An Experience with Surveillancing while working in the “multicultural” center
A few months ago, a woman that I work with (light-skinned Latina) took a photograph of another female employee (who is Haitian, Black) without her knowledge or awareness of it.
Eventually she was told, but not before her photograph was posted on Facebook and made into a meme which was shared amongst some of the (white, light-skinned, Latin@, and Black) employees at my workplace. The meme was designed to mock the what a few employees perceived to be “lies” the Black female employee was telling about her background and her current life situation.
From the moment I saw it I wasn’t going to let that shit fly, so I called it out - it’s not right. This shit just isn’t right. Not only because I work in a “multicultural center”, with the clearly-stated goal of providing a “safe space” for students of all background, but because this was being done completely behind her back, in a cruel and violent fashion. From the moment I expressed any indignation or dissent, I was attacked personally. Which tells us certain things about the mechanics of power at work within this seemingly trivial, “everyday” occurrence.
When I stepped up to argue against the illicit surveillance, photography, and publication of the photographic evidence of activity, I was immediately met with the so-called “legitimacy” of this practice. This was articulated to me in the form of pleas against my sanity, perception, and ideology. I was told that I was seeing “racism” in a place it couldn’t exist - coming from “brown people.” Not only is this absurd, it contradicts the longue duree of antiblack racism and social death in the Caribbean and Latin/South America by colonized brown peoples, and assumes that this history or past no longer plays out in the spaces of the state and civil society in the apartheid civilization of Euro-amerika. To assume that any society enfolded in antiblack ideology/structure is redeemable from its established place in the making of race at any given moment in time is absurd. Especially in a situation of extreme invasion of privacy, where the body is an object of surveillance by civil society’s junior partners.
I got abusive messages from two of the people who had nothing to do with the employment of the surveillance, and messages from the woman responsible arguing that the employment of hidden surveillance on bodies is harmless, unproblematic, playful, and enjoyable. The messages from the two people complained about me being “preachy,” “paranoid,” “dogmatic,” for arguing that this type of surveillance and secretive humiliation was antiblack in character.
When you make bigger decisions than what shirt to wear or if you should take a shower or not, then you can lecture me on ethics. Till then, keep your preaching to yourself. Don’t worry, I will repeat this to your face when I see you, so don’t think I’m hiding behind a computer…
Not everything is a fucking civil liberties issue! Nothing in the meme mentioned her being black! You just seek any opportunity to make your tiered moral judgments and that got old about three seconds after I met you.
This is a sample of the message sent by one of the people who was complicit in alienating my interpretation of the situation. Notice that he automatically defaults into colorblindness and indifference (also as a side note, this person resorted to ad hominem attacks yet went on to describe us both as “philosophers” when he wanted to make it appear as though we would just have to “agreeing to disagree”, which I never do - I never back down from an intellectual war of manoevre).
When the situation involving non-black “people-of-color” utilizing internalized antiblack racism is pointed out for its political problematic, it also becomes a non-issue for “people-of-color” because the singularity of blackness as slave or being-for-the-captor is rendered invisible in the colorblind ideological paradigm. The label “people-of-color” provides for, in this situation, the hiding of whiteness beneath a cloud of racial ambiguity that makes blackness indiscernible from the various systems of oppression at work in an apartheid regime with multiples historical trajectories of colonialism and genocide upon Black and Brown people. Although, the gratuitous aspect of antiblack violence seems to be the key feature of global white supremacy that doesn’t register in other forms of racist state violence.
The highly developed system of surveillance and policing of Black bodies plays out in the everyday here, where we are least likely to see and identify it. The highly developed self-reproducing structures of antiblack violence inherent in this system of policing and surveillance are cloaked in the air of post-raciality, which is conveniently deployed like a fog by “people-of-color” to disavow blackness and Black bodies without making it appear racist. While they do the work of a white supremacist political context, they complicate their own position(s) as oppressed people by continuing to participate knowingly in the quotidian forms of racial violence and humiliation fundamental to the preservation of white civil society and its apparatus of roundup.
“People-of-Color Blindness” by Jared Sexton
“Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal” by Frank B Wilderson, III
“Black, White, and In Color” by Hortense Spillers