First things first: I apologise for the unintentionally extended hiatus. Let’s jump right back in: this week’s topic is erasure. Honestly, this is a difficult topic to discuss at any length as it is tough to find anything on minority erasure – the articles have either been themselves erased or never written. This post also comes during Bi Visibility Week, which is an attempt to deal with the erasure of the Bi+ community. So before continuing, I request that you watch the following video by activist RJ Aguiar to set the mood for why erasure is a problem:
Erasure occurs when a dominant, more socially powerful group removes minority individuals from their own narratives. Sometimes this is malicious; however, more often this is done in some attempt to relay a story as palatable to all, thereby removing contextual group dynamics from the issue. To demonstrate, consider the following phrases: “colour-blind” and “gender-blind”. Many claim to be well meaning when they say these – stating reasons like “We’re all human!” or “I don’t see any difference between us.” This is problematic. As José Medina writes, while discussing active ignorance, “despite their greater access to the facts of life, privileged subjects often ignore the most violent and hard-to-swallow aspects of social confrontation” (The Epistemology of Resistance, 33). In so generalising, our “colour-“, “gender-“, “queer-“ blinded friends and neighbours are stripping minorities of their history and lived experiences in order to sanitise narratives for popular consumption.
There are two types of erasure I want to bring to light. The first is what is most commonly attributed to erasure-proper – namely, outsider erasure. To give an example, outside erasure can be found in the whitewashing of film in mass media. Whitewashing occurs when white actors are cast in non-white roles, for example (and from this year alone): Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Matt Damon as a lead character in The Great Wall (while the latter is defended by director Zhang Yimou, actress Constance Wu articulates that this merely perpetuates the “white men = all heroes” stereotype).
The second type of erasure is internal to minority groups, which may initially seem paradoxical. While less common, this also occurs in media like Stonewall. (Director Roland Emmerich, a gay white man, has defended writing white male “Danny” as the lead instead of representing the trans* women of colour who historically led the titular riots, arguing that Danny is straight-acting and thus a “very easy in” for straight audiences.) This second erasure occurs frequently in cases of internalised hatred: a black individual may seek to lighten their skin with bleach agents, or a queer individual may hide in stereotypical gender roles, and both individuals may harshly criticise members of their own communities who do not do the same.
As philosophers of minority, and minority philosophers, we need to be cognisant of these erasive narratives in our writing, teaching, and other daily interactions. We have no idea who may be reading or listening, nor what our (un)intentional statements may enforce when combined with lived experiences. Especially if we want to close the gap within this very non-diverse field; as Miranda Fricker asserts in Epistemic Injustice, when an individual is subject to persistent epistemic insult they can begin to literally lose knowledge (49). We can’t allow this.
Next week I will look at identity itself – both self identification, but also the more sticky idea of other-oriented identification.
Below you will find the weekly reading list, should you wish to continue on this topic. As I stated in the introduction, there is almost nothing readily available, so instead I have compiled a few media articles regarding the specific films I discussed. I have also included the citations for Medina’s and Fricker’s books – should you wish to expand your library.
- Zhang Yimou Reveals Details of Legendary’s China Co-Production ‘Great Wall’ – Clifford Coonan
- Constance Wu Slams Matt Damon Casting in ‘The Great Wall’: It Perpetuates a ‘Racist Myth’ – Seth Kelley
- Stonewall Director and Star Defend Film Against Critics Who Claim It ‘Whitewashed’ LGBT History – Kathy Ehrich Dowd
- Fricker, M. (2010) Epistemic Injustice: Power & the Ethics of Knowing. Toronto: OUP.
- Medina, J. (2013) The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations. Toronto: OUP.