Paper Title

But at Least I Can Admit It: The Temptation of Non-Performative Confessions of White Privilege

Location

Room 220, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Start Date

April 2016

End Date

April 2016

Keywords

non-performative, Ahmed, Sullivan, Foucault, whiteness, confession, racism, anti-racist work, race

Abstract

Admissions of white privilege and/or racism are common among white anti-racists and others who want to combat their racism. They are particularly common among middle-class white women, who are often socially rewarded for expressions of white guilt or shame (Shotwell 2011, 90). In this paper, I argue that because admissions of racism are conscious attempts to address unconscious habits of white privilege, they are both non-performative and contrary to their implied aims. I conceptualize admissions of racism/privilege as Foucauldian confessions that are pleasurable to enact but ultimately reinforce white people’s feelings of goodness and allow them to avoid engaging deeply with their racism. I ground my argument in Shannon Sullivan’s analysis of white privilege and Sara Ahmed’s critique of confessions of racism/privilege to show that in addition to failing to do anti-racist work at the moment of utterance, these confessions actually reify white privilege deeper into the unconscious and make it harder to address. Sullivan’s work, I conclude, offers white people a more productive way forward than their non-performative declarations of privilege. A white person’s understanding of her confessing habit cannot break this habit, but it might orient her toward examining what sorts of anti-racist moves do work.

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Apr 1st, 10:30 AM Apr 1st, 11:45 AM

But at Least I Can Admit It: The Temptation of Non-Performative Confessions of White Privilege

Room 220, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Admissions of white privilege and/or racism are common among white anti-racists and others who want to combat their racism. They are particularly common among middle-class white women, who are often socially rewarded for expressions of white guilt or shame (Shotwell 2011, 90). In this paper, I argue that because admissions of racism are conscious attempts to address unconscious habits of white privilege, they are both non-performative and contrary to their implied aims. I conceptualize admissions of racism/privilege as Foucauldian confessions that are pleasurable to enact but ultimately reinforce white people’s feelings of goodness and allow them to avoid engaging deeply with their racism. I ground my argument in Shannon Sullivan’s analysis of white privilege and Sara Ahmed’s critique of confessions of racism/privilege to show that in addition to failing to do anti-racist work at the moment of utterance, these confessions actually reify white privilege deeper into the unconscious and make it harder to address. Sullivan’s work, I conclude, offers white people a more productive way forward than their non-performative declarations of privilege. A white person’s understanding of her confessing habit cannot break this habit, but it might orient her toward examining what sorts of anti-racist moves do work.