cultural habit in which society exists. Lastly, Ahmed then determines that people who are not white are not able to conform to the habits of society. Through this essay, Ahmed uses the example of a table and a chair and positionality between these two objects to create an example out of the “norm” versus the “other.” This example does not make entire sense to me, but I am interested in how Ahmed’s example of space between these two objects. I would like to discuss more how this space plays out in reality.
    In Jennifer Doyle’s introduction “Dirt Off Her Shoulders,” Doyle uses the runner Caster Semenya to exemplify the extreme sexism and gendered politics of sports. This introduction felt almost obvious in the issues that it raised regarding sexism in sports. Doyle uses the performativity of gender found in sports to illuminate the real discrimination facing all sexes in sports.

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  7. In Frantz Fanon’s “The Fact of Blackness,” he takes us through his process of discovery of what it means to be black, and explains how that process has been perverted by white supremacy. He talks about how his identity was “woven… out of a thousand details, anecdotes, stories,” and how ontology as it relates to the black man “must be… in relation to the white man.” This brings to mind Derrick Bell’s “White Superiority in America: Its Legal Legacy, Economic Costs.” In it, Bell tells how he discovered that black identity was “invented” by the white man, leaving us changed “from what we might have been… into what we are.” Bell goes on to make the argument that black rights are often the things that get sacrificed in order to ensure that white people stay happy. For example, “without slavery, there would be no Constitution to celebrate.” Fanon then goes on to talk about the sheer ridiculousness of continued racism, and the fact that whites have more hate for blacks than the other way around. He says that his time “forgetting, forgiving, and wanting only to love… the white world, the only honorable one, barred me from all participation” was so ridiculous because it was he “who had every reason to hate, to despise. I was rejected? When I should have been begged, implored, I was denied the slightest recognition.” This is something I’ve thought of a lot, which is the constant silliness of this whole white v. black thing being framed as a narrative of parties on equal ground. The sheer lack of compassion for what happened in the past would be indicative enough of the vile racism of this country, but they have to top it all off with MORE racism. Similarly, who the fuck decided that cops v. black people was any kind of fair fight? Fanon resolves he must make it a fair fight, which is exactly what Tupac says in his speech “Hotel Under Pressure.” Anger and rioting are only after years of fighting the “right way”. Eventually, after seeing them in that hotel room eating and treating food like it’s so expendable for weeks on end, you’re going to do what you can to get in there.
    A Phenology of Whiteness explores the ways in which whiteness can be studied without causing harm, namely by defining it as being able to disappear, and to therefore appear “worldly.” She uses Fanon’s passage about the body getting the materials it needs to smoke involuntarily to recall his point about that involuntary kind of movement being a metaphor for whiteness in this world. She then uses Marx to explain how one’s generations choices are “inheritance” for the next generation, with white people gaining the inheritance of whiteness, which can manifest itself as being able to appear as both invisible and worldly. Another side effect of this inheritance is being able to “trail behind” action, which defines the ability that white bodies have to only command the attention that they choose to command with any sudden movement, whereas a black body that performs the same movement can be constructed a plethora of different ways.
    Jennifer Doyle’s “Dirt Off Her Shoulders” explores a similar concept as it relates to sex, and the inability for women to be “conceived outside of it,” especially in the sports world which is notorious for discriminating against women and particularly queer women. She mentions how Semenya “runs out of her gender” by running like a man normally does. She echoes the reading from Week 2 about how bodies that fall outside of the system only serve to strengthen the system due to their inability to function with in it. In this case, that inability to function is in a social sense (as she’s damn good at winning Gold Medals), but it is powerful nonetheless.

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