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 ‘‘Racism is not intellectual’’: Interracial Friendship, Multicultural Literature, and Decolonizing Epistemologies PA U L A M . L . M O YA Racism is not intellectual. I cannot reason these scars away. —lorna dee cervantes In a searingly powerful poem that serves as the fulcrum of her awardwinning first book of poetry, Emplumada,1 the Chicana poet Lorna Dee Cervantes responds to a young, white male acquaintance who has charged her with being altogether too concerned with the existence of racial discord.2 Over the course of ‘‘Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races,’’ Cervantes attempts to explain to her interlocutor why she has been unable to transcend the emotional predispositions and structures of feeling that have mediated her race-conscious perspective on their shared social world. Hers is a perspective, she contends, that has its roots in the emotionally toxic fallout of her everyday experiences of racism: the schoolyard experiences that have left her with an ‘‘‘excuse me’ tongue, and [the]/nagging preoccupation with the feeling of not being good enough’’; the ‘‘slaps on the face’’ that her daily experiences of racism bring to her; the powerful enmity she feels from the ‘‘real enemy’’ outside her door who ‘‘hates [her].’’3 In response to the young man’s implied argument that any perspective that participates in the logic of race-consciousness is the result of error-prone beliefs that can and should be eradicated through education, Cervantes insists that the accusation he has leveled at her cannot be adequately answered within the PAGE 169 ................. 18125$ $CH8 09-19-11 07:52:35 PS 170 兩 p a ul a m . l . m oy a terms he has set forth: ‘‘Racism,’’ she tells him, ‘‘is not intellectual./I can not reason these scars away.’’4 Cervantes’ assertion that racism is both imbued with emotion and resistant to pure reason has found resonance in the work of several philosophers . For example, in a paper he gave at a 2001 conference titled ‘‘Passions of the Color Line,’’ Michael Stocker argues against the philosophical view that emotions only involve or arise from beliefs. Such an account, he explains, ‘‘undergirds the hopeful view that racism or at least the emotions of racism could be eliminated by changing the beliefs giving rise to those emotions.’’5 Stocker makes his argument by drawing on the work of Sartre to trace out the intractability of feelings of loathing and contempt among anti-Semites who are confronted with evidence that logically contradicts the rationalizations they construct to justify their feelings. He then demonstrates the futility of trying to change beliefs without attending to the emotions they are inextricably bound up with. It would not be enough that anti-Semites come to see that a particular act by a particular Jew is an everyday, ordinary act, or is even a fine act. That thought must be integrated into, and seen to conflict with, their anti-Semitism. And further, this conflict must matter to them. It cannot be seen just as a puzzling anomaly, of the sort that besets many, if not most, theories and generalizations. Nor can it be defended against in ways that stop it from mattering to them or moving them. They must be—and this means that almost certainly they must make themselves be—emotionally available and open to that thought and (what I see as) its obvious implications.6 Stocker’s point bears repeating: If the anti-Semite is not, at a profound level, emotionally moved or bothered by the contradiction between what she observes and what she ‘‘knows,’’ she need not make adjustments to her way of thinking. Even if she acknowledges that the act she has observed is a ‘‘fine act,’’ she can interpret it as an anomaly—as the proverbial exception to the general rule. As such, she can incorporate the act into her consciousness without having her anti-Semitic beliefs challenged in the least. Her emotional involvement is thus a prerequisite to overcoming her logically unfounded views about Jews. PAGE 170 ................. 18125$ $CH8 09-19-11 07:52:35 PS ‘‘ ra c i sm i s no t i nt e l le c t ua l’’ 兩 171 The philosophers Eduardo Mendieta and William Wilkerson similarly reject the rigid distinction between thought and emotion. In his contribution to the ‘‘Passions of the Color Line’’ conference, Mendieta prefaces his analysis of exoticization as a technology of the racist self...


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