Researching Race and Racism

By Martin Bulmer; John Solomos | Go to book overview

8

Naming the unnameable

Sense and sensibilities in researching racism

Philomena Essed


Introduction

Many years ago the then teacher of my ballet class used to have this typical line in response to groans and moans over muscle-straining exercises: 'This is not a tea party!' We would chuckle and keep at it. I have thought about this expression more than once in relation to, sometimes fanatically negative, responses in the Netherlands to my books on everyday racism. In challenging the myth of Dutch non-racism, Alledaags racisme (1984, - extended English edition, Everyday Racism, 1990) became subject to heated debate, reinforced when I published a second, more theoretically driven book Understanding Everyday Racism (1991). The controversy, part of which has been documented, never ceased (Prins 2000). In contributing to this volume, I am also taking the opportunity to reflect on the Dutch discomfort with the notion of racism, and what that has meant and means for researching racism to others, and to myself.

Admittedly, at first unpleasant comments upset me because, still a student and naïvely confident that innovation and quality matter, I could not put these attacks in perspective. Gradually, I understood that pioneering work comes with the price of taking the heat, in particular when it concerns a critical paradigm. In this chapter I draw partly, but not exclusively, from these experiences. Originally trained in the traditional way to keep the personal out of the scientific text, I was fortunate to discover through feminist theory the limits of the (masculine) masquerading of the positional self (Harding 1987; Wolf 1996). In the course of the chapter, I interweave my road into racism research with a national story embedded in an international context of race critical research (Essed and Goldberg 2002b; Goldberg and Solomos 2002). Hopefully, a certain degree of explicitness about life experiences, political, social and other motivations that have influenced me and others can be a helpful tool for critical students and researchers who want to explore new ways in researching race and racism.

Astonished by the dismissive response and as a way of understanding more about the (gender and racial-ethnic) politics of academic research, I wrote an essay called Academic Racism: Common Sense in the Social Sciences

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