The Alchemy of Race and Affect: “White Innocence” and Public Secrets in the Post–Civil Rights Era


  • Paula Ioanide



“Taussig reminds us that the exposure of the public secret can never happen directly. On the contrary, the only time we come close to exposing the public secret is when we come at it sideways, using methods not yet legible to its interpretive frameworks or predictable to its methods of preservation. We might also remember that a society’s symptoms are usually rooted in its deepest national traumas. For me, the historical traumas that the agents of whiteness avoided addressing at all costs were not simply the intergenerational political-economic and social effects that had evolved out of colonialism, genocide, and slavery, but the ethical questions these raised. Put differently, the public secret of systemic gendered racism was closest to being exposed when the ethical price of intergenerationally investing in whiteness was broached. How low in the purported ‘inevitability’ of human wickedness were those invested in whiteness willing to go before they realized that such malevolence implicated them? Was the epistemology of white ignorance really that effective in keeping the price of that malevolence hidden?”