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Benevolence and the Management of Stake; On Being 'Good White People'

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  Benevolence and the Management of Stake: On Being 'Good White People' Damien Riggs   Preface  In taking up the theme 'untitled' in this paper, I focus on one particular site where naming (or the lack thereof) constitutes a network of power relations that construct certain subject positions as normative through their very 'untitledness.' I am referring here to whiteness, and the ways in which we as white people [1] are so rarely aware of our racialised subject positions, and how this unawareness works to justify the hegemony of whiteness in Australia by denying white race privilege. [2] Thus, whilst whiteness is painfully visible to those people who have been dispossessed and rendered objects of genocidal practices, whiteness - or more specifically white race privilege - continues to be routinely ignored as a site of power in Australia that is based upon the denial of Indigenous sovereignty. Thus, as Richard Dyer suggests, whiteness is rendered invisible at the very moment that it is made normative. [3] This structuring paradox shapes the ways in which the white Australian nation engages with Indigenous sovereignty, specifically, as it justifies white belonging through recourse to notions of a 'national good.' In taking this up as a point of deconstruction, the notion of untitled thus works to effectively locate that which is often left unsaid. In pointing towards the 'unmarked status' of whiteness (in white discourse) I hope to problematise its status as untitled. In naming whiteness as a site of oppression, I seek to explore how  , rather than simply where whiteness is located. [4] Through focusing on some of the ways in which whiteness is routinely explained away, I hope to contribute to the ongoing problematisation of whiteness as an a priori  right to power, and instead to look at its contingency upon practices of imperialism and colonisation. In this way the 'untitled status' of whiteness is rendered more visibly a practice of control, whereby both the white nation and white people attempt to manage how Indigenous sovereignty is seen. Yet, as I hope to demonstrate throughout this paper, our relationship to Indigenous sovereignty is not something that we as white people can choose - it is something that is foundational to our attempts at belonging in this country. [5] In order to outline more clearly how Indigenous sovereignty both precedes and exceeds white belonging, I start off by responding to a challenge made by Indigenous educator and activist Lilla Watson, from a paper that is, aptly, 'Untitled.' Introduction   If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let's work together .[6]  I have this quote on my refrigerator, and a few months ago a close friend of mine noticed it, and after reading it remarked quite indignantly, 'well, she's a rude bitch!' When I asked her why, she said that she felt it was very ungrateful for the writer to refuse help, and that 'comments like that will only offend people and discourage them from helping.' This response to the sovereignty of an Indigenous person suggested to me that the 'benevolent acts' of white people could be an important site for looking at how whiteness is positioned as normative through the construction of Indigenous people as passive objects. [7] Indeed, as the opening quote from Lilla Watson suggests, the well-meaning intentions of those of us working in the area of anti-racism are rendered problematic when viewed within the broader framework of colonisation. Thus, as Jane Samson proposes in her research on imperialism and the work of white missionaries: one person's humanitarian intervention is another's neocolonialism.  [8]   With this in mind, I seek to demonstrate two key points in relation to discourses of benevolence: 1) that performances of the subject position 'good white person' work to manage our stake as white people in relation to racialised practices, and 2) that benevolence as a nationalist practice works to shore up the illusion of white sovereignty, and thus evidences an attempt to manage the position of the racialised other within white systems of representation. Through the use of two extracts of talk taken from a documentary screened in Australia entitled Whiteys Like Us , [9] I hope to demonstrate how two seemingly disparate practices of benevolence produce similar rhetorical effects. As will become apparent throughout this paper, such discourses of benevolence evidence what Martha Augoustinos and myself have termed elsewhere the 'anxiety of whiteness' [10] : the lack of, and longing for, a foundational justification for white belonging in this country. With this goal in mind, I employ a combination of psychoanalysis and discursive psychology to better understand the practices of nationalism that shape the hegemony of whiteness in Australia, which I would suggest inform practices of benevolence. In addition to outlining some of the discourses of benevolence that would appear to inform the talk of participants in the Whiteys Like Us  documentary, I also pay attention to the implications of any analysis of white benevolence for the anti-racist practices of white people in Australia. Thus rather than perpetuating the notion that there are 'good white anti-racists' and 'bad white racists,' I seek to explore the mutuality of these terms, and thus recognise how all white people are implicated in systems of oppression that shape the white Australian nation. To this end, I outline some suggestions for how we as white people working within the area of whiteness studies may engender a more transparent, reflexive account of our own work. In particular, I propose that our engagement with whiteness must necessarily be approached through our relationship to Indigenous sovereignty, [11] a fact that discourses of benevolence routinely repress. From this perspective, then, the goal becomes a critical unsettling of our claims to belonging as white people in Australia, rather than perpetuating the myth that our 'anti-racist practice' somehow puts us outside of the ongoing histories of white colonial violence. Psychoanalysis and the National Good  In utilising psychoanalysis as a 'postcolonising reading practice,' I believe that it is important to recognise both the exclusionary practices that have shaped discourses of psychoanalysis and the ways in which these very practices make it useful for understanding colonisation in Australia. [12] To explain further: as a site located within a particular historical context, and thus within a network of social and ideological practices, psychoanalysis may be understood as an exposition of the ways in which colonisation is enacted on a number of levels. [13] First, it attempts to make evident the cultural binaries of self and other that shape white subjectivities in colonial nations. Second, it provides a 'map' of the social practices that have shaped white dominance as it arises between individuals. And finally, following Michael Billig, I would suggest that psychoanalysis is a linguistic practice that is drawn upon to manage 'difficult topics' (such as racism) in everyday talk . [14] Thus I understand psychoanalysis as a social practice, rather than as something that occurs 'within people's heads.' In the Australian context more specifically, the construction of Indigenous people as the racialised other would appear to rest upon similar notions of 'us and them' as those structuring psychoanalytic understandings of subjectification. I would thus suggest that as two thoroughly social practices, colonisation and psychoanalysis may be used to better understand one another; postcolonial readings of psychoanalysis may point towards the social practices that have shaped the formation of psychoanalysis, and conversely, psychoanalytic understandings may be used to examine the practices of colonialism. [15] In this way, a discursive psychoanalytic approach to understanding racism may allow  for a more transparent rendering of whiteness as a practice of exclusion. In other words, by understanding how the hegemony of whiteness in Australia is contingent upon the negation of Indigenous sovereignty, it may be possible to more clearly understand the ways in which white talk around race works to manage (though enactments of repression and projection) our problematic location within this country. Thus, by looking at how psychoanalysis is used as a linguistic practice, I would suggest that we may better understand how racism structures the talk of all white people in Australia, rather than as being the work of evil racists.  [16]  In regards to understanding benevolence within a discursive psychoanalytic framework, I take as useful the work of Jennifer Rutherford and Ghassan Hage, in their suggestion that understandings of white nationalism are constructed through discourses of white good. [17] Both Rutherford and Hage suggest that enactments of the subject position 'good white person' work to repress histories of genocide and dispossession by positioning white Australians as holders of the national good. Thus the continual repetition of such acts of repression is required in order to manage the unsettling that is produced when Indigenous people speak back about their own experiences of colonisation. Yet Hage suggests that it is precisely at this point where those constructed as the racialised other challenge the hegemony of whiteness that the moral imperative of the good nation is reasserted. Likewise, Rutherford proposes that enactments of white morality are always already enactments of white aggression, as attempts at maintaining white dominance and reasserting an a priori  right to white sovereignty. [18] As a result, this aggression is projected outside of whiteness. The construction of Indigenous people as being a threat to the safety of white people, communities and cultures is a typical example of this. [19] Yet, following Freud, I would suggest that the uncanny effects that are produced when the white nation attempts to pass off histories of white violence as a natural response to the threat of Indigenous violence demonstrate the paradoxical nature of white belonging in this country. [20] As I will now discuss, these enactments of repression and projection are evident in the discourses of benevolence that are often drawn upon by us as white people in Australia. The Racialised Practices of Benevolence  As I have already indicated, benevolence produces a number of rhetorical effects in relation to white belonging in Australia. Historically, benevolence has been employed as a means to justify white invasion. For example, the notion of 'moral uplift' was utilised to create a 'need' for whites to engage in 'saving the native.' [21] In this way, the destruction or denial of Indigenous cultures was justified rhetorically through recourse to the 'civilising mission' - it was the 'white person's burden' to bring religion (and thus presumably 'culture') to Indigenous people. Yet, I would suggest that such practices are not simply the product of the times in which they occurred. Rather, they are but one point in an ongoing process of management that is aimed at constructing a foundational claim for white sovereignty. [22]  To elaborate further: in looking at benevolence as a site for understanding some of the operations of whiteness, I would suggest that rather than employing a 'narrative of progression' in relation to 'white good' - where colonisation is positioned as happening 'back then' (which suggests that we are now 'more enlightened') - I would instead propose that there is a 'continuum of benevolence' through which white belonging is managed. In this way, colonisation may be seen as an ongoing process, something that is evident in much of the current coalition government's rhetoric around reparation and land rights for Indigenous people. In other words, whilst white benevolence may take many different forms according to its location within particular historical or spatial contexts, it is always already an act of white privilege that perpetuates oppressive practices against Indigenous people. [23]   In order to manage this, the violence of colonisation is repressed within white nationalist discourse through recourse to benevolence as a foundational trope. For, if it can be demonstrated that white people have long been engaged in 'acts of generosity' towards Indigenous people, then our location within Australia is presumed to be less problematic. Indeed, as an ongoing tool of repression, white benevolence works to continually reassert the moral good of white people in their relations with Indigenous people. Such assumptions, however, ignore the power relations that are endemic to practices of benevolence. Thus, as Susan Ryan suggests, benevolence is an inherently hierarchical practice [24] - it is based on the presumption that certain groups of people can determine the moral worth or authenticity of groups of people who are deemed to be in need of assistance. [25] Indeed, I would agree with Ryan in her suggestion that benevolence is thus implicitly a racialised practice - that due to its location within histories of racialised hierarchies, the role of the good person is reserved predominantly for white people. As a result, the category 'good white person' works to a) attribute moral worth to white people, b) reinforce the power dynamics that structure race as a category of difference and c) to mask such power relations by drawing on benevolence as a practice of altruism. These three points demonstrate the ways in which discourses of benevolence are implicitly aimed at managing the agency of those people positioned as the racialised other. In Australia, this translates into a range of practices that are designed to limit the authority of Indigenous people and manage the challenges that Indigenous people may present to the hegemony of whiteness. Yet, having said that, I would suggest that rather than denying Indigenous agency, white practices of benevolence demonstrate the anxieties that result from our relationship to Indigenous sovereignty. [26] Thus instead of managing Indigenous agency, white benevolence unintentionally renders visible the unstable foundations of white belonging. In order to illustrate these points, I now look at two extracts of talk that demonstrate the management of stake underpinning white benevolence. In so doing I seek to demonstrate how racism structures the lives of all people in Australia, rather than understanding it as something that impacts only on the lives of non-white people, an approach that typically results in white people attempting to 'help the other,' rather than focusing on white privilege. [27]  Projecting Blame/Claiming Belonging  The following data are drawn from a documentary entitled Whiteys Like Us , screened in Australia in 1999. The documentary focused on a study circle that was a part of the 10-year 'reconciliation plan' within Australia. The aim of the study circle was to facilitate the discussion of how white people may work productively with Indigenous people towards reconciliation. The following analysis focuses on two apparently conflicting approaches to reconciliation. Yet, as I will demonstrate, both approaches achieve similar rhetorical effects. The first extract comes from Lesley, a white woman in her late 70s. As a response to several of the group members outlining the impact that colonisation has had on Indigenous people, Lesley responds that I never, never, never saw anything but good done for Absrcines. And sure, I was with a small tribe of 150, but they chose to come and live beside us, and they came up gladly to get food and we gave it to them - they didn't care what it was, and they loved sausages. They had nothing in the way of clothes - they were glad to have blankets - they were glad to have clothes for the same reason, there were lots of things they didn't have...They wouldn't still be here if they had been left the way they were - we had to say 'brush the flies out of the babies' eyes' - and [now] they're blaming us because they get sick. Lesley's account of white benevolence draws upon the missionary desire to 'do good for the native.'
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