Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Song and Dance? the Performance of Antiracist Workshops

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Song and Dance? the Performance of Antiracist Workshops

Article excerpt

"POLITICAL CORRECTNESS" discourse has amplified the already controversial challenges of representation, equity and racism in social movements, universities, schools and government agencies. Antiracist and equity battles on campuses have been increasing in prominence, heightened as political correctness discourse is resignified to implicate universities (Weir, 1995; Thompson and Tyagi, 1993; Platt, 1992). Parallel struggles within social movement organizations have been similarly publicized and censured.(1) Through their publicity and strengths these internal organizational struggles have been significant in the recent history of antiracism.

For one, the increasingly public conflicts in feminist and social service organizations have provided a stage for the rise of a new educational and organizing tool: the antiracist workshop. During the last several years, antiracist workshops have become the method of choice for dealing with public charges of racism in Canadian institutions and are now almost commonplace in social movement organizations, public agencies, universities and schools, so much that the accompanying antiracist consultancy has been termed "the new growth industry" (Benjamin, 1992).

Whether used as an integral part of antiracist organizational change, or as a substitute for it, antiracist workshops have been significant as a central or initiating event. In that sense, we might say antiracist workshops have become a prominent aspect of power relations of racism and antiracism - a privileged site for the performance and inscription of racialized identities, and a way by which the concepts of racism and antiracism become locally understood and defined. Antiracist workshops have helped to name the issues of racism and antiracism in many institutions - now we must ask how they have been named.

The goal of this paper is to propose that inquiry, and to explore issues in the context of antiracist workshops I have observed as participant or facilitator. By reflecting on workshop practices that emphasize disclosure and display of personal experiences of racism, we may raise questions about how knowledge of racialized identities, racism and antiracism is produced and circumscribed. These and other practices that emphasize equal sharing of experiences are the focus for inquiring into what Britzman et al. (1993: 188) have called the "treacheries of representation: the unruly and contentious relations among the imagined conditions of knowledge, identity, lived experience, and social conduct." Their challenge to examine how knowledge of identities and cultures is "produced, encountered and dismissed in classrooms" (189) is taken up here to continue the analyses of power relations in antiracist settings (Ellsworth, 1989; Razack, 1993; Srivastava, 1994; Benjamin, 1992; Rosezelle, 1992). In examining the knowledge and power relations of the imperative performance of experience, this inquiry also links antiracist education and official multiculturalism.

Local Relations

Understanding the specificity and diversity of these power relations is crucial to transforming them. In conceptualizing racism as a "multiple and mobile field" of relations (Foucault, 1990: 98), rather than as "exclusively . . . an ideological phenomenon"(2) (Miles, 1989: 77), we also acknowledge its continually variable practices. These relations not only vary in expression and form over time, but may also be locally specific and geographically diverse (Goldberg, 1993; Gilroy, 1987; Valverde, 1992). To adequately describe and understand this historical specificity and local multiplicity, our analyses of these power relations must be continual, particular and detailed.

If we understand power and knowledge relations to be dynamic and productive, the methodological implication is that we must study these relations in terms of their "real and effective practices," uses and effects (Foucault, 1980: 97; Rouse, 1993; 1987). Social movements and organized struggles that aim to transform power and knowledge relations for the creation of new cultural and political practices provide important sites for this analysis. …

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