The voice of colour is the idea that, all things being equal, people of colour are better able to speak about racism than whites because they experience it directly. That might seem like common sense, but not to most White Americans, who believe in:
The voice of whiteness – the idea whites are better at talking about racism, about anything, in fact, because whites presume themselves to be fair-minded, unaffected by the colour of their skin, by race, by race loyalty. It is one of the Rules of Racial Standing – the rules by which whites process the truth of statements according to the race of the speaker. In America it is why:
- in most court cases where race matters the jury (and judges) will be nearly all white.
- it is hard for a black person to win a job discrimination suit without white witnesses.
- whites think blacks are emotional thinkers.
- whites think blacks imagine racism.
- Tim Wise can make a living by repeating stuff people of colour say.
Because they trust the judgement of whites over people of colour, even (or especially) when it comes to racism. Whites trust voices of colour only in so far as they agree with the voice of whiteness. Thus Rented Negroes.
Strictly speaking both the voice of colour and voice of whiteness are a logical fallacy, an ad hominem: judging the truth of statements according to who makes them. From the point of view of logic, statements are true or false regardless of who makes them – they stand or fall based on facts and reason. Experts in a field might be able to make better arguments, but they must still stand on their own.
In practice, however, the race of the speaker does matter. Whites leave out racism, play it down or fail to know even the simplest facts about it. Karl Marx, for example, lived in a time when whites kept blacks as slaves and wiped out native people to take their land – yet, despite his vast reading, thinking and writing about Western history and the nature of its society, he said little about racism.
It is not what you might think – a simple lack of direct experience of racism. At least not in the case of White Americans. After all, they do not seem to have the same trouble in knowing, understanding and talking about, say, anti-Semitism or toxic waste. White people have brains. There are tons of written accounts of racism. They can read. It goes deeper than that.
Instead it is their Fragile White Ego: They base too much of their self-image as good people on being white, as strange as that sounds. Yet it is the absurdity of that position – and deep down they know perfectly well how absurd it is – that makes them avoid any deep examination of racism. It becomes like that thing your uncle did that no one wants to talk about.