Writing on the Wall

by H. Bannerji,
ISBN: 0920661300

Returning the Gaze:
Essays on Racism, Feminism & Politics

by Himani Bannerji,
372 pages,
ISBN: 0920813550

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Rhetorics of Persuasion
by Lakshmi Gill

IT SEEMS to me that these two books aim to modify the sensibility of a white reading public that, out of apathy, has somehow missed the dialectics - begun by Nietzsche and re-conceptualized by French Marxist sociology in the past 60 years - that culminated in what Julia Kristeva in 1977 called "the destruction of the (traditional) western subject." For if they are not intended for this audience, to whom can these essays be directed?

Certainly not to the liberal white academics so immersed in a non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual university working environment that they are driven, as Dinesh D'Souza is in The Illiberal Education, to rally behind a defunct Christian humanism. And certainly not to the vulgar white capitalist engaged in an embourgeoisement of radical activists by including women of colour and lesbians in consumer advertising.

In Returning the Gaze, readers will find "an anti- racist /imperialist feminism" whose ground-clearing goal is "for a fundamental change in social relations rather than for a per community quota of representation in the parliament of, races' and 'ethnicities.' "The writers included in this book struggle for a political presence that will eradicate that singular invention of the Canadian state: the "visible minority," a term that Linda Carty and Dionne Brand believe "void of any race or class recognition and, more importantly, of class struggle or struggle against racism." The concern is not a spatial shift from marginal to central, but "to shift the centre itself from the mainstream to the so-called margin." Thus, Himani Bannerji believes, "there can emerge the possibility of making our very marginality itself the epicentre for change."

This marginality - these inseparable oppressions of gender, race, and class is examined by Roxana Ng in the historical context of a racist and sexist Canada, by Lee Maracle in view of white Canadians' "automatic response ... to ignore Natives," and by Makeda Silvera in the contemporary narratives of West Indian women domestics. That these oppressions continue to be cultivated in Toronto society is demonstrated by Dionne Brand.

This marginality - these colonizations and exploitations - impels May Yee to "decolonize our minds, ourselves, and our communities." The dialogic critique of Anita Sheth and Amita Handa serves to remind them that they, too, as middle-class privileged feminists, "contribute to the daily marginalization of working-class feminists and women of colour." White women feminists are criticized by Arun P Mukherjee for lauding Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose utopian novel Herland excludes Blacks, and thus attests to the author's Eurocentrism. Angela Davis is challenged for making unorganized Black working-class women aphasic in Women, Race & Class; Cecilia Green's questions are "not hostile" - they are simply questions put by Black women who "are willing to learn." Sherene Razack reinforces this willingness, since she has learned that "community has to be struggled for," that "there is no automatic friendship, goodwill or community" even among groups with similar desires for social change.

Such openness is crucial to the rhetoric of persuasion. It leads to trust, so that the reader knows the writer does listen to the reverberations in the storyteller's voice, that she will not choose to hear only that which fits into her thesis. Thus it was astonishing to see Aruna Srivastava's claim, based on reading one poem of mine, that I failed to imagine racism. Where one distortion exists, can another be far behind? Can Sheth/Handa unequivocally state that racism is only white? I'd like to see them discuss the "racism/racialism" distinctions with a Korean in Japan, or a Filipino in Saudi Arabia. Who has not been contaminated by racism, either as transmitter or receiver? Who has not heard about Marx's remark that Blacks are monkeys?

There is a need, among controlledrage controllers, to control their dithyrambs. Thus, it was a relief to read in Himani Bannerji's introduction to The Writing on the Wall - after wading through the dialectics of time and of place through which she discusses how her political assumptions evolved after arriving in Toronto in 1969 -that her essays were about "Third World politics and culture ... which are stereotypically represented in terms of confusion squalor and apathy." Although the book is heavily infused with Bannerji's Marxist-Socialist set of values, she moves from sequences of ideologic fixations to the "theoretical/political explorations in these 'othered' countries." And so to the poetry of Ernesto Cardenal and Dionne Brand, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the political theatre of West Bengal and Utpal Dutt, and the novels of Sunil Gangyopadhyay: a feast of cultural analysis.

Paradoxically, the new racism (based on conclusion after experience) in these two books is played out within the liberal democratic air of a racist Canada. Their springboards are Euro-plagued, even as they reject the White-Other opposition. Working within a world-view of dichotomies and class conflict, using the dead white male's weapons against him, these writers inevitably make war.


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