Transactional interactions and everday racism

I recently initiated a transactional interaction with someone. As in I approached it as a transactional interaction. Pretty quickly — and I came away feeling much better for it — through their pleasant and engaging manner, they changed the nature of our interaction. And I am very thankful for it.

The interaction was at a convenience stall/service station. I was paying for an item for the trip home, after 5 days away. The trip started with a 2 day event in one city, a two day event in another city (in which I was an organiser) followed by a one day event. I was feeling a little spent. I approached the person at the counter without really thinking of them as an actual person.

In part, my transactional approach reflected feeling a little drained. What is also embodied was a societal-learned approach to such interactions as de-personalised. As in I did not view the interaction as being an engagement with an actual person. I was literally and figuratively being served.

The person who served me repsonded to me as a person. This was in stark contrast to my transactional approach. It was akin to a de-escalation through diversion. They reminded me how everyday interactions, however we may view them as insignificant, are inherently socially important (beyond the emotional benefit for myself — I came away feeling much less drained).

There is another layer to my tranactional approach, and one that I need to further (continually) reflect on. The person at the counter was South-Asian. The intersection of unmarked and oblivious (to me) racism certainly influenced (hopefully small, and decreasing) my appraoching the interaction as a transaction.

There was an element of everyday racism (and, interlinked, everyday social classism), enmeshed in such transactionalism. In many ways, I Othered them before I even had an inkling of who they were and are. I felt I had nothing to gain from interacting with them beyond a transaction — based on (non-conscious and oblivious) preconceived notions and judgments about them.

With the rise in right-wing political organisations, their influence on the everyday, and a shifting further towards the right of electoral politics and parties, this is a dangerous time. For me, embodying elements of their rhetoric/assumptions, however minor is quite a telling (and unsettling) sign… There is work to be done.

On struggling with how to approach a multiply-racist incident…

I recently witnessed a multi-confronting racist incident. Whereas in the past I have felt compelled to act, this time — in the moment — I was at a loss for words. The nature of the incident, what it conveyed, was quite specific. Quite stark.

I was out with two people. It was close to midnight. We were walking along the Main Street in the coastal village of Thirroul (a northern suburb of Wollongong, NSW, Australia). A car passed us and one of the young (white) men inside stuck their head out of the window and yelled ‘go back to Nowra.’

Nowra is a city to the south of Wollongong. There are some significant socio-economic issues and challenges there. The city also has a visible Aboriginal population. I use visible here, as there is an ongoing history of invisibilising Aboriginal populations: out of sight = out of mind. In simple terms, in Nowra the social implications of widespread structural problems faced by Aboriginal Peoples in Australia are within sight. They are not as easy t0 ignore.

Broadly (not limited ot Nowra), many people in the (white) community inflate structural issues with personal failings. Rather than confronting systemic issues, there is a relational construction (Othering) in which the broader (white) community act to position themselves as not like them (i.e. not like Aboriginal people). This is far from uncommon, rather being quite normative. In short, poverty faced by members of the Aboriginal community is labelled as a result of their own actions, behaviours and (framed-as-an) inability to be a contributing member of society. They are essentialised.

In yelling ‘go back to Nowra’, this young (white) man was identifying the two women as Aboriginal. Putting aside the gender implications of men yelling at women (multiple issues), in affording the label of Aboriginal to these two women is further illustrative of multiple layers of racism. These women are not Aboriginal. The young man conflated and reduced having black-brown skin to being Aboriginal. These women were positioned as multiply inferior. Their skin colour meant they were. Worse (in his mind) they were Aboriginal. Aboriginal and from Nowra — where apparently all Aboriginal people belong. Their place was not in a well-to-do suburb, a predominately white suburb.

I still do not have a simple, one line, retort to such a comment. I am still (as a white person, with years of unquestioned and unearned privilege continually being unpacked and digested) coming to terms with the broader and nuanced inferences and implications of such a string of words.

What I do know is that I am multiply responsible for challenging such actions. As a man, it is my role to confront other men on their sexist behaviour. As a white man, it is my responsibility to confront other white men on their racist actions.

To not do so is to be complicit…

Abandoning marriage, in all forms

The issue of marriage is one I have thought on sporadically for many many years. I have always had concerns in general, largely based on giving the State more control over one’s life (with the role of the Church being effectively removed some time ago). For example, why should someone (i.e. government department or Church) other than the two involved decide if and when they should be in such a relationship or not? In short, I have long had concerns before debates around marriage equality/gay marriage gained public attention.

The current state of electoral politics in Australia, specifically the potential for a very damaging plebiscite on marriage equality/gay marriage (in which those who speak the loudest an most vile will gain far too much coverage and cause significant harm), has added further layers the the question. Within this context, I still feel that a way forward is consistent with removing State control over this aspect of our lives.

I have been reading  Dinesh Wadiwel’s (2015) book The War Against Animals over the last few weeks. Alongside prompting me to think in interesting and consutctuve ways about the animal question, I foresee it will be quite influential in Critical Animal Studies, and intersectional scholarship more broadly, for some time to come. Many of the insights and aguments presented have far reaching implications, even if unintended. For example, in seeking to reflect on how we perceive Other animals and moving towards a more just approach, there are clear paralells with challenge heteronormativity and associated bigotry.

In discussing Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s (2013) Zoopolis (a ‘remarkable work of political theory’) Dinesh confronts and challenges calls for granting citizenship rights to Other animals, which are considered as a means to address anthropocentrism:

Another approach is to abandon citizenship altogether as a means of constituting community… Sovereignty, at least in Agamben’s conception, arises precisely at the decision on exception; a decision on who is in and out, a decision on which Agamben notes is by definition biopolitical. If, as Agamben describes, biopolitics is an expression of the distinction between humans and animals—a veritable moving zone of conflict—then we might perceive that any model of political membership that prescribes citizenship based upon inside/outside relationships will already be biopolitical, and will already rein scribe the borders between human and animal, even if the terms of that political membership might change. Thus while we may bend citizenship to include other “fellows,” the fact that political community is by definition based on an inside/outside relationship (that is between those who belong to a political community, and those who don’t) already recreates the border between human and animal, between those who are owed rights and those who are not… (Wadiwell 2015, 248)

Replacing ‘citizenship’ with ‘marriage’ comes close to a simple challenge to a number of the imlicaitons of calls for marriage equality/gat marriage. Rather than bend the (religious) notion of marriage to include those who do not ascribe to heteronormativity (in the broadest sense), we can do away with marriage altogether. There is lot to unpack here, and I may revist it at some point in the future…

Abandoning marriage — as in removing any legal status whatsoever —  addresses a number of the questions and concerns raised about the moderation/assimilation/de-radicalisation of queer activism (see Jess Ison’s Queer Nation is Dead). Many are visibe in simply replacing citizenship with marriage in the above excerpt (and ‘human and animal’ with human people).

This may currently be unique to a small number of countries, including Australia — previous governments effectively removed any differences between the legal status of what are termed ‘de-facto relationships’ and marriage. That aside, I see that as a political campaign much more useful than working towards for marriage equality/gay marriage.

To put it a more simple, direct way, fuck marriage. Let the bigots in the Church have it — removing any social benefits/consequences. Make it a matter for the Church, with no legal or social implications…