This blog is a response to the original planned panel event titled ‘Reclaiming ‘queer’ and radical politics’, which was rethought of as a two-round conversation between the panellists. Our thanks to Sabiha for sharing this piece in response here.
As I write, I find myself slowly re-emerging from the intellectual and emotional slap in the face that best describes’ white fragility’s backlash following the re-invigoration of BLM protests. I realize my immense privilege in being able to reenergize and to stand on my feet again.
Two weeks after George Floyd’s murder, beloved Egyptian queer activist Sara Hegazi took her own life in Canada, where she had been, in her own words, “forcibly exiled.”
Why do I invoke George Floyd in my attempt to mourn Sara? After all, Sara and George are highly likely to have never physically met. What’s more, I have never met Sara myself. But I beg to differ.
Sara’s ousted queerness and George’s disposable black life relegate each and both to a space and time that whiteness is yet to experience: a place of immense hope and despair where questions related to life and death cannot and will never be captured by whiteness’ narrow framework of self-care, (white) justice, white-washed history and (white) citizenship.
In her suicide note, Sara states:
“To my folx brothers and sisters, I tried to redeem myself, but I failed. To my friends: it was too tough of an experience for me to overcome – please forgive me. To the world: you are one cruel world, but I forgive you.”
This blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Sara Hegazi, whose life history and untimely death is a reminder of the tremendous emotional labour and educational agenda on the violent continuum of history/ies that are yet to take place and of the necessity to think oppression through a matrix of intersectional axes, as Patricia Hill-Collins has repeatedly reminded us.
Sara did not end her life because she was ‘depressed’ in the clinical sense that Eurocentric psychology would want us believe. Her depression is the direct result of a world that has literally spat her out: out of space and time from her native Egypt, out of her circle of friends and support system. All because Sara dared to speak loudly of a different space and time that she eagerly wished for and envisaged for her beloved Egypt.
Sara is the latest in a long list of invaluable individuals who have decided to put their pen to rest.
Whiteness has constructed an unsustainable world whose sole purpose is to reproduce it day in and day out. For those whose lived reality is at odds with the artificial universe that our white-washed world is, the time and space they inhabit does not coincide with regular calendars. Among those misplaced folx, we find those who long for a politics of a household that is built in the name of friendship as opposed to marriage; those who oppose the tyranny of coupledom and embrace singledom instead; those whose queerness is defined first and foremost as anti-state; or those whose histories are systematically erased and relegated to a time gone by and whose grievances are blamed on their inability to be strong enough and to succeed in life.
For those folx who prioritize an education agenda that pushes for the recognition of a matrix of oppressions, as opposed to a liberalist ill-informed agenda of identity politics, their plight is yet to be acknowledged. On this note, I lament the endless celebration on social media and mainstream media of the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the protection of gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. We must remind ourselves that this is the very Supreme Court that has dissed and discarded the rightful demands of the descendants of the 1921 Tusla massacre. Identity politics kill. Fucking practices that that do not systematically pinpoint, unveil, challenge and directly oppose the carcereal practices of the state as Angela Davis tirelessly reminds us (in Rasheed 2014) – any state for that matter – reproduce a ‘make kill’ kind of identity politics.
Identity politics reiterate a hierarchy of citizenships whose shapes and forms are dictated by an already existing racialised, sexed and gendered framework, to name a state-sanctioned model of “good citizenship”. The very idea of citizenship is a white myth that reproduces itself through state institutions, international organizations, self-policing and a vigilante mentality: for every citizen respecting the law and adhering to the status quo in a particular (western) space-time state, entire communities and populations elsewhere are made dependent economically and epistemically on said state.
The place we write from is the time we write from. And the time we long for is yet to be. We practice time in a place that systematically rejects our ideals. Whiteness is a myth that has been left unchecked for far too long. We have constructed a world that bases itself on the speculations and affects of an immensely fragile whiteness whose sole recourse to overcome its blandness is by appropriating, confining, dictating, terrorizing, marginalizing, labelling, categorizing, documenting, archiving and bureaucratizing. The unsustainability of whiteness as a global system of commodity exchange, economic growth and technological advancement is depended upon the pinning of its multiple others in concrete space(s) and time(s): the other as weak, underdeveloped, incapable of self-governance, undemocratic, stuck in the past, polluted and corrupt. The other, most importantly, will always taint whiteness with its supposed impurity. Borders, economic sanctions and adjustments, flags, statues, and overall dismembered remembrances (see Rahul Rao 2013) are the indispensable mechanisms of control that fixates the other to a precise intersection of time and space that hitherto cements their other status. The late José Muñoz conceived queer futurity as the there and then. The there is a coalition of history’s abjects. The then, is our present solidarity.
On this note, I grow increasingly anxious about what might lie ahead. Whiteness cannot sustain itself without its designated other(s). Its others are innumerable but always present: women, Jews, Blacks, queers, Muslims, foreigners. Throughout modern history, whiteness claimed to embrace women, Jews and queers’ entry into the legal and political realms under the guise of fighting gender inequality, anti-Semitism and LGBT rights. What’s more, their entry occurred under a specific set of pre-conditions: to name assimilation under the artificial rubric of identity politics that reinforces an institutionally “racist” state and a productivity that contributes to the capitalist status quo. In line with Muñoz above, each merits its own conceptualisation of there and then. I worry that the visibility of #BLM will lead to a white-washed recognition of Black grievance. The vacuum that the Black-Other leaves behind will unquestionably intensify the Otherness of those next in line, to name the Muslim other, the migrant, the foreigner.
Whiteness, without is designated other, is, after all, void. In non-western countries, where time and space are constantly racing against western liberals’ innovations, the socio-political fissures and divisions that have been persistent and present since the birth of the postcolonial state will only intensify. I worry that the world, at some point, resembles a clash of civilizations, but not in the ill-informed and essentialist way that Samuel Huntington envisaged. Rather, plural civilizations, necessary for maintaining whiteness’ affection for diversity (please note the irony), will be artificially curated, configured and delimitated, with the fictive Muslim civilization being undoubtedly awarded the status of the ultimate Other. After all, the myth of a Muslim civilization that is incompatible with neoliberal economies is already being drawn and made a “thing” in China’s Xinjiang re-education camps under the very eyes of a complicit, silent and cowardly International society. Never has South to South mobility and epistemic exchange been this pressing. We must reignite the spirit of Bandung.
Our writing conveys our misplaced sense of belonging. We live a time that is yet to be. We are future-oriented in our praxis and ethos, both of which are ill-fitting for a space and time that confuses rage for racism, charity for kindness, kindness for weakness, weakness for underdeveloped mental and cognitive aptitudes; at the same time, our grievances are shaped by a singular (white) past that erases denies all other past traumas.
Our lives’ trajectories are endless U-turns, re-orientations, recalibration and accommodation. What weighs heavily on our minds and hearts is permanent. It lingers with us in the cinema, at restaurants, in the classroom, in the spa, on the beach, in airports, on hiking days and on lazy ones. Along the way, we lose friends and family members who have had enough of our kill-joy attitude (see Sara Ahmed in Mehra 2017). Sometimes, we lose track of time and track of place. Our dismembered bodies, or organs without bodies, are our burden. The brown man’s burden is not limited to their eternally othered status, nor to the tokenisms and diversifying they have to put up with. The brown man’s burden is the discarding and dumping of whiteness’ injustices and artificial systems of support, including the myth of self-care, onto them and its relegation of the responsibility to educate about oppression – in all its forms, ways and shapes – onto them.
We need to disseminate and educate the knowledges we produce. I believe this begins with rethinking the modes of delivery and modes of epistemic validation that western academia has for too long commanded. We are in the unique position that our academic endeavours cannot and will not be disassociated from activism per se. Perhaps, we need to include dissemination of our work in non-academic spheres as part and parcel of delivering degrees? We need more YouTube channels and less theorizing. Imagine, on our daily commutes or on our Sunday jogs, listening to podcasts, for instance, that historicize and contextualize so-called human rights or gay rights, that engage with J.K. Rowling’s ill-informed statements about trans* lives, or break down to a T the compatibility of being Muslim with being L, G, B, T or else? YouTube and the Internet abound with excellent resources that break down the complexities that our analyses to the lay reader – our prospective ally.
Far from the limited framework of the capitalist and white-washed confines of the self-care industry, what we need is a radical overhaul of what we deem caring. A truly queer ethos of care reassesses the very industry of knowledge production itself: what does it mean when an industry as lucrative as academic publishing is allowed to thrive thanks to a logic of triaged free labour that takes but rarely gives? This industry rarely shies away from approaching gullible and eager to please experts, including early career researchers, well-known though struggling activists and artists or precarious academics who are yet to be contracted on a permanent basis. At the same time, this industry makes it notoriously difficult for this very public to get published, oftentimes blaming its “lack of rigor”, its non-academic affiliation (for those who have not necessarily braced the grace of earth-costing universities’ corridors and classrooms) or worst of all, its “regional focus” (because, God forbid if a Middle East, Africa or Asia- based scholar even attempts to dabble with theory; their place is simply to apply the theory to their context and to never theorize).
Feminist and queer knowledges are inherently collaborative. In our historicizing of oppression and injustice, we draw upon the marginalized reality/ies of the peoples and folx whose stories warrant our writing. It is highly ironic that the recognized scholar makes a living by literally appropriating and finding inspiration in the lives of those least privileged.
Sara did not fail. Seen form a queer lens, her failure is the reflection of the unsustainability of our world for those who think differently, who feel differently, who are and do differently. Her relocation to Canada did not shake off the brutal physical, sexual, mental and intellectual harassment that Egyptian state and society subjected her to. Every society has its unwanted other. What’s more, the consolidation of homophobia in contemporary Egypt is a project of postcolonial modernity: it is the locus where the legacy/ies of colonialism, a dependent economy, a persistent authoritarian state (allowed to go unchecked under the very guise and patronage of western powers) and unresolved state-society relations produce a singular logic of good/bad. Homophobia is taught in Egypt as elsewhere. Local Egyptian actors stand accused of their direct complicity with a system that is adamant on reiterating white supremacy through the artificial channels of foreign policy, diplomacy, humanitarian interventions and structural adjustments. White supremacy is the subtle relocation of the LGBT acronym to the west – exclusively – and the systemic fashioning of non-western societies as eternally and permanently irreconcilable with it to the extent they unquestionably embrace it. Never has grassroots transnational solidarity been more relevant and more urgently needed.
Sara did not fail. She is a warning of the magnitude of the emotional and educational labour that is yet to be. It took her self-demise to remind us that many of our fights are yet to take place. This, in a time of a renewed white supremacy and a cancel culture that “makes kill” the other. We must disseminate our knowledges outside of the ill-fitting and ill-fitted confines of academia. This begins by acknowledging our ‘real’ failure as academics: we need to engage young activists and to embrace their work, with or without grammatical scrutiny and clear structuring. We have the power to institute dissemination as part and parcel of our work. Disseminating knowledge begins with re-styling it in order to accommodate an economy that, due to mortgages and bills to be paid, already robs us from many precious hours of self-discovery and self-reflection and community-building. We have the tools. We have each other.
by Sabiha Allouche, a die-hard aficionado of ‘Queer’ Asia and Kohl, who also happens to be a lecturer in the “ill-named” Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter.
The italicised passages are directly taken from Kohl: A Journal for Body and Gender Research’s Manifesto of Feminist Peer Review Praxis
Kohl: A Journal for Body and Gender Research website: https://kohljournal.press/
Hill-Collins, Patricia. 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge
Mehra, Nishta J. 2017. Sara Ahmed: Notes from a Feminist Killjoy. [online] Guernica/ 15 years of global arts & politics. https://www.guernicamag.com/sara-ahmed-the-personal-is-institutional/
Muñoz, José. Cruising Utopia: The There and Then of Queer Futurity. New York: New York University Press
Rasheed, Kameelah Janan. 2014. The Carcereal State. [online]. The New Inquiry. https://thenewinquiry.com/the-carceral-state/
Rao, Rahul. 2013. Re-membering Mwanga: Same-sex Intimacy, Memory and Belonging in Postcolonial Uganda. Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(1):1-19