Feminist Phenomenology, Race, and Perception: An Interview with Alia Al-Saji

On implicit racism:

“What does seem clear is that you can’t get rid of implicit bias by simply willing yourself to get rid of it. In my paper, I discuss this in relation to Shannon Sullivan’s book Revealing Whiteness. Sullivan talks about changing habits of racialization. Her view is also that you can’t change them voluntarily, but that you can change them by changing your environment. You can put yourself in different situations.

For me, what is important about this change of situation is whether it gives rise to hesitation – to a sense of discomfort. For subjects of white privilege, discomfort can function as a kind of interruption. It might still lead to a reinforcement of stereotypes or a defensive reaction, but at least initially, it causes a moment of hesitation and potentially, of questioning and critique. Subjects of privilege are not used to hesitating – they are used to being at ease in the world– and so they can react to hesitation in ways that close it down. This means that hesitation is a necessary, not a sufficient condition to change perception. There needs to be a willingness to dwell in situations of discomfort and not immediately try to get out of them. My paper doesn’t give a map as to how to get rid of implicit racism. But it does point to the kinds of structural moments that are necessary.  More precisely, it points to what I find happens in moments when perception does change and become more critical – namely hesitation.”

Read the whole interview here at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy blog.