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Reading Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”

From page 49:

Not long ago you are in a room where some­one asks the philoso­pher Judith But­ler what makes lan­guage hurtful…Our very being expos­es us to the address of oth­ers, she answers. We suf­fer from the con­di­tion of being address­able. Our emo­tion­al open­ness, she adds, is car­ried by our address­abil­i­ty. Lan­guage nav­i­gates this.”

For so long you thought the ambi­tion of racist lan­guage was to den­i­grate and erase you as a per­son. After con­sid­er­ing Butler’s remarks, you begin to under­stand your­self as ren­dered hyper­vis­i­ble in the face of such lan­guage acts. Lan­guage that feels hurt­ful is intend­ed to exploit all the ways that you are present. Your alert­ness, your open­ness, and your desire to engage actu­al­ly demand your pres­ence, your look­ing up, your talk­ing back and, as insane as it is, say­ing please.”

This cap­tures so per­fect­ly some­thing I have nev­er been able to put into words about my expe­ri­ence of anti­semitism, my fear of it, my sen­si­tiv­i­ty to it, how it feels and why it becomes a source of shame when it is direct­ed at me. I am think­ing about James Gilligan’s notion of shame as the desire not to be seen because no one wants to be seen who is, who feels, who has been brand­ed, unwor­thy of love. (Though, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, Gilli­gan took the idea that to be ashamed is not to want the eyes of the world on you from some­one else. I just can’t remem­ber who right now.)

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