Context for this post.
At a recent fundraiser in Sydney, an Aboriginal man heavily involved in indigenous struggle and performing at the fundraiser, was attacked by another man from the crowd. The attacker was ejected from the venue, however there were numerous issues with how this occurred. A couple of particular things that were said on the night have given reason to think a bit more critically about the meaning of anti-racist solidarity and the organisation of spaces/events such as fundraisers. What we want to think about here are about two aspects of the racial politics that emerged during the response to the attack, but that give an insight into broader problems in anti-racist solidarity: that there is a racialised politics to space and comfort, and that this is connected to a fetishized conception of non-violent direct action (NVDA).
Comfort and safety.
In our efforts to make spaces in which people feel safer and more comfortable we need to constantly ask ourselves to what degree do we succeed in challenging and transforming hierarchical social relations, and to what degree do we fail at this? More specifically, we need to constantly question why it is that certain bodies and people get to feel most comfortable, and how do they get to be comfortable. It makes sense that we would desire spaces of safety and comfort and indeed, a significant amount of political organising and language has been framed in such terms. For example, safer spaces are often framed as aiming at the eradication of dangerous forms of behaviour from the spaces and worlds we create. Or at least, given that this is in itself actually impossible, safer spaces are characterised as a measure to better prepare us for dealing with the shit that animates our lives. In this sense safer spaces are not about the eradication of conflict, but the better organisation of it.
However, while we can see why comfort appears to be a desirable response to a conflicted world, it is also necessary to question how comfort works. We think that there is a politics to comfort that can be framed in terms of who gets to be comfortable, when and how. When we think about comfort and safety, we ought to think about on whose terms is comfort established? What are the racialised norms that underpin our understandings of comfort? And what happens when these norms become unsettled and challenged? We also think, and this comes back to the incident at the fundraiser, that when norms become unsettled and when those who have felt most entitled to comfort feel themselves out of place, that the desire for comfort can be a reactionary impulse. It is reactionary because it emerges as a result of having to experience a discomfort that could previously be taken for granted specifically because the individual is, in this case, white. In this way, the spaces we create and the modes of comfort that characterise them are not removed from the social conditions from which they are produced. As a result, if our impulse in the moment of discomfort is to do anything to re-establish the existing mode of comfort, then we risk complicity with reproducing the subtle but no less felt politics of racialised comfort. Continue reading