The time I have been spending lately at various community meetings is not “public scholarship” for me. I’m not even sure, really, how I feel about public scholarship, but certainly it does not (for me) involve making my neighbors into research subjects. Thus, whatever I say below is not about my co-citizens; it’s about me. I want to be very clear about that.
The context for my comments is this: too often, in the doctor and lawyer and scholar-on-the-hill contexts in which I typically swim, I hear poor persons explained and dismissed as uneducated, ill-informed, ignorant. (As Glissant might say, let me open a parenthesis here and bracket the fact that speakers of such statements are powerful cogs in a culpable system that keeps the poor poor in various but sadly unvarying ways, including a direct link between school funding (and thus school success) to property taxes, thereby consciously and unconscionably keeping the poor under-educated.)
My floating feeling is this: I am starting to suppose that positions taken by poor racial minorities are not explained by a lack of information or a misguided willfulness but by a bruised and tragically well-informed distrust of the White status quo.
As a White, educated, highly entitled citizen, I feel trust that the world is not fundamentally rigged against me, and this feeling is pretty well-founded. I could even say that my trust in the world is a path (S. Ahmed) my body uses to spool out into the world. So far, this well-trodden path has rarely thrown up reasons to distrust my trust. Don’t get me wrong, I do encounter rampant sexism and I have reason to fear rape and sexual assault. But the police officers who drive through my neighborhood wave at me and smile. If I wave them down, they will stop and help me or answer my questions. I don’t fear my doctors, I trust them to take proper care of me–and this trust has never been betrayed. My Whiteness exudes unthinkingly from my body and plashes about the world untrammeled. Like echolocation, my radiating Whiteness bounces off the world and confirms my ease of passage, my comfort, my basic humanity through a material semiotics (D. Haraway) structured and interpreted by the vibrations of my Whiteness against the world.
But I wonder what it feels like to be, to have always been, a problem (DeBois), that is, to have never not felt like a problem to the world. I wonder what it feels like to not even know to search for a place to stand to consider what it feels like to be a problem because it’s just what it is to be alive (D.K. Kim). A shrinking corporeal schema (Fanon) could well replace what I feel as trust.
It’s not that affects of trust and hope are absent, or that an open orientation toward the world is impossible. My floating feeling is that these very much are possible. But as paths that allow a body to spool out into the world, the affects of trust and hope and openness are gummed up, clogged, with the sedimented truths of surviving anti-Black and anti-Brown racism. In bodies always already coded as problems, the affects of trust and hope and openness are not absent but are re-routed through distrust, through a distrust that is deeper than words or beliefs or even habits. It is a profound distrust forged from centuries of bruising, from generational wounds of genocide, torture, and dehumanization.
What might seem ignorant or ill-informed is–this is what I suppose–a distrust born from crushed lives and lesioned souls. The question–especially for Whites who cling tightly to the premise that Reason is our best tool, that getting the story straight is most of the battle–is how such profound distrust can be matched? With what can it be matched?